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The bloody history of Punjab's new district

By Staff
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Tarn Taran, June 14 (UNI) As Sikhs all over the world observe the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of the fifth Sikh guru Guru Arjan Dev on Friday, Tarn Taran -- the erstwhile 'capital' of the militants -- will be declared the 19th district of Punjab.

The name of the sub-divisional town of Amritsar district, founded by the fifth Sikh Guru in 1596, means 'the pool of salvation' and was the name given by him to the the 'sarowar' (holy pond) there.

Devotees thronged the gurdwara Darbar Sahib on the occasion of 'amavas' and other religious occasions to take a dip in this 'sarowar' which was said to have magical powers to cure skin ailments.

However, the area earned a notorious reputation after the beginning of militancy in the 1980s as a terrorist-infested region, with several dreaded ultras active there. The pace of development also suffered.

Dominated by Jat Sikhs, the area became a hot-belt of terrorism with even the stout-hearted inhabitants of the Majha belt or 'majhails', whose forefathers had borne the brunt of every foreign invasion from the north-west, losing courage against the indiscriminate killings.

Prosperous Jat Sikh families and traders from here and the villages migrated to Amritsar, leaving behind the rich agricultural fields and their homes. While some of the empty 'havelis' were taken over by the police, the others 'fell' to the terrorists.

It was in these 'havelis' that fierce battles between the terrorists and the security forces took place. The names of villages began to be associated with the names of top ranking militant leaders.

Panjwar was the native village of then Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) chief Labh Singh, while Manochahal was the native village of Bhindrawale Tigers Force of Khalistan (BTKF) head and one of Punjab's most notorious terrorist Gurbachan Singh Manochahal.

Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) chief Avtar Singh Brahma held sway in 'Mand' area bordering the Satluj river, while Sukwinder Singh Sangha, who led another faction of the BTFK, controlled the area around Goindwal town. Surjit Singh Behla, another terrorist who instilled a lot of fear in the public, also hailed from this belt.

The notorius Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) whose chief Sukhdev Singh Babbar hailed from Valtoha, had groups of highly motivated terrorists who often engaged the security forces.

Tarn Taran's first SP Avtar Singh Chettra laid down his life in a fierce encounter with terorists at Gagubua village while his successor Harjit Singh fell in an ambush.

If the Punjab Police were to compile a list of 'terrorist effected' villages, Rataul would top the list. It was the scene of four fierce encounters in which DIG Ajit Singh and a number of other policemen lost their lives and scores others, including the then SSP Narinderpal Singh, were seriously injured.

The last major encounter in Punjab incidentally took place at Rataul only, in which the BTFK chief was shot dead.

Even though peace returned in the mid-1990's but there was little or no development in the town and the rural areas. In the early 1980s, Goindwal town, which was founded by the third Sikh Guru, Amar Dass was declared as India's first industrial nucleus, but with militancy, this project was virtually shelved and even to this day, no effort has been made to revive this project.

The residents of the town, as well as those from the villages, are hoping that along with the district level status would come funds for development of this area. However, most of the 'majhails' are not overly optimistic and fondly remember former Chief Minister, the late Partap Singh Kairon, who hailed from Kairon village near here, as their only benefactor.

UNI HS VD AT DB1344

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