Updated: June 25, 2019 8:39:13 am
Exactly three years back in the summer of 2016, Mohinder Pal Bittu led a five-day dharna with the body of Gurdev Singh, a Dera follower who was murdered after his name figured among suspects in the 2015 sacrilege incidents. The protest secured a police department job for the widow of the deceased.
Gurdev, a native of Kotkapura’s Burj Jawahar Singh Wala village, from where Bir of Guru Granth Sahib was stolen in in June 2015 sparking the sacrilege issue, was murdered in June 2016.
But while protest after his death lasted five days, the protest by Dera premis after Bittu’s death folded in two days and that too without any of the demands that were put forth being met by the administration. Bittu’s dead body was cremated on Monday evening at Kotakpura.
Unlike Gurdev Singh, Bittu was known face not only among the Dera followers of Malwa region but among politicians, police officers and bureaucrats. He was in the key 45-member committee of Dera Sacha Sauda.
Dera Sirsa branch in Kotakpura, near Bittu’s house where his dead body was kept, is the only one in Punjab that houses a cinema hall which was constructed under supervision of Bittu. The cinema hall was only for screening movies of Dera head Gurmeet Ram Rahim.
“He was our leader not only of Kotakpura, but in the whole of Punjab. And this cinema hall is just an example of his leadership qualities,” said his brother Surinder Manchanda.
“He was very respected personality. Name any politician, police officer, bureaucrat posted in Faridkot. They all knew Bittu. They would often meet Bittu to discuss different issues. Bittu was very supportive and active in solving problems,” said Manchanda.
A representative of Dera’s 45-member committee, who did not wish to be named, said: “Bittu’s recommendation was an assurance to get tubewell connection from powercom. Police would cancel ‘false FIRs’ after Bittu would approach them. Not only Dera followers but people from all walks of life would come to Bittu to solve their issues because they knew that Bittu’s ‘sifarsh’ will move their files in government offices. He always helped people in good way and never misused good faith he earned due to his social work.”
According to the representative, “Former Shiromani Akali Dal MLA Mantar Singh Brar and Congress MLA Kushadeep Singh Dhillon had both attended marriage of Bittu’s son in 2014. It speaks volume about how much respect he had among all parties.”
But in his death, politicians shunned him completely. BJP district president Suneeta Garg was the only politician who attended his funeral. Both Brar, Dhillon and their respective parties remained away from the cremation of Bittu.
Bittu had become a Dera Sirsa follower in 1985. He then rose to 45-member committee of Dera Sirsa. “You go to Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Sangrur, Bathinda or any other part of Punjab, his name is known to all because of his leadership qualities. But he was framed falsely,” said Manchanda.
He added: “He was intelligent and courageous. But this is not the first time a Dera follower has been killed over a false allegation in sacrilege case. Dera follower from Buraj Jawahar Singh Wala village, Gurdev Singh, was shot dead on June 13, 2016 over his suspected role in the case. It was Bittu who led the protest for five days and forced government to give his widow a job in the police department.”
Justice Ranjit Singh commission report, tabled in the Punjab Assembly in 2018, said: “Though, the then (Shiromani Akali Dal Badal) government had not shown any will to accommodate the wards of those Sikhs who were killed in police firing at village Behbal Kalan in October 2015, the government was rather prompt in appointing the wife of Gurdev Singh as constable in the Punjab Police…..Mind you Gurdev Singh is victim of ordinary crime, whereas others were killed in police action. May be the fear of Premis (Dera followers) and head of Dera was too much for ordinary police officer to bear.”
An hour before the Dera followers decided to end their protest and cremate Bittu, a Dera representative said: “Bittu kept Gurdev Singh’s dead body on the road for five days and secured government job for his family. But we don’t know if we will be able to do anything for him and his family. He was our leader. Politicians and police officials listened to him..But some police officers were angry the way Bittu stood up for the family of Gurdev Singh and got a government job for his widow. Such officers implicated Bittu in the sacrilege case.”
Adding that entire Kotkapura stood by Bittu when he was named in a case related to Sangrur violence after Dera chief’s conviction, he said: “Many reputed citizens from the city gave affidavits in court to prove that Bittu was not in Sangrur on the day of verdict in 2017. But then they booked him in sacrilege case and opened old cases of violence in Moga in 2010 to keep him in jail for long time.”
Bittu had already got bail in 2015 sacrilege case and was behind bars in the 2010 case.
About Bittu’s involvement with the Dera, a government teacher said: “I was a communist. I did not believe in God. But, I become a Dera follower under because of Bittu.”
Bittu’s brother reiterated, “Our family cannot even think about disrespecting any holy book. Bittu used to read biography of Guru Nanak because he was also a good speaker and used to address congregations of the Dera.”
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