ommunal passions gripped Malerkotla town in Punjab's Sangrur district and its adjacent areas after the gruesome murder of a minor boy early this week. Known for the peaceful co-existence of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, this small town witnessed the unprecedented build-up of tension on communal lines after a 13-year-old boy, Vibhu Jain was burnt alive on Monday afternoon. The identity of the killers has not been established yet but the rumours doing the rounds kept the area on the edge through the week. The only place in the state with a Muslim majority population, Malerkotla did not witness any communal incidents even during the 1947 riots when the whole of Punjab was burning.
The entire town shut down for three days as angry protesters demanded the arrest of the culprits and blocked all main roads. The protests spread to nearby towns as the police failed to make any headway in the case. Hindu organisations took out protest rallies in many places demanding the arrest of the culprits, and identifying the alleged murderers by their communities, even though they are yet to be identified. Sangrur district police chief Mandeep Singh Sidhu said that the boy, before he died, told a police officer that two boys had burnt him, one younger than him and another older. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was quick to order an inquiry, asking DGP Sumedh Singh Saini to get the murder case solved at the earliest. He also sought to assuage hurt feelings by the announcement of the construction of a community centre in the memory of the murdered boy. Senior BJP minister Surjit Kumar Jayani dashed to Malerkotla and spoke of a conspiracy behind the murder. Congress MP Vijayinder Singla joined in the protests.
It was then the turn of the Muslim organisations to protest as the police rounded up five boys from their community. Youngsters, some of them carrying bricks, forced business establishments to close as they accused the police of communal bias. A semblance of normalcy returned after four out of the five Muslim boys were let off later. Shops opened again on Thursday after announcements were made from mosques informing people of the release of the boys.
The police has announced a prize money of Rs 5 lakh for any information on the accused.