Thousands of Sikh protesters brandishing swords flooded the streets of several of major towns in India’s Punjab region, burning trains, blocking roads and attacking public buildings following the slaying of dissident Sikh guru Sant Ramanand, who was attacked by six men with knifes and a pistol at a gurdwara (Sikh temple) in Vienna May 24. Ramanand, from the Dera Sach Khand sect—made up largely of dalits (“Untouchables”)—was targeted by Jat Sikhs—a higher caste, landowning sect—who accused him of disrespecting the religion. At least two have been killed in the Punjab violence.
Sant Nirajnan Dass, a fellow Dera Sach Khand guru, was among 30 other people injured in Vienna, but is recovering in hospital after emergency surgery. Six accused attackers men were arrested at the gurdwara. Two of the attackers were also gravely injured as shots were exchanged. Orthodox Sikhs consider Dera Sach Khand to be heretical. Followers of the sect do not follow certain rules, such as wearing beards and donning turbans.
Violence erupted in Punjab as soon as word came that the guru had been killed. Police fired on rioters in Jalandhar, and a man was shot dead as police dispersed a crowd in the nearby town of Lambran. The second protester died after police opened fire at Jalandhar Cantonment railway station. In the Sikh holy city of Amritsar, police fired tear gas after protesters burnt dozens of buses. Violent protests have also been reported in the towns of Patiala, Ferozepur, Bathinda and Nawanshahr. Army and paramilitary forces have been deployed, and a curfew has been imposed in Jalandhar and several other areas of the region.
Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister and himself a Sikh, appealed for calm: “I am deeply distressed by the outbreak of violence in Punjab following certain incidents in Vienna, Austria. Whatever the provocation, it is important to maintain peace and harmony among different sections of the people.” (The Telegraph, BBC News, DPA, May 25)
Violence concerning another dissident Sikh sect also broke out in the industrial city of Ludhiana, where followers of the Dera Sacha Sauda were attacked by sword-wielding followers of the Sikh organization Ek Noor Khalsa Fauj while returning from prayers in the city’s Shimlapuri district. Six were injured, and three hospitalized. (PTI, Sikhs Angat, May 24)