AMRITSAR: Clashes broke out between sword-wielding Sikhs on Friday at the Golden Temple in northern India on the 30th anniversary of a controversial army assault on Sikhism’s holiest shrine.
At least 10 people were wounded in the violence at the temple in the city of Amritsar that erupted as hundreds of Sikhs had gathered at the shrine to pay their respects to the hundreds killed in the June 6, 1984 raid. At least 400 people were killed in the attack on the temple by Indian troops that was codenamed Operation Blue Star and was aimed at flushing out armed separatists demanding an independent Sikh homeland.
“Today we were supposed to have a solemn remembrance for the martyrs of 1984 so what has happened is very sad,” said a spokesman for a radical Sikh outfit called the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) whose supporters were involved in the clashes. “The Temple has once again been dishonoured today,” the spokesman Prem Singh Chandumajra told reporters. Two groups of Sikhs sporting blue and saffron turbans chased each other with swords, spears and sticks on the marbled staircase of the revered shrine in Punjab state.
Police alleged the clashes erupted after members of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) shouted slogans for an independent homeland from the temple rostrum and insisted they be allowed to speak first at the microphone. “Members of a radical outfit confronted the temple’s task force, triggering the fight. Some 10 people have been injured, two of them are being treated in hospital,” a police officer in charge of temple safety told AFP. Amritsar police chief Jatinder Singh Aulakh said later Friday the situation was under control. “The situation has been defused and things are under total control,” Aulakh said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
The police chief said extra security had been deployed inside the temple to ensure there were no further clashes. The army’s operation enraged Sikhs who accused the troops of desecrating the faith’s holiest shrine and still remains a divisive issue. India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards in October 1984 in revenge for the operation. Her assassination triggered mass anti-Sikh riots in which some 3,000 people were killed, many of them on the streets of New Delhi.
On Thursday, supporters of several radical groups carried out a “Genocide Remembrance Parade” around the streets of Amritsar, hailing the “martyrs” of 1984. Despite the outrage over the Golden Temple raid, support for an independent “Khalistan”, or the land of the pure, has waned in the last three decades. The landlocked region shares borders with Pakistan and restive Kashmir. However support for the independence movement remains strong among some members of the Sikh diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States.
Kuldip Singh Brar, the commander of Operation Blue Star, was seriously injured in 2012 when he was stabbed on a London street. A Sikh gang was found guilty of the attack which was to avenge the 1984 raid. Amarinder Singh, a prominent political leader from the state, condemned Friday’s violence at the shrine. “It is very shameful. There is no provision for law and order there (at the temple),” Singh, of the Congress party, told reporters. “It is unfortunate that such a thing is happening at our religious site.”
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