Indian Sikh guru dies in Austrian gurdwara clash, six held (Lead)

May 25th, 2009 - 12:16 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, May 25 (IANS) An Indian Sikh guru died in the Austrian capital Monday following an armed attack between rival Sikh groups at a gurdwara the previous day. Six people have been arrested for their suspected role in the clash that injured at least 15 people and sparked widespread violence in India’s Punjab state.

Sant Rama Nand, 57, who was visiting here from India died of his injuries in hospital. The condition of a second guest guru, 68-year-old Sant Niranjan Dass, who was speaking at the gurdwara, was stable after undergoing emergency surgery, DPA quoted doctors as saying.

While the six believed to have started the fight during the prayer meeting are in police custody, further arrests are not ruled out.

Devotees of Shri Guru Ravidas, a 14th-century founder of a Sikh sect called Dera Sach Khand, meet here regularly. However, the Sunday sermon in the Sikh shrine, attended by women and children too, turned bloody when five people brandished knives and a sixth fired from a pistol.

The armed men were immediately overpowered by the devotees present and many were hurt in the tussle that followed.

A witness who was too frightened to give his name told IANS that the walls and floor of the prayer hall were sprayed with blood. He came here to listen to the sermon of Niranjan Das and Sant Rama Anand.

Police believe the conflict was based on doctrinal differences between the more traditional Sikh community and the liberal group whose temple was the scene of the attack.

The Sikh temple near Vienna’s busy West train station is one of three places of worship for the tiny Sikh community living here. There are less than 3,000 Sikhs in all of Austria.

Some Sikhs here were in fact unaware of the rivalry that existed within the community.

Jagjit Singh said he goes to worship at another shrine located in Vienna’s 22nd district and was told of the violence that took place at the gurdwara here in the 15th district by a friend.

He said he did not know of the rivalries between Sikhs visiting different places of worship in the city.

“I go to the gurdwara closest to where I live,” Singh, an employee at the Vienna International Centre, told IANS over telephone.

At least 16 wounded people were lifted by three medical helicopters and driven by ambulances to various hospitals. However, many more suspected of also being hurt fled the shrine without being treated.

The shrine’s neighbourhood, which is a mix of commercial establishments and residential quarters, continued to remain tense.

Towns in India’s Punjab state were also tense Monday morning after a night of violence. District authorities in Jalandhar, which saw the maximum violence, requisitioned the army and the Border Security Force (BSF) Sunday night even as the Punjab Police was out on the streets in full force to control the rampaging mobs belonging to the Sachh Khand sect.

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