In Vienna, followers pay last respects to Rama Nand

June 2nd, 2009 - 6:47 pm ICT by IANS  

By Mehru Jaffer
Vienna, June 2 (IANS) Some 500 Ravidassis from around Europe gathered in Vienna to pay their last respects to Dera Sachh Khand leader Sant Rama Nand Dass who was shot dead at the Ravidass gurdwara here last month, leading to violence in India.

The body of the slain guru was laid out at Vienna’s main cemetery as requested by his followers. It was guarded by police and members of Austria’s anti-terrorist squad.

“Devotees along with women and children have arrived here from Italy, France, Germany, Spain and London for a last darshan of our beloved guru,” Som Dev, 45, president of Vienna’s Ravidass gurdwara told IANS here.

Som Dev, who works as a taxi driver, came to Vienna 17 years ago from a village in Punjab’s Jalandhar district.

“I attended sermons at two Sikh gurdwaras in Vienna at first. In 2005 the Ravidass gurdwara was opened and we can pray the way we want to here. I still attend ceremonies at the first two gurdwaras. I have nothing against my Sikh brothers but I am a Ravidassi and not a Sikh,” said Som Dev adding that Ravidassis in Vienna total about 250 people.

The ceremony was held at the imperial city’s main cemetery that opened in 1874. It is Vienna’s largest burial ground with 330,000 graves and some 2,500,000 people have been buried here in the last 122 years, including Mozart.

One of the followers with a mellifluous voice recited the words of Guru Ravidass, a 14th century Indian saint revered by members of the Dera Sachh Khand sect, as mourners filed past the body of Rama Nand Dass.

Rama Nand Dass, 56, died of gunshot injuries after an attack on him and sect head Niranjan Dass May 24.

Niranjan Dass, 68, who is recovering in a Vienna hospital, will travel back to India with the body of Rama Nand Dass. The Punjab government, in an unsual move, is later Tuesday sending a chartered plane to bring Rama Nand Dass’ body and Niranjan Dass back.

The sect head and the body will be flown to the Dera headquarters at Ballan village near Jalandhar.

The two religious leaders were invited here to address devotees of the Ravidassi sect. In the midst of a sermon by Niranjan Dass, a group of men rushed in brandishing knives. They also started firing from a gun, wounding 16 people in a congregation of about 200 devotees.

Niranjan Dass received gunshot wounds in the hip and stomach. His condition stabilised after an emergency surgery. However, his second in command Rama Nand Dass succumbed to his wounds the following morning.

The incident led to widespread violence by sect followers in central Punjab May 24-25. Three people died, dozens were injured and public and private property worth millions was damaged during the violence.

Soon after the tragedy, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger described the incident as “unfortunate” and promised India a detailed report.

Spindelegger said that no effort will be spared to bring those responsible for the crime to justice, adding that the best possible medical assistance is provided to the injured in Vienna.

Investigators here say that it will take some time before the first probe report is released regarding the exact cause of the tragedy and who is responsible.

The Austrian police doubt that professionals masterminded the attack, as professional terrorists do not turn up with a rusty, old 9mm gun and few knives, one of the investigators said.

According to official statistics, the number of people of Indian origin in Austria is 11,598 out of which about 8,200 live in Vienna. Some 3,000 people of Indian origin here are part of the Sikh community.

Indians first came to Austria as students in the 1950s followed later by those employed by the United Nations. Vienna is the third UN capital after New York and Geneva. The majority of Indians here are from Punjab.

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