Priests calm Ravi Das followers in Britain, want swift Indian action

May 26th, 2009 - 6:52 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, May 26 (IANS) The Europe-wide head of a Sikh sect whose deputy leader was assassinated in Vienna said Tuesday he was determined to calm down followers in Britain - home to one of the largest chapters of the sect outside India.

Sant Rama Anand, deputy head of Guru Ravi Dass Singh Sabha, was shot while delivering a sermon on a visit to the Austrian capital Sunday by men described by police as “fundamentalist” members of a rival Sikh sect.

As the killings sparked riots across India, the head of the sect’s international chapter said he was urging followers of the sect in Britain to be peaceful, but demanded swift action by India and Austria and stringent punishment against the killers.

“Yes, people here are very angry, but we won’t allow violence to occur in this country,” said Shangara Ram, President of the Shri Guru Ravi Dass Sabha (UK and Abroad).

“We are appealing to our followers to remain peaceful, and to sort out our differences across the table,” he told IANS.

Ram said Britain was home to around 1.75 million followers of Guru Ravi Dass Sabha, who worship the Sikh holy book - the Guru Granth Sahib - in 21 temples across the country.

The followers of Guru Ravi Das are from lower castes and accuse the upper caste-dominated Sikh clergy of discriminating against them.

Ram said followers of the sect in Britain plan to take out marches and hand over a petition to the Indian High Commissioner demanding a full inquiry into the assassination.

“At the moment we don’t really know which organisation was behind the killing - whether it was the Khalistan Commando Force or some such extremist group. The killers must be extradited to India and punished according to the law of the land,” Ram said.

Another senior leader of the sect, Sabha Secretary Lakshman Singh Sehmar, told IANS the assassination was “an attack not just on Ravi Dasiyas, but on all Deras” - Sikh sects that have broken away from the mainstream clergy.

He said there were “substantial populations” of Ravi Das followers in Italy, France, Portugal, Germany and Austria who had “strongly condemned” the killing of their leader.

“They say we are from the lower castes. We may have different views, but we all bow to the same holy book,” added Shangara Ram.

“What happened in Austria was very bad.”

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