Ravidass sect leaders calm angry followers, demand action (Lead,superseding earlier story)

May 26th, 2009 - 8:56 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London/Vienna, May 26 (IANS) Europe-based leaders of a Sikh sect, whose deputy leader was shot dead in Vienna, Tuesday urged thousands of angry followers in the continent to remain calm and demanded early arrest and punishment for the killers.

Sant Rama Anand, deputy head of Guru Ravidass 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 the Sikh community.

Amid mounting speculation about the identity of the attackers, a delegation of Ravidass followers headed by Yograj Aheer of the sect’s Southall temple arrived in Vienna to gather facts about the case but were unable to meet local police officials.

“We have received excellent cooperation from the Indian embassy, who are liaising with us, but have been unable to secure a meeting with the local police so far,” Aheer told IANS by telephone from Vienna.

“The community here is in a state of shock, and we are trying to calm down the situation. We came here to find out the circumstances of the killing, but have no information so far.”

As the killings sparked riots across India, the head of the sect’s international chapter said he too was urging followers 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,” Ram told IANS.

He said Britain was home to around 175,000 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 Dass 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”.

He said there were “substantial populations” of Ravi Dass 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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