NEW DELHI — Five people were killed and at least 45 were injured Saturday when Hindus and Sikhs battled here in the Indian capital for the first time since the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984. Three of the dead were killed by police gunfire.
The confrontation between members of the two religious groups in a west New Delhi neighborhood occurred after Hindus massed in protest to Friday's killing of 15 bus passengers by Sikh terrorists in Punjab state. Fourteen of Friday's victims were Hindus.
Indian army units were called into the city to aid police in enforcing a curfew ordered for the riot area.
"The capital is extremely tense," Police Commissioner Ved Marwah said. "Anything can happen anywhere."
Hindu Crowd Moves
According to police and eyewitnesses, fighting between the two religious communities began Saturday morning after a loosely organized Hindu crowd surged through a market area, urging shopkeepers to close their businesses as a symbol of protest against the Punjab bus killings.
After several confrontations with individual Sikhs in the neighborhood, about 2,000 Hindus broke away from the main crowd and advanced on a nearby Sikh temple, burning several shops and one Sikh home along the route.
Inside the temple, rioters smashed glass chandeliers and set fire to the Sikh holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib.
"Four of us hid on the roof while they did this," said Inder Singh, 50, a Sikh vegetable seller whose shop is near the temple. Singh, standing barefoot on the temple carpet strewn with shards of broken glass, showed reporters blackened pages from the burned holy book.
After news spread about the Hindu mob assault on the temple, sword-wielding Sikhs assembled in the market area. Several Hindu men were attacked, and Hindu vehicles were burned, all indicating that the Sikhs intended to fight back against Hindu assaults, something that did not happen in November, 1984, when more than 2,000 Sikhs were killed in rioting that followed Indira Gandhi's assassination by two Sikh members of her security staff.
However, before the Sikhs could organize an attack against Hindu religious places, police and paramilitary units arrived in force.
Police official Arun Bhagat said that police fired 20 rounds into the crowd before it dispersed. He said three people were killed by the police fire and that two other men died in the Hindu-Sikh fighting.
Seventy people were arrested on charges of arson and rioting, Bhagat said, and several mixed Hindu-Sikh neighborhoods were placed under curfew.
Indian Home Minister Buta Singh, a Sikh, inspected the riot zone Saturday afternoon, protected by black-uniformed commandos. He promised fearful female residents that he would call the army into the city to help protect them. Soon afterward, members of the army's 4th Gurkha Regiment were patrolling in jeeps and trucks.
The working class neighborhood where the riot occurred is about equally divided between Sikhs and Hindus. It was the site of some of the worst violence in the aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assassination.
Many of the children and widows of victims of that post-assassination rioting live in the neighborhood in housing provided by the government.
Recently, the neighborhood has also become a destination for several hundred Hindu refugees from troubled Punjab state. Sikh separatist terrorists are trying to drive Hindus from the state as part of their campaign to force the creation of a separate Sikh nation there.