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Indian Troops Storm Sikhs' Golden Temple

March 08, 1987|From Times Wire Services

AMRITSAR, India — Several hundred security troops Saturday stormed the Golden Temple, the Sikhs' most sacred shrine, after Sikh extremists killed one policeman and wounded at least three others who were investigating reports that a colleague had been kidnaped by the militants and was being tortured, authorities said.

Kanwaljit Singh, Punjab's deputy minister, told a news conference in the state capital of Chandigarh that police and paramilitary troops, armed with rifles and automatic weapons, raced into the temple to rescue the wounded men. Five people were arrested and a cache of weapons seized, he said.

Police said one of the officers died, two were listed in critical condition and the fourth was treated and released. The tortured officer was admitted to a hospital, but his condition was not known.

Officer Tortured

The trouble began when an off-duty officer, who had gone to the ornate 17th-Century shrine to pray, was seized by militant Sikh students and tortured on suspicion he worked for intelligence officials.

According to Singh, the extremists took the officer to a room where they slashed his back, arms and legs and inserted chili powder into the cuts.

Militants opened fire with handguns on officers sent to investigate the alleged torture, hitting four of them, the minister added.

After the shooting, authorities cordoned off the area and ordered devotees out of the temple before deciding to storm the complex.

The action occurred days after Punjab's Sikh chief minister, Surjit Singh Barnala, said in newspaper interviews that he would not allow police to storm the temple.

Affront to Sikh Faith

On Saturday, Barnala cut short a visit to the western Punjab town of Bhatinda and returned to Chandigarh, saying the sanctity of religious places must be maintained.

India's 14 million Sikhs regard the temple as sacred and the entry of police as an affront to their faith.

In June, 1984, then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian army to storm the temple to dislodge Sikh militants, who were using it as a base for terrorist attacks and a sanctuary from police. More than 1,000 people, mostly Sikhs, died in the bloody raid, which created widespread resentment in the Sikh community and led to increased violence.

Two Sikh bodyguards gunned down Gandhi four months later to avenge the Indian army action.

Last April, police raided the temple again after Sikh extremists declared a separate nation and said a parallel government would operate from the Golden Temple. One person was killed and more than 300 were arrested.

Separate Homeland Sought

Sikh militants have been fighting for a separate nation to be established in Punjab. More than 160 people have been killed in related violence this year alone.

Sikhs, whose religion is an offshoot of Hinduism, make up only 2% of the country's 780 million people. But they are a majority in the rich farming state of Punjab.

Political observers in India said Saturday's action could aggravate the problems of Barnala as well as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Sikh militants have vowed to bring down the government of Barnala in a continuing tussle between extremists and moderates for the political control of Punjab.

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