AMRITSAR, India — Police and paramilitary troops virtually sealed off the Golden Temple on Saturday in a new move to block Sikh separatists from using the religion's holiest shrine as a refuge.
Amritsar Police Superintendent Baldev Singh said police were guarding 18 entrances to the 16th-Century complex and, for the first time, were searching pilgrims inside the temple in an effort to keep out militants who have been blamed for the deaths of more than 850 people in Punjab state this year.
Singh said police guards would remain inside the temple complex and would patrol the road from the temple to the surrounding complex of offices and dormitories.
The Sikh Gurudwara Prabhandak Committee, which controls finances of Sikh temples throughout India, closed its offices to protest the police action.
The committee said, in a statement, that the action was "a grossly provocative and violent act on the part of the government."
Police have raided the complex repeatedly in search of radical Sikhs. In June, 1984, the Indian army carried out a massive raid to drive militants from the temple, and more than 1,200 people were killed.
Five months later, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards in revenge for the raid, setting off anti-Sikh rioting in which 2,000 people died.
Sikhs, who make up only 2% of India's population, but who are a majority in Punjab state, which borders Pakistan, are seeking a separate nation in Punjab to keep their minority sect from being overwhelmed by Hindus, who make up more than 80% of India's 780 million people.
Sikhism, a monotheistic religion, was founded about 500 years ago as a peaceful alternative to warring Islam and Hinduism. But it later became known as a warrior sect.