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Sikhs clash with swords on anniversary of India’s Golden Temple raid

The clashes allegedly broke out after members of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) insist they be allowed to speak on the microphone first during ceremonies marking the 30th anniversary of the raid on the Golden Temple.

At least 10 people were wounded when Sikhs clashed inside the Golden Temple complex, in Amritsar, India. Munish Sharma / Reuters / June 6, 2014.
At least 10 people were wounded when Sikhs clashed inside the Golden Temple complex, in Amritsar, India. Munish Sharma / Reuters / June 6, 2014.

AMRITSAR, INDIA // Clashes broke out between sword-wielding Sikhs on Friday at the Golden Temple in northern India on the 30th anniversary of a notorious army raid in which hundreds of people were killed.

At least 10 people were wounded in the violence at the temple in Amritsar, which is the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion.

Hundreds of Sikhs had gathered at the shrine to pay their respects to those killed in the June 6, 1984 raid of the temple by Indian troops aimed at flushing out armed separatists demanding an independent Sikh homeland.

“Today we were supposed to have a solemn remembrance for the martyrs of 1984 so what has happened is very sad,” said a spokesman for a radical Sikh outfit called the Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) whose supporters were involved in the clashes.

“The Temple has once again been dishonoured today,” the spokesman Prem Singh Chandumajra told reporters.

The two groups chased each other with swords on the marbled staircase of the revered shrine in Punjab state.

The clashes allegedly broke out after members of Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) insisted they be allowed to speak on the microphone first.

“Members of a radical outfit confronted the temple’s task force, triggering the fight. Some 10 people have been injured, two of them are being treated in hospital,” a police spokesman said.

He said the situation was under control with extra security deployed inside the temple.

At least 400 people were killed in the army’s Operation Blue Star.

The army’s operation enraged Sikhs who accused the troops of desecrating the faith’s holiest shrine.

India’s prime minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards in October 1984 in revenge for the operation.

Her assassination triggered mass anti-Sikh riots in which some 3,000 people were killed, many of them on the streets of New Delhi.

On Thursday, supporters of several radical groups carried out a ‘Genocide Remembrance Parade’ around the streets of Amritsar, shouting slogans to hail the “martyrs” of 1984.

Despite the outrage over the Golden Temple raid, support for an independent “Khalistan”, or the land of the pure, has waned in the last three decades.

Analysts say Punjab’s geopolitical significance, the landlocked region shares borders with Pakistan and restive Kashmir, means sovereignty is almost impossible.

However support for the independence movement remains strong among sections of the Sikh diaspora in Britain, Canada and the United States.

Kuldip Singh Brar, the commander of Operation Blue Star, was seriously injured in 2012 when he was stabbed on a London street. A Sikh gang was found guilty of the attack which was to avenge the 1984 raid.

Amarinder Singh, a prominent political leader from the state, condemned Friday’s violence at the shrine.

“It is very shameful. There is no provision for law and order there,” Mr Singh, who belongs to the Congress Party, said.

“It is unfortunate that such a thing is happening at our religious site.”

* Agence France-Presse