Sikh Leader Killed In Austria, Setting Off Riots In India

May 26, 2009

Author: Lydia Polgreen

Source: The Columbus Dispatch/The New York Times

Riots erupted across the Punjab region of India yesterday in response to the killing of the leader of a Sikh sect who died after an attack on a temple in Vienna, Austria.

At least one person was killed in the riots, and authorities imposed a curfew in four towns. The violent protests were a response to the attack on the sect leaders, who were visiting the large Sikh community in Europe.

In Vienna, six young Sikh men stormed into a hall where hundreds of worshippers had gathered, and they shot at the sect leaders, said S.R. Heer, a senior official at the sect's hospital and school in Jalandhar, a large provincial town in Punjab.

One of the leaders, Guru Sant Rama Nand, died of his wounds, Heer said; the other, Sant Niranjan Dass, was in stable condition after surgery.

The two men were the leaders of the Ravidass sect. Members revere a saint of that name believed to have been born in the 15th century to a family of leather workers, who are considered "untouchables" and are known today as Dalits.

Although the bloodshed happened a continent away, news of the attack spread to Punjab via cell phone almost instantly. The rioting quickly followed.