No place for outsiders
Austria’s reaction to a Sikh guru’s murder shows it’s wary of foreign cultures, writes Ruud van Weerdenburg.india Updated: Mar 06, 2011 13:09 IST
It took Judge Susanne Lehr 11 hours in Vienna’s ‘Landesgericht’ — the most important court in Central Europe — to decide that the 36-year-old Jaspal S. will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Four of his assistants have been imprisoned for 17-18 years for killing the head of a Sikh sect, Dera Sach Khand, Sant Rama Nand in the capital of Austria in May 2009. Though, for over 100 years, Vienna has been a melting pot for people from east, south, north and west Europe, there is still a strong resistance to outside influences. As soon as the Habsburger dynasty’s influence and power diminished, Austria was reduced to a small country. Today it’s even difficult to find a typical Austrian name in a telephone directory. And since it’s a ‘diplomatic city’, it doubles as a paradise for spies too.
Coming back to the murder of the religious head, 12 days of questioning too failed to get answers. Nobody was willing to find out — or be seen finding out — the reasons that led up to his murder. For both sides, it was a matter of shame to have presented Sikh culture in a bad light. No Guru Nanak, no Golden Temple; only deaf ears and dead-ends in Landesgericht. Worse, even the will to get to the root of the case was lacking. Not to forget that many children and women were present at the site when Sant Dass was murdered.
Most of the original Viennese inhabitants of a small street called Pelzgasse didn’t even know that a Sikh temple existed in their quiet part of town. It’s hard to imagine but it’s true. It’s located in a ‘quarter’ close to the West Station (there are only two railway stations in Vienna) and on the other side of the ‘Ring’, a long road to the centre of the city in the middle of Central Europe.
Most newspapers tried to blame the Asylanten — the so-called questionable political refugees — for Sant Nand’s murder. It is not very complicated for them to analyse the ‘fight between the castes’. The main reason is that most Austrians find it tough to accept ‘outsiders’. Some intellectuals even wonder if Indians are following in the footsteps of their former colonists, the English, and stirring up trouble, like this one, in other nations. Today, Austria, most of Europe, in fact, has been neglecting its own extreme right wing and neo-Nazi influences. The government, artistes and teachers are clueless on what to do with them. It’s once again coming too close to repeating the faults that led up to World War II.
Vienna is also the capital of classical music and a big attraction for the rest of the world, to which it has given some of the most famous European composers, who, according to Christian principles, form ‘the crown of creation’. But a majority of people fail to understand the reason for others to level off their caste differences in their world-class city.
Ruud van Weerdenburg is a journalist based in Vienna, Austria. The views expressed by the author are personal