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Old feud, new stage

india Updated: May 26, 2009 00:08 IST
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There is still confusion over the identity of those involved in Sunday’s shootout at a Vienna gurdwara of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan, a Sikh sect founded as part of a reform movement by Sant Ravidass about 70 years ago.

While sources among Ravidass followers claim that the attackers came from Germany and France, Austria-based Sikhs told Hindustan Times that all the six assailants were from Spain and had been tracking the present Dera head, Sant Niranjan Dass, and his deputy, Sant Rama Nand, for quite some time.

Chief of the banned Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Vadhawa Singh, even blamed Indian intelligence agencies for the incident. He said the Indian establishment wanted to create a divide between the Sikhs and the followers of Sant Ravidass.

But a close associate of Sant Niranjan Dass said, “About four years back, Sikh radicals wrote a letter instructing Sant
Niranjan Dass to adhere to the rehat maryada (code of Sikh religious conduct) or face the consequences.”

Sikh hardliners have been objecting to the Sachkhand devotees’ practice at gurdwaras to touch the feet of Sant Niranjan Dass in the presence of the Guru Granth Sahib — which, according to the code, is supreme and none can be given prominence in its presence.

But Mahi, vice-president of the Vienna gurdwara, told Hindustan Times from Vienna that Sikh radicals have been nursing a grudge against Ravidass followers for a long time, as their hefty donations were no longer going to the Sikh orthodox gurdwaras.

Besides, the radicals are not comfortable with the opening of Ravidass gurdwaras worldwide, a move initiated by Sant Niranjan Dass a decade ago. The move was not only a potential threat to the supremacy of the orthodox Sikhs, but also resulted in the decline in their income.

Since the Vienna Ravidass gurdwara was set up in 1999, Sachkhand devotees stopped holding marriages, rituals and religious meetings at the Sikh gurdwara.

Similar Ravidass gurdwaras have been established in the European Union, the United States and Canada.

Mahi, an eyewitness to Vienna shootout, said, “Earlier, Ravidass followers used to do menial jobs for Sikhs in the villages of Punjab. But now we have earned social status and money to compete with them. The attack was outcome of sheer jealousy.”