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Blood and Ashes


Time, Jan. 16, 1989

Photo: Beant Singh, left, and Satwant Singh

Nearly three years after they were sentenced to death for the 1984 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, gunman Satwant Singh, 25, and conspirator Kehar Singh, 53, were hanged last week in a New Delhi jail. Satwant Singh was one of the two Sikh bodyguards who shot Mrs. Gandhi; the other was killed in the shootout that followed. Five months earlier the Prime Minister had ordered the Indian army to rout Sikh terrorists holed up in the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhdom's holiest shrine. Said an unrepentant Satwant: 'I wish that I am born again and again and each time lay down my life for it.'

To head off retaliation by Sikh extremists, the government stepped up security in the capital and three northern states, including the Sikh stronghold of Punjab. The cremated ashes of the executed were temporarily locked away. To little avail. In the Punjab village of Badowal, militant bands of Sikhs raided the homes of Hindu workers, apparently selected at random, killing at least ten by gunfire.