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Sikh Community Split Over Air India Verdicts


C.B.C. News, Vancouver, Mar. 17, 2005

Photo: Joginder Singh Sidhu, president of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha Society, 470 Cecelia Road, Victoria, B.C.

Photo: Sadhu Singh Samra, senior vice-president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, 750 120th Street, Surrey, B.C.

Reaction from the Indo-Canadian community to the acquittals of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri is sharply divided.

Worshippers at some fundamentalist Sikh temples are pleased the two accused were found not guilty. But others say they are still getting over their shock and that the verdicts could deepen existing divisions.

Joginder Singh Sidhu is the president of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha Society, a temple that Ripudaman Singh Malik had donated to in the past.

'No, I was not surprised because I knew that they, they would never do this act,' he says.

The vice president of the fundamentalist Dashmesh Darbar Temple in Surrey - which Bagri has attended - says he is thrilled both men were let go.

'We are happy with the court decision,' says Kuldip Singh Sekhon. 'We're free from that blame. I hope all the other communities will see our image is good.'

Just a few kilometres away, the president of the moderate Guru Nanak temple, Sadhu Samra, has a different view.

'While I heard the verdict I was astonished,' he says. 'Everyone was astonished, and everyone was thinking how it happened, because justice was not given to the innocent people who were killed.'

Samra supports calls by the victims' families for a public inquiry into the lengthy investigation. And he says that the original tragedy has been compounded by another tragedy within the Sikh community.

'Everybody in our community knows who did it, but nobody's coming forward,' says Samra, noting that fear still grips the community.

Meanwhile, people at Surrey's Khalsa School, founded and run by Malik, didn't offer any comment. And security guards at the school quickly escorted media off the property.

A B.C. representative of the World Sikh Organization, Gian Singh Sandhu, says he hopes time will heal the rift within the community.

'I don't think it will happen overnight,' says Sandhu. 'But I think the community will get past that and build on relationships.'

R.C.M.P. spokesperson Sgt. John Ward says police understand there are strong emotions in the wake of the verdicts. 'We also urge the community to remain calm, and to continue working with the police.'