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Killing Spree


Time, Apr. 16, 1984

Photo: Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (center), with armed entourage

New terror from the Sikhs

Storm, calm and storm again. Angered by what they consider discrimination against their religion, 100,000 militant Sikhs prepared last week to burn copies of Article 25 of the Indian constitution, which they complained fails to recognize their special place in the nation. Then the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced it would consider amending Article 25, and the constitution burning was called off. But just when the situation seemed to be cooling, the violence that has plagued the Punjab for 18 months exploded ferociously. Early last week Sikh extremists lobbed hand grenades into a religious house near their holy city of Amritsar, killing four and injuring 31. In many Punjab towns terrorists on motorcycles shot up cars, banks and people in the streets. Two Hindu political leaders, both national figures, were gunned down. At week's end 23 had been killed and 80 injured, bringing the death toll in the past three months to almost 300.

Responsibility for the new wave of killings was claimed by the Dashmesh Regiment, a previously unrecognized group of Sikh terrorists that counts moderate Sikhs as well as Hindus and the government among its sworn enemies. The Dashmesh, which may be connected with the fanatical Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, has vowed to murder one political figure a day until the government lifts a ban imposed late last month on a radical Sikh student organization.

The Indian Cabinet, in an emergency session last week, declared the Punjab 'dangerously disturbed' and increased the arrest and detentions powers of security forces in that area. Still, opposition leaders in the Parliament regard these measures as insufficient. Most oppose Mrs. Gandhi's efforts to meet Sikh demands, and some even suggest that she storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where Bhindranwale Bhindranwale is ensconced, which would undoubtedly provoke an even more furious Sikh uprising.

Even the pro-government Times of India criticized Mrs. Gandhi for proceeding with a trip to Arab capitals beginning this week. 'If her government has recognized the situation to be critical enough to warrant such drastic measures,' it asked in an editorial, 'can she afford to be away from the country for even a day? The trip will appear to be an exercise in escapism.' Mrs. Gandhi, caught between pressures to do more and less, must wonder if escape lies anywhere.