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The Sikh Times, May 25, 2009

Photo: Niranjan Dass

Over a dozen people were injured when several Sikhs attacked Ramanand and Niranjan Dass during a ceremony at the Shri Guru Ravidas Sabha in Vienna, Austria on Sunday. Ramanand died from bullet wounds while Niranjan Dass is in stable condition. The attackers were overpowered and suffered critical injuries. (Sorry, I don't use the Sant prefix because it is a symbol of honor and I don't believe any of the folks involved here are all that honorable.)

The murder of Ramanand can be viewed as the latest event in a succession of events involving mischievous attempts by Hindu groups to infiltrate, dilute and discredit Sikhism.

The Sikh-Nirankari clash of April 13, 1978 was an early example that gave birth to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the decade long insurrection for autonomy in Punjab.

More recently, events surrounding Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh have caused Sikhs to clash with Dera Sacha Sauda.

Ramanand belonged to the group Dera Sachkhand in Jalandhar, Punjab, India. The group's current leader is Niranjan Dass, who was accompanying Ramanand on the trip to Austria. The group's success at impersonalization is evident from the fact that many, if not most, media sources incorrectly refer to the group as a 'Sikh sect' (see the news item from The Independent via the link provided above).

For example, it is clear from Niranjan Dass's biography that he was born into a Hindu family. Nevertheless the web site's home page displays a building (top corners of the home page) that looks completely like a Sikh gurdwara (temple). The group's leaders often keep their hair unshorn and wear turbans, as if to appear as Sikhs. Their 'motto' on the home page is stated as 'Jo Bole So Nirbhay, Shri Guru Ravidass Maharaj Ki Jai' -- a direct misappropriation of the Sikh salutation 'Jo Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal.'

Sikhism was founded as an egalitarian religion that would not recognize caste differences. In reality, Sikhs have not quite lived up to this ideal and allowed lower-castes to feel marginalized and seek acceptance at deras and elsewhere. However, when Sikhs are repeatedly needled in the manner described above, it is no surprise that some among them might be offended enough to react strongly. The provocation is both present and extreme. Equally, the failure of governments and law enforcement agencies to prevent such abuse is both undeniable and complicit. Under such circumstances, it may not be entirely fair to term a violent Sikh reaction as fundamentalist.