1978 Sikh–Nirankari clashes
A violent incident occurred between the Sant Nirankari Mission and traditional Sikhs on 13 April 1978 at Amritsar, Punjab, India. Sixteen people—thirteen traditional Sikhs and three Nirankari followers—were killed in the ensuing violence. Clashes occurred when some Akhand Kirtani Jatha and Damdami Taksal members led by Fauja Singh protested against and tried to stop a convention of Sant Nirankari Mission followers. Fauja attempted to behead the Nirankari chief but was killed by his bodyguard. This incident is considered to be a starting point in the events leading to Operation Blue Star and the 1980s insurgency in Punjab.
Nirankari, a movement within Sikhism, started in the 19th century. Their belief in a living guru as opposed to the scriptural guru Guru Granth Sahib resulted in their difference with traditional Sikhs. In 1929, a break-way faction Sant Nirankari was formed by Avtar Singh. Sant Nirankari also adopted many variations from Sikhs. They were further accused by Sikhs of criticizing Sikhism and its Gurus using texts such as Avtar Bani and Yug Purash. These tensions lead to their clashes with Sikh organizations mainly Damdami Taksal and Akhand Kirtni Jatha at many places in Punjab.
On 13 April 1978, the day to celebrate the birth of Khalsa, a peaceful Sant Nirankari convention headed by their leader Gurbachan Singh was organized in Amritsar, with permission from the Akali state government. The practices of "Sant Nirankaris" sect of Nirankaris was considered as heretics by the orthodox Sikhism expounded by Bhindranwale. From Golden Temple premises, Bhindranwale delivered an angry sermon in which he declared that he would not allow this convention and would go there and cut them to pieces. A procession of about two hundred Sikhs led by Bhindranwale and Fauja Singh of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha left the Golden Temple, heading towards the Nirankari Convention. Fauja attempted to behead Nirankari chief Gurbachan Singh with his sword but was shot dead by Gurbachan's bodyguard, while Bhindranwale escaped. In the ensuing violence, several people were killed: two of Bhindranwale's followers, eleven members of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha and three Nirankaris. This event brought Bhindranwale to limelight in the media.
A criminal case was filed against sixty two Nirankaris charged with the murder of 13 Sikhs by the Akali led government in Punjab. The case was heard in the neighbouring Haryana state, and all the accused were acquitted, on the basis that they acted in self-defence. The Punjab government Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal decided not to appeal the decision. The case of Nirankaris received widespread support in the media and the orthodox Sikhs claimed this to be a conspiracy to defame the Sikh religion. Bhindranwale increased his rhetoric against the perceived enemies of Sikhs. A letter of authority was issued by Akal Takht to ostracize the Sant Nirankaris. A sentiment was created to justify extra judicial killings of the perceived enemies of Sikhism. The chief proponents of this attitude were the Babbar Khalsa founded by the widow, Bibi Amarjit Kaur of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, whose husband Fauja Singh had been at the head of the march in Amritsar; the Damdami Taksal led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who had also been in Amritsar on the day of the outrage; the Dal Khalsa, formed with the object of demanding a sovereign Sikh state; and the All India Sikh Students Federation, which was banned by the government.
In the subsequent years following this event, several murders took place in Punjab and the surrounding areas allegedly by Bhindranwale's group and the new Babbar Khalsa. The Babbar Khalsa activists took up residence in the Golden Temple, where they would retreat to, after committing "acts of punishment" on people against the orthodox Sikh tenets. Police did not entered The temple complex to avoid hurting the sentiments of Sikhs.
On 24 April 1980, The Nirankari head, Gurbachan was murdered. Bhindranwale took residence in Golden Temple to escape arrest when he was accused of the assassination of Nirankari Gurbachan Singh. Several of Bhindranwale's associates and relatives were arrested. The FIR named nearly twenty people involved in the murder, most of whom had ties to Bhindranwale. A member of the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, Ranjit Singh, surrendered and admitted to the assassination three years later, and was sentenced to serve thirteen years at the Tihar Jail in Delhi. Ranjit Singh later became head of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). Ranjit Singh spent 12 years in jail as an under-trial from 1984 to 1996. Several other members of Sant Nirankari Mission were also killed later.
Gurudwara Shaheed-Ganj, Amritsar was raised in the memory of the 13 Sikhs killed in the clash.
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