Sikh priests reject apology over guru adverts

AMRITSAR – Sikh priests have rejected an apology from a religious sect for adverts showing its leader dressed as a revered guru, which triggered violence in Punjab, a senior cleric said on Wednesday.

The Akal Takht, the top Sikh governing body in the north Indian pilgrimage city of Amritsar, dismissed the apology from the Dera Sacha Sauda as “a shrewd tactic.”

It was aimed at diverting attention from the fact that Dera chief Gurmit Ram Rahim Singh “himself is not forthcoming with the apology but is instead trying to hide behind nameless followers,” said Takht head Joginder Singh Vedanti.

An apology had to be “sincere and from the core of the heart,” he said, urging Sikhs to continue a boycott of the Dera which claims to have millions of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh followers.

The Takht would also seek legal advice to ensure the closure of centres run by the Dera in Punjab, Vedanti said.

Sikhs would also march about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Fatehgarh Sahib to Punjab’s capital Chandigarh on Thursday to mobilise support against the sect, he added.

Punjab witnessed violent clashes earlier this month after the Dera chief appeared in newspaper adverts as Guru Gobind Singh — one of Sikhism’s 10 revered saints.

This upset the Akal Takht and triggered violent protests earlier this month that left one dead and scores injured.

A religion-fuelled separatist revolt claimed thousands of lives in the 1980s in Punjab, India’s only Sikh-majority state with a population of about 25 million.

The revolt was fanned after prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered troops into the Golden Temple at Amritsar to evict a Sikh militant sect in 1984. Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards shot her dead later the same year.

Sikhs make up nearly two percent of India’s 1.1 billion population.

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