Sikh Terrorists Pull Hindus from Bus and Kill 24
CHANDIGARH, India (AP) _ Four Sikh terrorists separated Hindus from other passengers on a bus in Punjab state on Sunday and massacred 24 of them with machine gun and revolver fire, police said.
A police spokesman said eight Hindus were wounded, three seriously.
Those killed included at least three women.
Punjab Gov. S.S. Ray called it an ″act of madness″ and appealed for restraint. Punjab police were alerted to head off any retaliatory violence.
The slaughter was described by police as the worst single act of terrorism in the Punjab since Sikh-Hindu violence began in 1982.
A state police spokesman in Chandigarh said at least 40 people were aboard the state-run Punjab Roadways bus when a young, turbanned passenger put a revolver to the driver’s head and forced him to stop along a rural road near the village of Khudda.
The spokesman, who demanded anonymity, said the man and three accomplices then ordered all passengers off the bus, gathered the Hindus into a group and sprayed them with bullets. The attackers escaped on motor scooters that arrived just after the bus was halted, he said.
Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi issued a statement late Sunday calling the killings ″a diabolical conspiracy against the unity and integrity of India.″
A similar slaying of 14 Hindu passengers aboard a bus in Punjab on July 25 set off communal rioting in New Delhi that killed six people.
Khudda is near the city of Tanda in Hoshiapur district, 100 miles northwest of Chandigarh, the state capital. The bus was en route to Pathankot in neighboring Himachal Pradesh state.
Police in Chandigarh also said two Sikh gunmen killed one villager and badly wounded two in Qila Golan Wali in Gurdaspur district Sunday morning.
More than 600 people, most of them Hindus or moderate Sikhs, have been killed this year in attacks that police blame on Sikh militants fighting to make the Punjab into an independent Sikh nation.
Sikhs make up less than 2 percent of India’s population of 780 million, but comprise a majority in Punjab, which is on the border with Pakistan in northern India.
Sikhism was founded by the great Guru Nanak in the late 15th century and takes elements from both the Hindu and Moslem religions.
Sikh males are easily distinguishable from Hindus because they wear traditional turbans and metal bracelets, and do not cut their facial hair. Sikh women also are distinguishable by their traditional shirt-and-pants garb instead of the more dress-like sari worn chiefly by Hindu women.
Prospects for quelling the violence were set back Sunday when a candidate backed by militants was elected president of the highest Sikh religious council.
Gurcharan Singh Tohra was elected in Amritsar, the Sikh holy city, to his 14th one-year term as president of the Shromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, the Sikh religious body that controls finances at temples serving the country’s 13 million Sikhs.
Tohra got 75 votes from Sikh religious leaders. His opponent, outgoing committee President Kabul Singh, got 58 votes. Tohra had served for 13 consecutive terms, but resigned last year.
Tohra’s election was a blow to Punjab’s moderate Sikh local government and to Gandhi. Both had backed Singh, a moderate in favor of more autonomy for this rich agricultural state but not outright independence.
Tohra had the support of Sikh militants and a group of legislators who broke with Punjab’s governing Akali Dal party of Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala.
As a result of the election, Barnala’s government ″will receive a hammer blow which could prove to be fatal,″ wrote the Indian Express newspaper.
Barnala, who has been criticized for being too close to the central government, traveled to Amritsar in a heavily guarded motorcade to lend his support to Singh.