Army Begins Court Martial Of Sikhs Who Mutinied After Temple Siege
NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ The army has begun court martial proceedings against the first of the approximately 2,000 Sikh soldiers who mutinied in eastern Bihar state last June to protest the army assault on the Sikhs’ Golden Temple, the United News of India news agency reported Sunday.
UNI said the court martial of two soldiers began Saturday before a five- judge tribunal headed by a Sikh brigadier general in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh state, about 390 miles southeast of New Delhi. Other trials were expected to begin soon, the agency said.
Havildar Hari Singh and Naik Sadhu Singh are charged with mutiny and could face death sentences if convicted, UNI said. It said both men were under 40 but gave no further details.
The two are also charged with breaking open the armory and looting arms and ammunition at the Sikh Regimental Center in Ramgarh, central Bihar, on June 10.
A Hindu commander was killed and two officers were critically wounded in the uprising. Press reports said the mutineers fired weapons indiscriminately , hijacked trucks and set out for the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab state.
The Golden Temple is Sikhdom’s holiest shrine.
An estimated 2,500 to 5,000 Sikh soldiers mutinied in nine states, including Punjab, and tried to reach the temple.
The Golden Temple, a walled complex, housed Sikh extremists and a large cache of weapons. The army attacked the temple, and at least 1,000 Sikhs and 220 soldiers were killed in the conflict, according to military sources.
The Sikh extremists were demanding a separate state.
An army spokesman could not be reached immediately for comment Sunday on the courts martial and it was not known exactly how many soldiers would be brought to trial from Bihar and other states.
UNI, quoting a senior army source, said most rebels would be treated leniently because the rebellions had taken place under ″peculiar circumstances. ″
In a six-hour hearing Saturday the court was told that most of the deserters were captured before they reached Allahabad on the way to Punjab.
More than 100 deserters were killed in clashes with police and troops nationwide, military sources said last June.
The Indian Army of 1.2 million - fourth largest in the world - includes about 100,000 Sikhs. The Sikhs represent about 2 percent of India’s population of approximately 730 million.
Army officers said initially that deserters would be treated harshly. But observers said authorities may now be more lenient so as not to alienate the Sikh community, which was victimized by riots after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - by two of her Sikh guards, according to the government - on Oct. 31.