ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sikhism and Deras

In the mosaic of Punjab society, the deras provide support to the marginalised castes.

The serious injuries to Sant Niranjan Dass, the chief of the Dera Sachkhand Ballan and the death of Sant Ramanand, the deputy chief, at the hands of Sikh assailants in Vienna-Rudolfsheim in Austria on 24 May set off violence in Punjab and parts of Haryana that claimed two lives and destroyed assets worth thousands of crores.

The attack in Vienna was an offshoot of a number of developments such as rising dalit consciousness in Punjab and Haryana, the massive political clout that the different deras wield in Punjab and the presence of various radical Sikh organisations in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States and parts of Europe. Indeed Vienna is known to be the “refuge” to which a number of Khalistani militants fled from Punjab in the mid-1980s. So palpable is the influence of these bodies in the Indian diaspora that soon after the assault, a 24-hour Punjabi and English news radio station in Southall, UK, received an email that the Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) claimed responsibility for the act. The KZF, however, denied that it had any role and like the hardline Babbar Khalsa International it blamed the Indian intelligence agencies for creating ill-feelings between the Khalistanis and the Dera Sachkhand followers. Another important aspect that sociologists say this violent episode has showcased is the casteist undertones to social interactions among the Indian diaspora. In fact, those disappointed that casteism was not accepted as a form of racism at the recent United Nations conference on racism at Geneva, are hopeful that this incident will help bring international support to their argument.

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