New Delhi, India Gunmen shot and wounded the head priest of the Sikh religion today at a village in northern India, but the religious leader was declared out of danger, police said.

Authorities said they did not know whether the shots were fired by Hindus or more militant Sikhs waging a campaign for an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region.

Kirpal Singh, spiritual head of 15 million Sikhs, was attacked by three youths riding a motorcycle as he emerged from his car at the village of Maniani, near the city of Ludhiana, 195 miles northwest of New Delhi, officials said.

The gunmen hit the Sikh priest more than a half dozen times on the right side of his forehead and in the right thigh, the police report said.

Also shot and seriously wounded were’ two other Sikh priests, identified as Harbans Singh and Gurdev Singh. The three were taken to Christian Medical Hospital in Ludhiana where hospital officials said the head priest was out of danger. The condition of the other two was not immediately known.

 Officials said the priest’s bodyguard returned the fire but the assailants escaped into the countryside. A heavy police guard was posted outside the hospital.

Police cordoned off the area and launched a manhunt for the attackers, reportedly dressed in traditional Indian dress of kurta and pyjamas a flowing shirt and baggy trousers.

The shooting came as the new government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi launched fresh talks with Sikh political leaders over demands for more autonomy in Punjab state.

 Rajiv’s slain mother Indira Gandhi aliented most Sikhs with her decision in June to storm the religion’s holy Golden Temple in Amritsar.

Mrs. Gandhi was assassinated by two bodyguards on Oct. 31 in retribution for the temple attack. The assassination sparked a wave of antiSikh riots in New Delhi and other parts of northern India that left more than 15,000 Sikhs dead.

Article extracted from this publication >> January 18, 1985