AMRITSAR, Punjab, India: May 19, Reuter: Indian security forces have won a battle, not the war, against the Sikhs by forcing gunmen to surrender at the Golden Temple, police said on Thursday.
Forty six Sikhs, their arms held over their heads, walked out of the temple’s inner sanctum on the Wednesday, ending a 10dayfaceoff with about 3,000 commandos and police.
But police at the holiest shrine of the Sikh faith said freedom fighters scattered all over the Punjab countryside would continue the fight for an independent homeland called Khalistan — the land of the pure.
“The surrender we felt was a good blow to the movement but this is a very big movement”, Police Inspector General Chaman Lal said in an interview.
“This is just one battle and the war is still on,” he said.
Elsewhere in the north Indian state, more than 100 people have been killed in the past three days in a wave of violence police said was in retaliation for the siege.
Nearly 1,000 people have been killed so far this year in violence, compared with 1,230 in all of 1987.
The Press Trust of India (PTI) also said police, acting on information gained by interrogating Sikhs who surrendered at the temple, raided their hideouts throughout the state, killing at least seven freedom fighters.
At the temple, civilian Red Cross workers searched for bodies, commandos and police searched through buildings on the perimeter of the sprawling temple complex which remained largely sealed off on Thursday.
Police said their immediate aim was to secure the 40yearold shrine and allow the ritual chanting to the Sikh scriptures, stopped by the siege, to resume.
But Sikh leaders said religious ceremonies could restart only after Head Priests arrested during the siege were freed.
The bodies of three men and one woman were brought out of the shrine on Thursday afternoon. It was not clear whether they were shot or committed suicide.
In all, nine bodies have been recovered since the surrender taking the death toll during the operation to at least 38, mostly militants.
Police said other bodies remained in rooms beneath two heavily damaged minarets that had been fortified by the Sikhs and were the scene of heavy fighting.
But the inner shrine, the gilded white marble Golden Temple itself, set in a sacred artificial lake in the centre of the complex, where the militants made their last stand appeared damaged with at least one broken window pane visible from the outside.
The Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, have been chanted from the inner sanctum, the Harmandir Sahib, for hundreds of years but the ritual was disrupted by the siege, the second time in four years security forces have assaulted the complex in force.
In June, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the Indian army into the shrine to appease Hindu fundamentalists. More than 10,000 people were killed in the assault that angered the Sikhs worldwide.
Gandhi was shot dead four months later by her bodyguards.
A curfew imposed in the vicinity of the complex remained in force but a few of the 90,000 people trapped in the zone since the siege began on May 9 began to venture out even though shops stayed shuttered.
Sikh historian Prithipal Singh Kapur, a university official here, said he believed the average Sikh was relieved the siege was over even if not happy at the way it happened.
“People are unhappy about the operation”, he said. “The following days will show the level of bitterness”.