AMRITSAR, Punjab, India: May 12, Reuter: Indian police arrested Sikh Chief Priest Jasbir Singh Khalsa on Thursday when he insisted on going to his religion’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, where Sikh freedom fighters are battling security forces.

 “I am ready to make whatever sacrifices necessary, but we must reach the temple and have the rituals started again”, he said in a confrontation with police in front of reporters.

Deputy Police Chief Sarabjit Singh refused to let Khalsa, three senior priests, and about 20 other people head for the Golden Temple because of shooting between Sikh freedom fighters and police reinforced by “Black Cat” Commandos.

“If you insist, then you are under arrest”, Singh told Khalsa and his followers.

Singh said Jasbir Singh Khalsa had insisted on going to the temple to talk to separatist gunmen barricaded inside despite bursts of fire that echoed around the Complex.

Khalsa, along with three other senior priests and about 20 others, was put on a bus and taken to the nearest police station, Singh said.

Khalsa was making a trip when Monday’s battle erupted and had been trying to get back inside the temple since he returned to Amritsar on Tuesday.

He told reporters earlier he had to get back inside to “preserve the dignity of the Harmandir Sahib”, the holiest shrine in the temple complex of white marble and golden roofs.

Khalsa said he would make “any sacrifice necessary” to return.

Police said they believed the temple contained only gunmen seeking an independent homeland they call Khalistan — “the land of the pure” — and their supporters.

Gunmen inside told reporters they were prepared to die and take cyanide capsules rather than be taken alive.

Eight hundred people, mostly priests and pilgrims, fled the temple on Tuesday after being trapped by the battle for a day.

The fighting halted the constant chanting of prayers and reading of Holy Scriptures in the white marble complex with its golden roofs.

Now, the temple echoes with intermittent gunshots between security forces and Sikh militants, who are demanding an independent homeland in the prosperous northern state of Punjab.

The Sikh freedom fighters told reporters inside the temple they would fight to the death.

“We are ready for the Commandos. We will not take it lying down”, said Jagir Singh, spokesman of a Committee directing the struggle for an independent homeland Sikhs call Khalistan, “Land of the Pure”.

“They have fired at Harmandir Sahib and they will begivena very fitting reply,” he said of the holiest shrine in the complex.

Police have said the freedom fighters are running short of food and that the temple kitchen had been closed, but journalists saw no sign of want when they visited the temple on Thursday during a lull in the fighting. Kitchen staff said they had plenty of food and were cooking it for the gunmen.

The leaders, identified by the police as on their most wanted list, are inside the temple, one has his wife and two children with him, The police strategy appears to be to starve the freedom fighters into submission, but the police admit they cannot be sure of preventing supplies reaching them through the maze of narrow streets and secret passageways surrounding the Complex.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 20, 1988