BOB ABERNETHY: In Punjab, India, a controversial high priest of Sikhism, Ranjit Singh, has been suspended. Though he's never been to North America, Ranjit Singh has been the central figure in a series of violent incidents within the Sikh community in Vancouver, British Columbia. The violence has had to do in part with furniture. We'll have the full story in a moment.
There are 10 million Sikhs in the world. Sikhism is a religion founded in the 15th century in northern India. The word "Sikh" in the Punjabi language means disciple. Sikhs believe in constantly acknowledging the presence of God, in the importance of earning an honest living, and in sharing with others. Tobacco and alcohol are forbidden and Sikhs do not cut their hair, which to them is a symbol of spirituality.
There are 150,000 Sikhs living in British Columbia. It's a prosperous community, but that's where the violence has occurred. Yes, it's about furniture, but it's also about politics in faraway India. Tom D'Antoni reports.
TOM D'ANTONI: The beauty of the Sunday morning service at this Sikh temple belies the turmoil that has fractured the Sikh community here. It has to do with the langar, the communal meal that's an equally important part of the Sikh worship service.
In 1997, at the Guru Nanak Temple, open warfare broke out between two groups over whether or not tables and chairs should be used during the communal meal. The group opposed to the practice, called the fundamentalists, had removed the furniture. A member of the other group, called the moderates, was slashed with the Sikhs' ceremonial dagger, allegedly by a fundamentalist, as he helped carry tables and chairs back to the dining hall. This is one of many violent clashes over this issue in the past two years.
Last April, Bhai Ranjit Singh, one of the five high priests of Sikhdom in India, issued an edict banning the use of tables and chairs. The moderates defied it, leading to the excommunication of seven of their leaders by Ranjit Singh last July, including Tara Singh Hayer, publisher of the INDO-CANADIAN TIMES.
Two months ago, Hayer was murdered. He had been in a wheelchair for 10 years after having been shot by a man identified with the fundamentalist group.
What is going on here? Riot and murder over the use of furniture? Not exactly. It is part of a struggle for control of the Sikh temples in British Columbia. But it is also bound up with decades-long political and religious turmoil in India. If you ask Kim Bolan, who has been covering the Sikh community for 13 years, it is this.
Ms. KIM BOLAN (VANCOUVER SUN): We've got temples here that for 10 years were controlled by people that are now known as fundamentalist groups. In fact, in the '80s, many of those groups were Khalistani groups, groups that were fighting for a separate Sikh country. After they lost control of the temples, for the first time ever, we saw this issue come up. When these people were in control of the temples, they brought the tables and chairs in. Never a word was said about them. All of a sudden, we have people who've lost control of very lucrative temples; all of a sudden, now we have a group of people saying, "You're not a good Sikh unless you sit on the floor."