In a conciliatory gesture, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi said today that the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi, by two Sikh security guards cannot be blamed on India's entire Sikh community. He offered government compensation for lives and property lost in anti-Sikh rioting.
Gandhi told a delegation of prominent Sikh leaders that Sikhs have long been known for their patriotism and chivalry, according to Indian news agencies. The prime minister was quoted as telling the delegation that he did not believe that any sane Sikh would have assassinated the country's leader.
Gandhi's comments took on added importance, because they involved an obvious attempt to heal the wounds of sectarian rage that left 599 persons dead in four days of rioting in the capital. More than 1,000 died nationwide.
He coupled the remarks with an announcement that families of the victims of the communal clashes would be paid compensation and that low-interest loans would be offered to owners of businesses that were destroyed.
Gandhi also said that the government would bear the cost of repairing Sikh temples and schools that were damaged by Hindu mobs.
Six days after the assassination, near normalcy prevailed in New Delhi and most of the country today, as Army troops and paramilitary forces maintained vigilance against further outbreaks of rioting.
Some of the estimated 50,000 Sikhs left homeless by the wave of arson, looting and murder by Hindu mobs began returning to their communities -- but most not to their own houses. The appearance of Sikhs on the streets in many parts of the capital represented an encouraging sign that the spasm of violence may be over, at least for the time being.
But fears that retaliation could erupt against Hindus in the northern state of Punjab -- where Sikhs have a slight majority -- were expressed within both religious communities here, despite assurances by the state's governor that order would be maintained at all costs. Army units that have been in Punjab since security forces stormed Amritsar's Golden Temple complex June 5 are being maintained on high alert.
Sikh refugees being housed at government shelters here said today they expected a renewal of violence in Punjab once the dimensions of the wave of killings following Gandhi's assassination are more widely known.
"The government is preventing information about the massacres from getting out. But there will be trouble in the Punjab, definitely. The relatives of Sikhs slaughtered in Delhi will not sit quiet," said Satpal Singh, a 23-year-old electronics shop owner who sought safety in a makeshift refugee center in the Raj Niwas section of New Delhi's old city.
Singh said he escaped death at the hands of a Hindu mob by jumping over his backyard fence and hiding in the home of a Hindu neighbor.
A police inspector at the refugee center, who asked not to be identified, said that the number of homeless Sikhs in the converted school building had dropped from 7,000 to 2,500.
"No one is safe outside. If they want, they the government can provide safety and security at our homes. Those who are leaving are not going back to their homes. They are going to friends and relatives in their areas," said Surinder Singh, 33.
When asked about the increasing -- although still small -- numbers of Sikhs who can be seen walking and riding bicycles on crowded New Delhi streets, he replied, "The Sikh community is a very bold community." Sikh religious leaders here and in other Indian cities said that, because of sectarian tensions, processions and festivities scheduled for Thursday to mark the birthday of the first guru of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, have been cancelled. Some Sikh temples have scheduled instead a "prayer day" to appeal for restoration of communal harmony.
In the capital -- worst hit by the rioting -- the daytime curfew was lifted for the third day, the volume of traffic increased and more shops and businesses reopened. The number of public buses on the road increased considerably, although it was not up to normal. Many buses were destroyed by arsonists, and many owned by Sikh transport contractors are being kept out of service.
Railway officials said that passenger train service, curtailed after scores of Sikhs were murdered on trains, was being restored, although with armed escorts on most routes.
The only significant incident reported today in outlying areas occurred in the hill station town of Simla, in Himachal Pradesh, where a group of students went on a rampage, breaking windows of Sikh-owned shops. Schools in the town had reopened this morning after being closed for five days.
In neighboring Punjab state, which has reported no major communal incident since the assassination, Gov. K.T. Satarawala said in an All-India Radio broadcast that maintenence of order was a "collective reponsibility" of all persons in the state, and that the Army and paramilitary forces would maintain order "at all costs."
Meanwhile, the government announced that compensation equivalent to $850 would be awarded to families of persons killed in the rioting.
Prime Minister Gandhi assured leaders of 10 opposition parties that there would be no political interference in efforts to recover property looted during the rioting. He said directives had been issued to law enforcement agencies to recover all the stolen property possible.
The opposition leaders had demanded in a letter to the prime minister that the government be firm in dealing with the security situation.