Sikh nationalism | Wikipedia audio article

Sikh nationalism | Wikipedia audio article


The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist
movement, which seeks to create a separate country called Khalistān (“The Land of the
Pure”) in the Punjab region of South Asia to serve as a homeland for Sikhs. The territorial
definition of the proposed country Khalistan consists of both the Punjab, India along with
Punjab, Pakistan and includes parts of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan.The
Khalistan movement began as an expatriate venture. In 1971, the first explicit call
for Khalistan was made in an advertisement published in the New York Times by an expat
Jagjit Singh Chohan. With financial and political support of the Sikh diaspora the movement
flourished in the Indian state of Punjab, which has a Sikh-majority population and reached
its zenith in the late 1970s and 1980s, when the secessionist movement caused large-scale
violence among the local population including assassination of PM Indira Gandhi and bombing
of Air India plane killing 328 passengers. Various pro-Khalistan outfits have been involved
in a separatist movement against the Government of India ever since. In the 1990s the insurgency
petered out, and the movement failed to reach its objective due to multiple reasons including
a heavy police crackdown on separatists, divisions among the Sikhs and loss of support from the
Sikh population. The extremist violence had started with targeting of the Nirankaris and
followed by attack on the government machinery and the Hindus. Ultimately the Sikh terrorists
also targeted other Sikhs with opposing viewpoints. This led to further loss of public support
and the militants were eventually brought under control of law enforcement agencies
by 1993.In early 2018, some militant groups were arrested by police in Punjab. Chief Minister
of Punjab Amarinder Singh claimed the recent extremism is backed by Pakistan’s ISI and
“Khalistani sympathisers” in Canada, Italy, and the UK. There is some support from fringe
groups abroad, especially in Canada but the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has
declared that his country would not support the revival of the separatist movement.==Origins==With the rise of Sikh nationalism in British
India, the idea of a separate Sikh state first came up in the early 20th century. As a result
of the British policy of divide and rule many religious nationalist movement emerged among
the Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs. The process involved differentiating the religions and
creating communal boundaries.According to evidence by Harjot Oberoi, the belief that
Punjab is the “homeland” of the Sikh community is a recent formulation. Despite the Sikh
historical linkages with Punjab, territory was never a major element of Sikh self-definition.
The attachment of Punjab with Sikhism was recent and made in 1940s. Historically Sikhism
was pan-Indian, with the main Sikh scriptures Guru Granth Sahib drawing from works of saints
in North as well as South India, and the several of its major seats (such as Nankana Sahib
in Pakistan, Panj Takhts Takht Sri Patna Sahib in Bihar, Hazur Sahib Nanded in Maharashtra)
outside of Punjab. Before its conquest by the British, the region around Punjab had
been ruled by the confederacy of Sikh Misls founded by Banda Bahadur ruled over the entire
Punjab from 1767 to 1799, until their confederacy was unified into the Sikh Empire by Maharajah
Ranjit Singh from 1799 to 1849. The Sikhs have traditionally been concentrated in Punjab
region of undivided India although not in a majority.
Before the partition of India in 1947, Sikhs were not in majority in any of the districts
of pre-partition British Punjab Province other than Ludhiana.The districts in the region
had a majority of either the Hindus or Muslims depending on its location in the British province.
Among the three major religions (Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism), Sikhs formed the largest group
(41.6%) only in the Ludhiana district. When the Muslims proposed the creation of an Islamic-majority
Pakistan, many Sikhs staunchly opposed the concept.In late 1930s and 1940s the Sikh leaders
realized that Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India were imminent. To make a case for a
separate Sikh state within the Punjab, Sikh leaders started mobilizing meta-commentaries
and signs to argue that Punjab belonged to Sikhs and Sikhs belong to Punjab. This began
the territorialization of the Sikh community. The Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution demanded
a separate country for Muslims. A section of Sikh leaders grew concerned that their
community would be left without any homeland following the partition of India between the
Hindus and the Muslims. They put forward the idea of Sikhistan, envisaging it as a theocratic
state covering a small part of the greater Punjab region. The country which he proposed
would include parts of present-day Indian Punjab, Pakistani Punjab (including Lahore),
and the Simla Hill States. It was imagined as a theocratic state led by the Maharaja
of Patiala with the aid of a cabinet consisting of the representatives of other units. The
idea was unviable due to lack of sufficient Sikh population as compared to other religions
in Punjab. According to Oberoi, the territorialization
of the Sikh community was formalized when Sikh political party Akali Dal in March 1946,
passed a resolution proclaiming the natural association of Punjab and Sikh religious community.British
India was partitioned on a religious basis in 1947 and Punjab province was divided between
India and newly created Pakistan. A majority of the Sikhs along with the Hindus migrated
from the Pakistani province of Punjab to the Indian province of Punjab, which then included
present-day Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The Sikh population that in 1941 was as high
as 19.8% in some districts of Pakistan, dropped to 0.1% in all of them, and it rose sharply
in the districts assigned to India. They were still a minority in the Punjab province of
India, which remained a Hindu-majority province.Despite the first mentions of the movement in early
20th century, a Khalistan separatist movement was never a major issue until the late 1970s
and 1980s when it began to militarize.==Calls for Khalistan==There are two distinct narratives about the
origins of the call for Khalistan. One refers to the events within India, and the other
privileges the role of the Sikh diaspora. Both of these narratives vary in the form
of governance proposed for this state (e.g., theocracy vs democracy) as well as the proposed
name (Sikhistan, Khalistan). Even the precise geographical borders of the proposed state
differs among them although it was generally imagined to be carved out from one of various
historical constructions of the Punjab.===Events within India===
After India’s independence, the Punjabi Suba movement, led by the Sikh political party
Akali Dal, sought the creation of a province (suba) for Punjabi people. The Akali Dal’s
maximal position of demands was a Khalistan and minimal position was to have an autonomous
state within India. The issues raised during the Punjabi Suba movement were later used
as a premise for the creation of a separate Sikh country by the proponents of Khalistan.
The partition of India based on the religious grounds had led to a lot of bloodshed. Concerned
that creating a Punjabi-majority state would effectively mean creating a state based on
religious grounds, the Indian government initially rejected the demand.In September 1966, the
Indira Gandhi-led Union Government accepted the demand. On September 7, 1966 Punjab Reorganisation
Act was passed in Parliament. The Act was implemented with effect from November 1, 1966.
Punjab was trifurcated creating Punjab, Haryana and transferring certain areas to Himachal
Pradesh. Chandigarh was made a centrally administered Union territory.====Akali Dal’s demands====
Akali Dal, the Sikh political party, was defeated in the 1972 Punjab elections. To regain the
public appeal the Akali Dal then put forward the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973 to demand
radical devolution of power and further autonomy to Punjab. The resolution document included
both religious and political issues. It asked for recognising Sikhism as a religion separate
from Hinduism and transfer of Chandigarha and certain areas to Punjab. It also demanded
that power be radically devoluted from the Central to state governments. The demand for
autonomy was phrased such a way that would have given more authority to the Sikhs than
Hindus in Punjab.The document was largely forgotten, for some time after its adoption,
but came into the limelight in the 1980s. The Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale
joined hands to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982 in order to implement the Anandpur
Sahib Resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented
a real solution to demands such as a larger share of water for irrigation and the return
of Chandigarh to Punjab.===Events outside India===
According to this narrative, particularly after 1971, Sikh men who were settled outside
of India, began to popularize among Sikhs in North America and Europe, the notion of
a sovereign and independent state of Khalistan. One such account is provided by the Khalistan
Council which had moorings in West London.Davinder Singh Parmar migrated to London in 1954 and
asserted the demand for an independent state of Khalistan. According to Parmar, his first
pro-Khalistan meeting was attended by less than 20 people and he was labelled as a madman
and received only one person’s support. There was a lack of support but Parmar continued
his efforts.Jagjit Singh Chohan was a Sikh politician in Indian Punjab who pursued from
abroad the idea of a sovereign Khalistan. Two years after losing the Punjab Assembly
elections in 1969, Chohan moved to the United Kingdom, to start his campaign for creation
of Khalistan.====Launch of Khalistan movement====
In 1970 Parmar came in contact with Jagjit Singh Chohan in London which led to the launch
of the movement. The Khalistan movement was announced formally at a London press conference.
Chohan raised the Khalistani flag in Birmingham in the 1970s. Parmar and Chohan were dismissed
by the community as fanatical fringe without any support.After the Indo-Pakistani War of
1971, Chohan visited Pakistan as a guest of leaders like Chaudhuri Zahoor Elahi. He went
to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan and toured several historical gurdwaras. He utilized this opportunity
to spread the notion of independent Khalistan, that was widely publicized by the press in
Pakistan. The extensive coverage of his remarks, introduced people in India and the international
community, to the demand of Khalistan for the first time. The term Khalistan became
recognizable even though it still lacked a public support.Chohan visited the United States
at the invitation of his supporters in the Sikh diaspora. On 13 October 1971, he placed
an advertisement in the New York Times proclaiming an Independent Sikh state. Advertisement of
Khalistan enabled him to collect millions of dollars from the Sikh diaspora. He was
charged in India with sedition and other crimes in connection with his separatist activities.====Khalistan National Council====
After returning to India in 1977, Chohan travelled to Britain in 1979, and established the Khalistan
National Council. On 12 April 1980, he declared the formation of a “National Council of Khalistan”,
at Anandpur Sahib. He declared himself the President of the Council and Balbir Singh
Sandhu as its Secretary General. In May 1980, Jagjit Singh Chohan travelled
to London and announced the formation of Khalistan. A similar announcement was made by Balbir
Singh Sandhu, in Amritsar, who released stamps and currency of Khalistan. Operating from
a building termed “Khalistan House”, he remained in contact with the Sikh extremist leader
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was violently campaigning for a Sikh theocratic homeland.
Chohan also maintained contacts among various groups in Canada, the US, and Germany. Chohan
declared himself president of the “Republic of Khalistan”, named a Cabinet, and issued
symbolic Khalistan “passports”, “postage stamps”, and “Khalistan dollars”. Embassies in Britain
and other European countries were opened by Chohan. It is reported that with the assistance
of a wealthy Californian supporter, a peach magnate, he opened an Ecuadorian bank account
to support his operation. Apart from Punjab, Himachal, and Haryana, Chohan’s proposal of
Khalistan also included parts of Rajasthan state.The globalized Sikh diaspora invested
efforts and resources for Khalistan, but the Khalistan movement remained nearly invisible
on the global political scene until the Operation Bluestar of June 1984.==Events of the early 1980s=====Rise of Bhindranwale===
The late 1970s and the early 1980s the separatist movement began to militarize and saw the increasing
involvement of the Sikh religious preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Punjab politics.
Over the period Bhindranwale grew up as a leader of Sikh militancy. There was a dissatisfaction
in some sections of the Sikh with prevailing economic, social, and political conditions.
Bhindranwale articulated these grievances as discrimination against Sikhs and the undermining
of Sikh identity.The growth of Bhindranwale was not solely by his own efforts. In the
late 1970s Indira Gandhi’s Congress party supported Bhindranwale in a bid to split the
Sikh votes and weaken the Akali Dal, its chief rival in Punjab. Congress supported the candidates
backed by Bhindranwale in the 1978 SGPC elections. The Congress leader Giani Zail Singh allegedly
financed the initial meetings of the separatist organisation Dal Khalsa, which disrupted the
December 1978 Ludhiana session of the Akali Dal with provocative anti-Hindu wall-writing.
In the 1980 election, Bhindranwale supported Congress candidates Gurdial Singh Dhillon
and Raghunandan Lal Bhatia. Bhindranwale was originally not very influential, but the activities
of Congress elevated him to the status of a major leader by the early 1980s. This later
turned out to be a miscalculation as Bhindranwale’s separatist political objectives became popular
among the agricultural Jat Sikhs in the region.===Assassination of Lala Jagat Narain===
In a politically charged environment, Lala Jagat Narain, the Hindu owner of the Hind
Samachar group of newspapers, was assassinated by Sikh militants on 9 September 1981. Jagat
Narain was a prominent critic of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and a Congress leader. In 1981
Census of India was being conducted where the mother toungue of the citizens was being
recorded. Lala had been writing about reporting Hindi instead of Punjabi as their mother tongue
by Hindus living in Punjab. This infuriated Bhindranwale and his followers. The White
Paper issued by the government of India, mentioned that Narain was assassinated because of his
criticism of Bhindrawale. On 15 September 1981, Bhindranwale was arrested for his alleged
role in the assassination. Bhindranwale had earlier been a suspect in the murder of the
Nirankari leader Gurbachan Singh, who had been killed on 24 April 1980 in retaliation
for killings of conservative Sikhs belonging to the Akhand Kirtani Jatha.
Bhindranwale was released in October by the Punjab State Government, as no evidence was
found against him.===Dharam Yudh Morcha===
The Akali Dal was initially opposed to Bhindranwale, and even accused him of being a Congress agent.
However, as Bhindranwale became increasingly influential, the party decided to join forces
with him. In August 1982, under the leadership of Harcharan Singh Longowal, the Akali Dal
launched the Dharam Yudh Morcha (“Group for the Religious fight”) in collaboration with
Bhindranwale to win more autonomy for Punjab. The movement was hijacked by Bhindranwale
who declared that it will continue until all the demands in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution
were fulfilled.Indira Gandhi considered the Anandpur Resolution as a secessionist document
and evidence of an attempt to secede from the Union of India. The Akali Dal officially
stated that Sikhs were Indians, and the Anandpur Sahib resolution did not envisage an autonomous
Sikh State of Khalistan. The resolution was made fundamental to Bhindranwale’s cause as
the demand for autonomy was phrased such a way that would have given more authority to
the Sikhs than Hindus in Punjab. Thousands of people joined the movement as they felt
that it represented a real solution to their demands, such as a larger share of water for
irrigation, and return of Chandigarh to Punjab.After the launch of the Morcha, Sikh extremists
began committing acts of political violence. Assassination of Chief Minister of Punjab
Darabara Singh was attempted and two Indian Airlines flights were hijacked by the terrorists.
By early October, more than 25,000 Akali workers courted arrest in Punjab in support of the
agitation.To restart the talks with the Akali leadership, Gandhi ordered the release of
all Akali workers in mid October and sent Swaran Singh as her emissary. Bhindranwale
who was then regarded as “single most important Akali leader” announced that nothing less
than full implementation of the Anandpur resolution was acceptable to them. Other Akali leaders
agreed to join the negotiations which ended with a compromised settlement with the governments
team. The settlement was then presented in the parliament but certain parts of the agreement
were changed unilaterally due to advice from Haryana and Rajasthan CMs.===Threats of disruption of Delhi Asian Games
===The Akali leaders who were planning to announce
a victory of Dharam Yudh morcha, were outraged by the change in the proposed settlement.
In November 1982, Akali leader Longowal announced that the Akali Dal would disrupt the Asian
Games that as to be held in Delhi by sending teams of Akali workers to Delhi to court arrest.
Negotiations between the Akali dal and the government followed but failed at the last
moment due to the disagreement in the transfer of areas between Punjab and Haryana.Akali
leaders vowed to overwhelm Delhi with a flood of protestors with an aim to highlight the
perceived “plight” of Sikhs in front of the international media covering the games.A week
before the Asian games, Haryana CM from Congress Bhajan Lal sealed the border between Delhi
and Punjab. Frisking of all the Sikh visitors travelling from Punjab to Delhi was ordered.
The security measures proved effective and Akali Dal could only organize small and scattered
protests in Delhi. This frisking was seen as discriminatory and humiliating by the Sikhs.
Many Sikhs who did not support Akalis and Bhindranwale began sympathizing with the Akali
morcha.After the conclusion of the games, the Akali leader Longowal organised a convention
of Sikh ex-servicemen at the Darbar Sahib. It was attended by a large number of Sikh
ex-servicemen including ret. Major General Shabeg Singh who subsequently became Bhindranwale’s
military advisor.===Militant activities===
There were widespread murders in Punjab by followers of Bhindrawale. In the two year
period between 4 August 1982 and 3 June 1984 there were more than 1200 violent incidents
in which 410 persons were killed and 1180 injured. Out of which in the year 1984 itself
between 1 January and 3 June, 775 violent incidents happened killing 298 and injuring
525. One such murder was that of DIG Avtar Singh Atwal, who was killed on 25 April 1983
at the gate of the Darbar Sahib. His corpse remained there for 2 hours as even police
officers were afraid to touch the body without permission from Bhindranwale. This showed
the power and influence that Bhindranwale had over the region.It was common knowledge
that the militants responsible for bombings and murders were taking shelter in some gurdwaras.
However, the Congress-led government declared that it could not enter the gurdwaras for
the fear of hurting Sikh sentiments. Detailed reports on the open shipping of arms-laden
trucks was sent to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi; however, the Government did not take
any action to stop these. Finally, after the murder of six Hindu bus passengers in October
1983, emergency rule was imposed in Punjab, which continued for more than a decade.Armed
Khalistani militants of this period described themselves as “Kharku”.===Religious ambiguity===
During this incident, the Akali Dal began more agitation in February 1984, protesting
against clause (2)(b) of Article 25 of the Indian constitution, which ambiguously states
“the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing
the Sikh, Jaina, or Buddhist religion”, though it also implicitly recognises Sikhism as a
separate religion with the words “the wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to
be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.” This clause is still deemed offensive
by many minority religions in India even today, because of the failure to recognise these
religions under the constitution separately.The Akali Dal members demanded that the constitution
remove any ambiguous statements that use the word Hindu to refer to Sikhs. For instance,
a Sikh couple who married in accordance to the rites of the Sikh religion had to register
their marriage either under the Special Marriage Act, 1954, or the Hindu Marriage Act – the
Akalis demanded replacement of such rules with Sikhism-specific laws.==Events of the late 1980s/early 1990s==
Sikh separatist groups did not lack substantial support. In the parliamentary elections of
1989 Sikh separatist representatives were victorious in 10 of Punjab’s 13 national seats
and had the most popular support. If the Congress did not delay the 1991 elections the militants
would definitely have won the elections. The Congress cancelled those elections and instead
hosted a Khaki election. The separatists boycotted the poll. The voter turnout was 24 percent.
The Congress won this election and used it to further its anti-separatist campaign. Most
of the separatist leadership was wiped out and the moderates were suppressed by end of
1993.==Operation Blue Star==Operation Bluestar was an Indian military
operation carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984, ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi
to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers
from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar, Punjab. In July 1983,
the Sikh political party Akali Dal’s President Harcharan Singh Longowal had invited Bhindranwale
to take up residence in Golden Temple Complex. Bhindranwale later on made the sacred temple
complex an armoury and headquarter, for his armed uprising for Khalistan. In the violent
events leading up to the Operation Blue Star since the inception of Akali Dharm Yudh Morcha,
the militants had killed 165 Hindus and Nirankaris, even 39 Sikhs opposed to Bhindranwale were
killed. The total number of deaths was 410 in violent incidents and riots while 1,180
people were injured. Unsuccessful negotiations were held with Bhindranwale
and his supporters. Indira Gandhi ordered the army to launch the
Operation Blue Star. Army units led by Indian Army Lt. Gen Kuldip Singh Brar (a Sikh), surrounded
the temple complex on 3 June 1984. The Indian Army, Central Reserve Police Force, Border
Security Force, and Punjab Police were involved. The army kept asking the militants to surrender,
using the public address system. The militants were asked to allow the pilgrims out of the
temple premises, before they start fighting the army. However, nothing happened until
7 PM. The army had grossly underestimated the firepower possessed by the militants.
Militants had Chinese made Rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour piercing capabilities.
Tanks and heavy artillery were used to attack the militants using anti-tank and machine-gun
fire from the heavily fortified Akal Takht. After a 24-hour firefight, the army finally
wrested control of the temple complex. Bhindranwale was killed in the operation, while many of
his followers managed to escape. Casualty figures for the Army were 83 dead and 249
injured. According to the official estimate presented by the Indian government, 1592 were
apprehended and there were 493 combined militant and civilian casualties. High civilian casualties
were attributed to militants using pilgrims trapped inside the temple as human shields.The
opponents of Indira Gandhi also criticised the operation for excessive use of force.
General Brar later stated that the Government had “no other recourse” as there was a “complete
breakdown” of the situation, State machinery was under the control of the militants, declaration
of Khalistan was imminent and Pakistan would have come into the picture declaring its support
for Khalistan. The Sikh militancy was not crushed with the Operation and it continued.==Assassination of Indira Gandhi and anti-Sikh
riots==On the morning of 31 October 1984, Indira
Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh personal security guards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh
in New Delhi in retaliation for Operation Blue Star. The assassination triggered fulminant
violence against Sikhs across north India. While the ruling party, Congress, maintained
that the violence was due to spontaneous riots, its critics have alleged that Congress members
had planned a pogrom against the Sikhs. Senior Congress leaders such as Jagdish Tytler, H.
K. L. Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar and Kamal Nath have been accused by Sikhs of inciting the
mobs against them.Other political parties strongly condemned the riots. Two major civil-liberties
organisations issued a joint report on the anti-Sikh riots, naming sixteen important
politicians, thirteen police officers, and one hundred and ninety-eight others, accused
by survivors and eyewitnesses.==Rajiv-Longowal Accord==Many Sikh and Hindu groups, as well as organisations
not affiliated to any religion, have attempted to establish peace between the Khalistan proponents
and the Government of India. In 1985, The Central government attempted
to seek a political solution to the grievances of the Sikhs through the Rajiv-Longowal Accord,
which took place between the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Harchand Singh Longowal,
the President of the Akali Dal. The accord recognised the religious, territorial, and
economic demands of the Sikhs that were thought to be non-negotiable under Indira Gandhi’s
tenure. The agreement provided a basis for a return to normality, but it was denounced
by a few Sikh militants who refused to give up the demand for an independent Khalistan.
Harchand Singh Longowal was later assassinated by these militants. The transfer of Chandigarh
has allegedly been delayed pending an agreement on the districts of Punjab that should be
transferred to Haryana in exchange.==Rise of militancy==The military Operation Blue Star in the Golden
Temple in Amritsar offended many Sikhs. The separatists used Operation Bluestar and the
riots following the assassination to claim that the interest of the Sikhs were not safe
in India and fostered the spread of militancy among the Sikhs in Punjab. Some sections of
the Sikh diaspora started to support the separatists with financial and diplomatic support.A section
of Sikhs turned to militancy in Punjab and several Sikh militant outfits proliferated
in the 1980s and 1990s. some Sikh militant groups aimed to create an independent state
Khalistan through acts of violence directed at members of the Indian government, army
or forces. A large numbers of Sikhs condemned the actions of the militants. Anthropological
studies have identified fun, excitement and expressions of masculinity, as explanations
for the young men to join militants and other religious nationalist groups. Puri et al.
state that undereducated and illiterate young men, and with few job prospects had joined
pro-Khalistan militant groups with “fun” as one of the primary reasons. It mentioned
that the pursuit of Khalistan was the motivation for only 5% of “militants”.In 1986, When
the terrorism was at its peak, the militants called the Sarbat Khalsa. The SGPC had the
authority to appoint the jathedar, so the militants dissolved SGPC and appointed their
own Jathedar. When that person refused do their bidding, militant leader Gurbachan Singh
Manochahal appointed himself by force the jathedar (head) of the Akal Takht, which is
the supreme religio-temporal seat of the Sikhs.In January 1986, the Golden Temple was again
occupied by militants belonging to the All India Sikh Students Federation and Damdami
Taksal. On 26 January 1986, the gathering passed a resolution (gurmattā) favouring
the creation of Khalistan. Subsequently, a number of rebel militant groups in favour
of Khalistan waged a major insurgency against the government of India. Indian security forces
suppressed the insurgency in the early 1990s, but Sikh political groups such as the Khalsa
Raj Party and SAD (A) continued to pursue an independent Khalistan through non-violent
means. Pro-Khalistan organisations such as Dal Khalsa (International) are also active
outside India, supported by a section of the Sikh diaspora.On 29 April 1986, an assembly
of separatist Sikhs at the Akal Takht made a declaration of an independent state of Khalistan.
These events were followed by a decade of violence and conflict in Punjab before a return
to normality in the region. During the late 1980s and the early 1990s, there was a dramatic
rise in radical State militancy in Punjab. This period of insurgency saw clashes of Sikh
militants with the police, as well as with the Nirankaris, a mystical Sikh sect that
are less conservative and aim to reform Sikhism. The Khalistani militant activities manifested
in the form of several attacks, such as the 1987 killing of 32 Hindu bus passengers near
Lalru, and the 1991 killing of 80 train passengers in Ludhiana.Khalistan-related militant activities
continued in the 1990s, as the perpetrators of the 1984 riots remained unpunished, and
many Sikhs felt that they were being discriminated against and that their religious rights were
being suppressed.GlobalSecurity.org reported that in the early 1990s, journalists who did
not conform to militant-approved behaviour were targeted for death. It also reported
that there were indiscriminate attacks designed to cause extensive civilian casualties: derailing
trains, and exploding bombs in markets, restaurants, and other civilian areas between Delhi and
Punjab. It further reported that militants assassinated many of those moderate Sikh leaders
who opposed them, and sometimes killed rivals within the same militant group. It also stated
that many civilians who had been kidnapped by extremists were murdered if the militants’
demands were not met. Finally, it reported that Hindus left Punjab by the thousands.In
August 1991, Julio Ribeiro, then Indian Ambassador to Romania, was attacked and wounded in a
Bucharest assassination attempt by gunmen identified as Punjabi Sikhs. Sikh groups claimed
responsibility for the 1991 kidnapping of the Romanian chargé d’affaires in New Delhi,
Liviu Radu. This appeared to be in retaliation for Romanian arrests of KLF members suspected
of the attempted assassination of Julio Ribeiro. Radu was released unharmed after Sikh politicians
criticised the action.In October 1991, The New York Times reported that violence had
increased sharply in the months leading up to the kidnapping, with Indian security forces
or Sikh militants killing 20 or more people per day, and that the militants had been “gunning
down” family members of police officers.Scholar Ian Talbot states that all sides, including
the Indian Army, police and the militants, committed crimes like murder, rape and torture.On
31 August 1995, Chief minister Beant Singh was killed by a suicide bomber. The pro-Khalistan
group Babbar Khalsa claimed responsibility for the assassination, but security authorities
were reported to be doubtful of the truth of that claim. A 2006 press release by the
Embassy of the United States in New Delhi indicated that the responsible organisation
was the Khalistan Commando Force.While the militants enjoyed some support among Sikh
separatists in the earlier period, this support gradually disappeared. The insurgency weakened
the Punjab economy and led to an increase in violence in the state. With dwindling support
and increasingly effective Indian security troops eliminating anti-state combatants,
Sikh militancy effectively ended by the early 1990s.There were serious charges levelled
by human rights activists against Indian Security forces (Headed by KPS Gill – himself a Sikh),
claiming that thousands of suspects were killed in staged shootouts and thousands of bodies
were cremated/disposed of without proper identification or post-mortems.Human Rights Watch reported
that since 1984, government forces had resorted to widespread human rights violations to fight
the militants, including arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without trial, torture,
and summary killings of civilians and suspected militants. Family members were frequently
detained and tortured to reveal the whereabouts of relatives sought by the police. Amnesty
International has alleged several cases of disappearances, torture, rape, and unlawful
detentions by the police during the Punjab insurgency, for which 75-100 police officers
had been convicted by December 2002.In November 2015, a Sarbat Khalsa, or congregation of
the Sikh community, was called in response to recent unrest in the Punjab region. The
Sarbat Khalsa adopted 13 resolutions to strengthen Sikh institutions and traditions. The 12th
resolution reaffirmed the resolutions adopted by the Sarbat Khalsa in 1986, including the
declaration of the sovereign state of Khalistan.===Khalistan militant outfits===There are several Sikh groups such as the
Khalistan Council that are currently functional and provides organization and guidance to
the Sikh community. Multiple Sikh militant groups are organized across the countries
and coordinate their military efforts for Khalistan. Such groups were most active in
1980s and early 1990s and has since receded in activity. These groups are largely defunct
in India but they still have a political presence among the Sikh diaspora, especially in countries
such as Pakistan where they are not proscribed by law.The major pro-Khalistan militant outfits
include: Babbar Khalsa International (BKI)
Listed as a terrorist organisation in the European Union, Canada, India, and UK.
Also included in the Terrorist Exclusion List of the United States Government in 2004.
Designated by the US and the Canadian courts for the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on
27 June 2002. International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF),
based in the United Kingdom Khalistan Commando Force (KCF)Formed by the
Sarbat Khalsa in 1986. It does not figure in the list of terrorist organisations declared
by the US Department of State According to the US Department of State and
the Assistant Inspector General of the Punjab Police Intelligence Division, the KCF was
responsible for the deaths of thousands in India, including the 1995 assassination of
Chief Minister Beant Singh. All India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF)
Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan (BTFK) Also known variously as Bhindranwala Tigers
Force of Khalistan, and Bhindranwale Tiger Force, this group appears to have been formed
in 1984 by Gurbachan Singh Manochahal. After the founder’s death, the BTF (or BTFK) seems
to have disbanded or integrated into other organisations.
Listed in 1995 as one of the 4 “major militant groups” in the Khalistan movement.
Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF) Listed as a terrorist organisation by the
EU. Last major suspected activity was a bomb blast at the Inter-State Bus Terminus in Jalandhar,
in 2006. Khalistan Liberation ForceFormed in 1986;
believed to be responsible for several bombings of civilian targets in India during the 1980s
and 1990s, sometimes in conjunction with Islamist Kashmir separatists.
Khalistan Liberation Army (KLA) Reputed to have been a wing of, or possibly
associated with, or possibly a breakaway group of the Khalistan Liberation Force.
Dashmesh Regiment Shaheed Khalsa ForceMost of these outfits
were crushed during the anti-insurgency operations by 1993. In recent years, active groups have
included Babbar Khalsa, International Sikh Youth Federation, Dal Khalsa, and Bhinderanwala
Tiger Force. An unknown group before then, the Shaheed Khalsa Force claimed credit for
the marketplace bombings in New Delhi in 1997. The group has never been heard of since.===Air India Flight 182===Air India Flight 182 was an Air India flight
operating on the Montréal-London-Delhi-Bombay route. On 23 June 1985, the Boeing 747 aeroplane
operating on the route was blown up midair off the coast of Ireland by a bomb. In all,
329 people were killed, among them 280 Canadian nationals and 22 Indian nationals.The main
suspects in the bombing were the members of a Sikh separatist group called the Babbar
Khalsa, and other related groups who were at the time agitating for a separate Sikh
state of Khalistan in Punjab, India. In September 2007, the Canadian Commission of Inquiry investigated
reports, initially disclosed in the Indian investigative news magazine Tehelka, that
a hitherto unnamed person, Lakhbir Singh Rode, had masterminded the explosions.===Abatement of extremism===
The extremist violence had started with targeting of the Nirankaris and followed by attack on
the government machinery and the Hindus. Ultimately the Sikh terrorists also targeted other Sikhs
with opposing viewpoints. This led to further loss of public support and the militants were
eventually brought under control of law enforcement agencies by 1993.The United States Department
of State found that Sikh extremism had decreased significantly from 1992 to 1997, although
the 1997 report noted that “Sikh militant cells are active internationally and extremists
gather funds from overseas Sikh communities.”In 1999, Kuldip Nayar, writing for Rediff.com,
stated in his article “It is fundamentalism again”, that the Sikh “masses” had rejected
terrorists. By 2001, Sikh extremism and the demand for
Khalistan had all but abated.Simrat Dhillon, writing in 2007 for the Institute of Peace
and Conflict Studies, noted that while a few groups continued to fight, “the movement has
lost its popular support both in India and within the Diaspora community”.Mark Juergensmeyer,
director of the Orfalea Centre for Global & International Studies, UCSB, reported in
his paper “From Bhindranwale to Bin Laden: Understanding Religious Violence”, “The movement
is over,” as many militants had been killed, imprisoned, or driven into hiding, and because
public support was gone.==Support from outside India==
Operation Bluestar and its violent aftermaths popularized the demand for Khalistan among
many Sikhs dispersed globally. Involvement of sections of Sikh diaspora turned out to
be important for the movement as it provided the diplomatic and financial support. It also
enabled Pakistan to become involved in the fueling of the movement. Sikhs in UK, Canada
and USA arranged for cadres to travel to Pakistan for military and financial assistance. Some
Sikh groups abroad even declared themselves as the Khalistani government in exile.The
Sikh place of worship, gurdwaras provided the geographic and institutional coordination
for the Sikh community. Sikh political factions have used the gurdwaras as a forum for political
organization. The gurdwaras often served as the site for mobilization of diaspora for
Khalistan movement directly by raising funds. Indirect mobilization was provided by promoting
a stylized version of conflict and Sikh history. The rooms in gurdwara exhibit pictures of
Khalistani leaders along with paintings of martyrs from Sikh history. This visually establishes
a line of oppression starting from 17th Century to modern day. Gurdwaras also host speakers
and musical groups that promote and encourage the movement. Among the diasporas, Khalistan
issue has been a divisive issue within gurdwaras. These factions have fought over the control
of gurdwaras and their political and financial resources. The fights between pro and anti-Khalistan
factions over gurdwaras often included violent acts and bloodshed as reported from UK and
North America. The gurdwaras with Khalistani leadership allegedly funnel the collected
funds into activities supporting the movement.Different groups of Sikhs in the diaspora organize the
convention of international meetings to facilitate communication and establish organizational
order. In April 1981 the first “International Convention of Sikhs,” was held in New York
and was attended by some 200 delegates. In April 1987 the third convention was held in
Slough, Berkshire where the Khalistan issue was addressed. This meeting’s objective was
to “build unity in the Khalistan movement”.All these factors further strengthened the emerging
nationalism among Sikhs. Sikh organizations launched many fund-raising efforts that were
used for several purposes. After 1984 one of the objectives was the promotion of the
Sikh version of “ethnonational history” and the relationship with the Indian state. The
Sikh diaspora also increased their efforts to build institutions to maintain and propagate
their ethnonational heritage. A major objective of these educational efforts was to publicize
a different face to the non Sikh international community who regarded the Sikhs as “terrorists.”In
1993, Khalistan was briefly admitted in the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
but was suspended in a few months. The membership suspension was made permanent on 22 January
1995.===Pakistan===
India has accused Pakistan of supporting the Khalistan movement in the past, to allegedly
seek revenge against India for its help in creating Bangladesh and, according to India,
to “destabilize” the Indian state. Even though the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI supported
the insurgency in a “proxy war”, Ian Talbot states that the causes of the Sikh separatist
movement lay in the Indian government’s mismanagement of Punjabi aspirations. A June 2008 article
by Vicky Nanjappa, writing for Rediff.com, stated that a report by India’s Intelligence
Bureau indicated that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence organisation was trying to revive
Sikh militancy.In 2006, an American Court convicted Khalid Awan, a Muslim and Canadian
of Pakistani descent, of “supporting terrorism” by providing money and financial services
to the Khalistan Commando Force chief Paramjit Singh Panjwar in Pakistan. KCF members had
carried out deadly attacks against Indian civilians causing thousands of deaths. Awan
frequently travelled to Pakistan and was alleged by the U.S. officials with links to Sikh and
Muslim extremists, as well as Pakistani intelligence.Several Sikh pilgrimage centres and historical gurdwaras
are located in Pakistani Punjab which are frequented by tens of thousands of Sikhs from
India and world over. During the pilgrims stay in Pakistan, the Sikhs are exposed to
Khalistani propaganda and leaders. Such an exposure is not openly possible in India.===Sikh diaspora in Canada===
Immediately after Operation Blue Star, authorities were unprepared for how quickly extremism
spread and gained support in Canada, with extremists “…threatening to kill thousands
of Hindus by a number of means, including blowing up Air India flights.” Canadian Member
of Parliament Ujjal Dosanjh, a moderate Sikh, stated that he and others who spoke out against
Sikh extremism in the 1980s faced a “reign of terror”.On 18 November 1998, the Canada-based
Sikh journalist Tara Singh Hayer was gunned down by suspected Khalistani militants. The
publisher of the “Indo-Canadian Times,” a Canadian Sikh and once-vocal advocate of the
armed struggle for Khalistan, he had criticised the bombing of Air India flight 182, and was
to testify about a conversation he overheard concerning the bombing. On 24 January 1995,
Tarsem Singh Purewal, editor of Britain’s Punjabi-language weekly “Des Pardes”, was
killed as he was closing his office in Southall. There is speculation that the murder was related
to Sikh extremism, which Purewal may have been investigating. Another theory is that
he was killed in retaliation for revealing the identity of a young rape victim.Terry
Milewski reported in a 2006 documentary for the CBC that a minority within Canada’s Sikh
community was gaining political influence even while publicly supporting terrorist acts
in the struggle for an independent Sikh state. In response, the World Sikh Organization of
Canada (WSO), a Canadian Sikh human rights group that opposes violence and extremism,
sued the CBC for “defamation, slander, and libel”, alleging that Milewski linked it to
terrorism and damaged the reputation of the WSO within the Sikh community.Canadian journalist
Kim Bolan has written extensively on Sikh extremism. Speaking at the Fraser Institute
in 2007, she reported that she still received death threats over her coverage of the 1985
Air India bombing.In 2008, a CBC report stated that “a disturbing brand of extremist politics
has surfaced” at some of the Vaisakhi parades in Canada, and The Trumpet agreed with the
CBC assessment. Two leading Canadian Sikh politicians refused to attend the parade in
Surrey, saying it was a glorification of terrorism. In 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister
of India, expressed his concern that there might be a resurgence of Sikh extremism.There
has been some controversy over Canada’s response to the Khalistan movement. After Amarinder
Singh’s refusal to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, calling him a “Khalistani
sympathizer”, Singh ultimately met with Trudeau Feb 22, 2018 over the issue. Trudeau assured
Singh that his country would not support the revival of the separatist movement. Shiromani
Akali Dal President Sukhbir Badal was quoted saying Khalistan is “no issue, either in Canada
or in Punjab”.===Sikh diaspora in the UK===
In February 2008, BBC Radio 4 reported that the Chief of the Punjab Police, NPS Aulakh,
alleged that militant groups were receiving money from the British Sikh community. The
same report included statements that although the Sikh militant groups were poorly equipped
and staffed, intelligence reports and interrogations indicated that Babbar Khalsa was sending its
recruits to the same terrorist training camps in Pakistan used by Al Qaeda.Lord Bassam of
Brighton, then Home Office minister, stated that International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF)
members working from the UK had committed “assassinations, bombings, and kidnappings”
and were a “threat to national security.” The ISYF is listed in the UK as a “Proscribed
Terrorist Group” but it has not been included in the list of terrorist organisations by
the United States Department of State. It was also added to the US Treasury Department
terrorism list on 27 June 2002.Andrew Gilligan, reporting for The London Evening Standard,
stated that the Sikh Federation (UK) is the “successor” of the ISYF, and that its executive
committee, objectives, and senior members … are largely the same.
The Vancouver Sun reported in February 2008 that Dabinderjit Singh was campaigning to
have both the Babbar Khalsa and International Sikh Youth Federation de-listed as terrorist
organisations. It also stated of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day that “he has not been
approached by anyone lobbying to delist the banned groups”. Day is also quoted as saying
“The decision to list organizations such as Babbar Khalsa, Babbar Khalsa International,
and the International Sikh Youth Federation as terrorist entities under the Criminal Code
is intended to protect Canada and Canadians from terrorism.” There are claims of funding
from Sikhs outside India to attract young people into these pro-Khalistan militant groups.==Decline of the movement==
The Khalistan movement reached its peak in late 1970s and 1980s and the insurgency petered
out in the 1990s. The state and local government elections were held in 1992. The movement
has failed to reach its objectives in India due to several reasons. Among the prominent
are: Heavy Police crackdown on the separatists
under the leadership of Punjab Police chief KPS Gill. Several militant leaders were killed
and others surrendered and rehabilitated. Gill credits the decline to change in the
policies by adding provision for an adequate number of Police and security forces to deal
with the militancy. The clear political will from the government without any interference.
Lack of a clear political concept of Khalistan even to the extremist supporters. As per Ram
Narayan Kumar’s book the name which was wishful thinking only represented their revulsion
against the Indian establishment and did not find any alternative to it
In the later stages of the movement the militant lacked an ideological motivation.
Entry of the criminals and government loyalists into the ranks of the militants further divided
the groups. Loss of the sympathy and support from the
Sikh population of Punjab. The divisions among the Sikhs also undermined
this movement. According to Pettigrew non-Jat urban Sikhs did not want to live in a country
of “Jatistan.” Further division was caused as the people in the region traditionally
preferred police and military service as career options. The Punjab Police had a majority
of Jat Sikhs and the conflict was referred as “Jat against Jat” by Police chief Gill.
The moderate factions of Akali Dal led by Prakash Singh Badal reclaimed the political
positions in the state through all the three, namely parliamentary, assembly and SGPC elections.
The dominance of traditional political parties was reasserted over the militant-associated
factions. The increased vigilance by security forces
in the region against rise of separatist elements. The confidence building measures adopted by
the Sikh community helped in rooting out the Khalistan movement.==Present situation==
The present situation in Punjab is generally regarded as peaceful, and the militant Khalistan
movement weakened considerably. The Sikh community maintains its own unique identity and is socially
assimilated in cosmopolitan areas. Some organisations claim that social divisions
and problems still exist in rural areas, but the present situation remains largely peaceful;
support for an independent homeland may remain strong among the separatist Sikh leaders popular
in the expatriate Sikh community outside India (mainly in Europe and North America).Although
the situation in Punjab appears to be normal, recent developments are troubling and signal
bad news for India. Information is surfacing about the revival of the Khalistan Movement
by Sikh extremist groups operating from other countries. Notably, India has warned the US
about the role of pro-Khalistan elements in the launch of a Sikh Congressional Caucus
inside the United States itself. It was confirmed that the principal movers of the Sikh caucus
were Khalistani activists trying to revive separatist sentiments. There are also increasing
fears that the 2015 Gurdaspur attack was an outstanding attempt to revive the Khalistan
movement.Recently, many signs have been raised in several places in support of the Khalistan
movement. Notably, on the 31st anniversary of Operation Bluestar, pro-Khalistan signs
were raised in Punjab. In retaliation, 25 Sikh youths were detained by the police. Pro-Khalistan
signs were also raised during a function of Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal. Two members
of SAD-A, identified as Sarup Singh Sandha and Rajindr Singh Channa, raised pro-Khalistan
and anti-Badal signs during the chief minister’s speech.
Moreover, signs in favour of Khalistan were raised when SAD (Amritsar) President Simranjeet
Singh Mann came to meet Surat Singh Khalsa, who was admitted to Dayanand Medical College
and Hospital (DMCH). While Mann was arguing with ACP Satish Malhotra, supporters standing
at the main gate of DMCH raised Khalistan signs in the presence of heavy police force.
After a confrontation with the police authorities that lasted about 15–20 minutes, Mann was
allowed to meet Khalsa along with ADCP Paramjeet Singh Pannu.Despite residing outside India,
there is a strong sense of attachment among Sikhs to their culture and religion. There
is persistent demand for justice for the Sikh victims during the peak of the Khalistan movement.
In some ways, The Sikh Diaspora is seen as a torch-bearer of the Khalistan movement,
now considered to be highly political and military in nature. Recent reports clearly
indicate a rise in pro-Khalistan sentiments among the Sikh Diaspora overseas, which can
revive the secessionist movement.==See also==
Sikhism in India

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *