Written By: Saima Jabbar
For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
On June 6, 2016 slogan of Khalistan Zindabad echoed in different cities of the United Kingdom, Canada, America and India. From 3-8 June Sikhs all over the world marked the 32nd anniversary of Operation Blue Star against Sikh hostages in the Golden Temple, Amritsar, (Indian Punjab).
A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism, a monotheistic religion which originated during the 15th century in the Punjab region of the subcontinent. Sikhs constituted 1.4% of Indian population and the number rose to 1.72 % in 1951 as many Sikhs migrated from Pakistan to India after partition. More than 77.9% population of Sikh community lives in Indian Punjab while major Sikh concentrations outside the Punjab are in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Delhi.
At the time of Partition of India in 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah offered Sikhs a sovereign Sikh state comprising the areas lying in west of Panipat and east of left bank of River Ravi with the understanding that it would be advantageous to Sikhs if this state confederated with Pakistan. But Sikh leader Master Tara Singh rejected this offer and opted to go with India instead.
Hindu’s top leaders Nehru and Gandhi promised Sikhs before the independence that they would be given full rights in India and that no law would be passed without consulting Sikhs. "...in future, the Congress shall accept no constitution which does not meet with the satisfaction of the Sikhs" (The Lahore session of the Congress Party, December 31, 1929). And Gandhi even stated that "You [Sikhs] take my word that if ever the Congress or I betray you, you will be justified to draw the sword as taught by Guru Gobind Singh."
But soon after partition, Sikhs realized that Hindus betrayed them as they were not willing to accept them as a minority. Although Article 25 of the Indian Constitution of 1949 considers Sikhs as part of Hindu religion, not separate or distinct. Article 25, 2 (b) says (b) Providing for social welfare and reform or the throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
Explanation I. The wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.
Explanation II. In sub-clause (b) of clause (2), the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion, and the reference to Hindu religious institutions shall be construed accordingly.
Sikhs continuously protested and agitated against this article but Indian Government declined to amend this offensive miss-categorization of the Sikhs. Also all states were created on language basis in India but the Punjab was not declared a ‘Punjabi State’. After 1965 war between India and Pakistan, the loyalty of Sikhs was tested and Indian government decided to create a Punjabi state but divided the Punjabi majority area into three divisions: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Punjab. The other two parts became Hindi states and the Punjab was declared a Punjabi state. Indian government also divided the Sikh army into many battalions.
Moreover, Punjab's capital Chandigarh was made the capital of Haryana. The Punjab had no high court and no control over its water, electricity and dams which contributed to another point of difference between Indian Government and Sikh minority. Ultimately all those injustices resulted in a Sikh movement for a separate and autonomous state.
The Sikh empire was one of the biggest powers in subcontinent from 1799 to 1849 under Maharaja Ranjit Singh who was the founder of Sikh empire based in the Punjab Region. Following the death of Ranjit Singh, the empire was weakened by internal divisions and political mismanagement. As a result of conflicts between the British East India Trading Company and the Sikh empire, Anglo-Sikh wars took place in 1840s and finally the empire was dissolved in 1849. Sikh freedom movement remained somehow alive since then as Sikhs never accepted the defeat in their hearts.
Dal Khalsa was the name given to Sikh Army that operated in the 17th and 18th centuries (1660-1780) in Indian Punjab. The primary objective of Dal Khalsa was to achieve independence of Sikhs through democratic means in order to have a sovereign Sikh state, Khalistan. Dal Khalsa was not only active in India but its international units also existed in the U.S., Canada and UK etc.
Khalistan (means land of pure) movement was active since partition but it reached its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Bhindranwale developed differences with Indian Government on the issue of amendments in Article 25 of the Constitution. He urged the government to accept Sikhs as a separate minority rather than including them in Hindu religion. Indian government refused all such amendments and did not negotiate; instead a military crackdown was started against Sikh freedom movement. As a result many Sikhs with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale took refuge in the Golden Temple.
Golden Temple or Sri Harminder Sahib is a holy place of Sikhs known as Gurdwara which is located in the city of Amritsar. The Akal Takht, one of the five takhts (seats of power) of the Sikh religion is located in the Golden Temple complex where Sikhs took refuge.
Indira Gandhi, Indian premier at that time, ordered a military operation to evict the Sikhs from the Golden Temple. The operation was named Blue Star in which thousands of Sikhs were killed. Surprisingly the Indian Army was led by a Sikh, Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar. The operation lasted from June 3 till June 8, 1984. This operation had resulted in anguish among Sikhs in India. Just after four months, two Sikh bodyguards of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh assassinated her on October 31, 1984 in Delhi.
Assassination of Indira Gandhi resulted in anti-Sikh Riots in the country. Indian Police watched silently while anti-Sikh mobs kept on brutally killing Sikhs in New Delhi. Within three days more than 3000 Sikhs were murdered.
In 2011, according to Human Rights Watch report, India had yet to prosecute those responsible for mass killings in 1984 during anti-Sikh Riots. Mass graves were discovered in Haryana state and Human Rights Watch reported that anti-Sikh attacks in Haryana were revenge attacks.
Operation Blue Star was not the only military operation against Sikhs but two other similar operations were conducted later on. A series of two operations under the name of Operation Black Thunder took place to evict the remaining Sikh freedom fighters from the Golden Temple.
Operation Black Thunder took place on April 30, 1986 when about 300 National Security Guard commandos stormed the Golden Temple, along with 700 Border Security Force (BSF) troops and captured about 300 Sikh fighters. Operation Black Thunder II began on May 9, 1988 in Amritsar.
On April 29, 1986, an assembly of separatist Sikhs at the Akal Takht made a declaration of independent state of Khalistan. At present Khalistan Movement is revived by Sikh separatist groups operating from many countries including USA, Canada and UK.
Although a large number of Sikhs are settled outside India but a clear sense of attachment is found among Sikhs to their culture and religion. They are persistently demanding justice for the Sikh victims targeted unjustly during the Khalistan movement.
The U.S.-based Sikh group, ‘Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)’ has planned Referendum-2020, in support of the separate state of Khalistan. A historical resolution was passed by Ontario Gurdwara Committee (OGC), a Canadian based Sikh organization in support of holding referendum in the Punjab State arguing that ‘self-determination is the right of Sikh people as guaranteed by the UN Charter’.
Khalistan 2020 is turning into a major movement in some western countries such as Canada, U.S., Australia and UK. Sikh Federation in UK also presented three major objectives mentioned in their manifesto that includes:
• Independent public inquiry into the actions of the UK government in the lead up to and after the June and November 1984 Sikh genocide, including restrictions imposed on British Sikhs following pressure by India.
• Call for the UK government to recognize the events of June and November 1984 as a Sikh genocide, and backing for a UN-led inquiry into the atrocities committed by the Indian authorities.
• Call for the UK government to recognize and support the application for self-determination to the Sikhs for an Independent Khalistan.
Two years ago, on the 30th anniversary of Golden Temple siege and killings of 10,000 people, thousands of Sikhs held a large demonstration in front of the United Nations on June 7, 2014. Independence was their main slogan as the demonstrators waved anti-India placards.
Khalistan is not the only freedom movement in India. There are dozen other freedom movements existing in India. These freedom movements indicate fragility of Indian state on the one hand and also depict rule of a Brahmin minority through state oppression on other ethnic/religious minorities. However, there can be ups and downs in any freedom movement like Khalistan but these can never be suppressed forever. It is evident from assembly of thousands and thousands of protestors including youngsters in and outside India chanting the slogan of Khalistan Zindabad.
The writer is an associate producer in a private TV channel.