This week, the Sikh community across the globe expressed its anger and rage against Indian machinations and the arrest of its community leaders in Indian Punjab. Sikh activists and supporters of the Khalistan movement attacked a police station in the town of Ajnala as a form of protest to get Sikh youth leaders free. These leaders were illegally arrested by the Indian police on fake charges. Indian social media went berserk, with both sides taking a hard stance. The media started linking it with Pakistan and ISI and some fringe Sikh organisations operated by Sikh diaspora across the globe.
The Hindu newspaper, which boasts to be a liberal voice, sided with RSS and reported that thousands of followers of Amritpal Singh, a self-styled Sikh preacher and proponent of Khalistan engaged in a physical altercation with Punjab police officers on February 23 in Amritsar’s Ajnala, inflicting injuries.
More sophisticated discussion was witnessed in twitter spaces rune by the so-called enlightened Hindus and Sarkari Sikhs; the discourse reminded Modi that another Operation Blue Star was needed to ‘nip the evil in the bud’. Hindu extremist organisations openly called for a military crackdown against the Sikh community in Punjab and Haryana.
Sikh diaspora cross the globe reacted angrily to RSS’ agenda in India Punjab. Mr. Harjinder Singh, who is the media spokesman of the Sikh Coordination Committee in the USA and member of World Sikh Parliament tweeted, “Punjab police admitted that it was a wrong arrest only when Sikhs showed their strength. Sikh Nationalists are arrested for asking for Sikh Nation while Hindu Nationalists asking for Hindu Rashtra are honored. India is a Banana republic with no rule or of law.”
To understand the current crisis in Indian Punjab and anti-Hindutva wave in the Sikh community across the globe, we should peep into the history of Sikh struggle for identity and economic sovereignty. Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale Shaheed had identified the root cause of Sikh disenfranchisement and openly called for a revolt against Brahmin Raj.
Anandpur Sahib Resolution-based requests were the focus of Bhindranwale’s protracted battle in the 1980s. In August 1982, he started the Dharam Yudh Morcha, urging Sikhs to get back to their religious principles and battling against drug and alcohol abuse as well as lax religious customs like youth hair cutting. The return of Chandigarh to Punjab and obtaining a bigger share of irrigation water for that province were two other important economic goals of the Dharam Yudh Morcha.
Unfortunately, in June 1984, the Indian government struck back with Operation Blue Star. For the purpose of killing Bhindranwale and his brave troops, including former Sikh Major General Shabeg Singh, the army advanced into Akal Takht with heavy artillery support. On June 6, Bhindranwale was martyred, causing rifts between the Sikh and Hindu groups that have persisted ever since.
For Indian Sikhs and their large diaspora, Khalistan, or a “pure land for Sikhs,” has remained a dream. Khalistan has been a steadfast demand of the Sikh community, from the splendor of Sikh dominance in the subcontinent to painful memories of the operation and desecration of Akal Takht in. Khalistan is developing into a significant force in South East Asia, Australia, the US, UK, Canada, and Europe.
Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), an organisation with offices in the US and Canada and led by Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, has been advocating for an autonomous Khalistan and for the RSS to be designated as a terrorist group. Similar to this, Dr. Amarjit Singh, a well-known Washington-based TV personality and the chairman of Khalistan Affairs, has elevated the voice of the Sikh community to inform the Sikh diaspora and the larger international community of the community’s aspirations. Dr Amarjit Singh, in his program Sacho Sach compared the current crisis in India Punjab to a Sikh Youth genocide by Modi and his cohorts in Punjab.
Fast forward to September 2020, Sikhs led the farmer demonstrations in Punjab and Haryana laying a partial siege of Delhi. Since 1984, Sikhs were continuously being exploited, and there was a conscious effort to drive this prosperous group into drug use and poverty. Punjab in India is currently lagging behind many other states. In terms of per capita income, Punjab used to be among the top five states; currently, it is ranked 19th, even after Mizoram and Uttarakhand. The economic development of Punjab and Haryana, which split off from one Punjab, may be fascinating to compare, but Haryana is now one of the top five states in India, and its per capita income is nearly twice that of Punjab. The cause is clear: Punjab, which is primarily Sikh, has fallen behind Hindu-majority Haryana.
There are historical reasons for the Sikh fight for Khalistan and economic empowerment; this proud and enterprising community has proven its mettle in the world, and the Sikh diaspora of today is one of the wealthiest in the West.
The RSS has tried to destroy Sikh identity and pitch Sikhs against Muslims; however, the Sikh youth has galvanised the Khalistan movement within and outside India. The next few years will be crucial for the future of this proud community; hopefully the proud Sikh nation will achieve the ultimate goal of a separate and independent homeland.