It all started in the year 1873 with what was named the “The Singh Sabha Movement,” which had two primary objectives. The first objective was to ensure that Sikhs were not deprived of the prevalent Western modern education of that time. The second objective, founded in Amritsar in 1873, had the dual purpose of providing modern Western education to the Sikh community and countering the influence of other religious groups such as Muslim preachers, the Arya and Brahmo society, who had their own cultural concepts, and the promoters of Christianity. The first step was to establish their own schools, which they called Khalsa Schools, in Punjab, conforming to their religious identity. This was followed by the Akali movement, which aimed to free all Sikh Gurudwaras from the control of the Udasin Mahants, whom the Sikhs believed to be infidels.
These two movements played a pivotal role in the advancement of Sikh nationalism. The Khalsa schools succeeded in proliferating Sikh nationalism, and the subsequent events after India’s independence further bolstered the demand for Khalistan. The Akali movement continued to campaign for even more autonomy for the religious institutions of the Sikhs. These historical movements laid the foundation for the emergence of the Khalistan movement in the years to come. The partition of India in 1947 was displeasing for Sikhs as they felt that they lost their established lands to Pakistan, resulting in a mass migration of immigrants into India. This period also witnessed brutal inter-communal violence between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, resulting in the loss of many innocent lives. To preserve Sikh identity, another movement called the “Punjab Suba” was launched by the community, aiming to reestablish Punjab on the basis of language, leading to the split of the region into three areas: Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, and Punjab.
The Khalistan movement was spurred by the “Anandpur Sahib Resolution,” which demanded Punjab’s autonomy and the identification of regions for a separate state. The resolution also called for Punjab to have its own constitution. Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a forerunner of the movement, sought to restore the doctrines of puritan Sikhism. The movement soon took the form of agitation, and the Government of India launched “Operation Blue Star” to capture Bhindranwale and halt the movement, resulting in strong anti-India sentiment. Other extremist groups such as the Commando Force of Khalistan, Khalistan Liberation Force, and the Babbar Khalsa also emerged, successfully misleading the youth into believing that extremism was the only way to achieve Khalistan.
As years passed, the movement turned into a vicious attempt, backed by anti-India forces, to destabilize India. Four decades ago, when India and Russia (then USSR) proposed to join hands to strengthen the eastern front, the move did not sit well with the Western powers and their proxies. Many plans were unleashed to disrupt India, such as creating turmoil in Punjab, forming the Gorkha movement in the east, galvanizing Tamils in Sri Lanka, and the migration and atrocities against Hindus in Kashmir. These were all well-mastered plans to destabilize India’s growth. Sikhs were made to brutally fight for a separate country. At that time, the pro-Soviet Indian Government quickly became a threat to the growing Western powers.
In the 1980s, in an uprising attempt, extremists hid arms and ammunition in the Golden Temple because, according to the country’s law, it is believed that no bloodshed can be done in religious places like mosques, temples, and other places of worship. During Indira Gandhi’s regime, a civil war-like situation emerged in which both Hindus and Sikhs were killed.
A well-planned assassination saw Indira Gandhi being shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards. The killing of Gandhi in 1984 and the anti-Sikh riots further stoked anti-India feelings in the community. To prevent prosecution, many perpetrators fled the country and went to countries like Canada, the USA, Australia, and England.
Now, as India is becoming stronger, Khalistan supporters are playing truant and paying heaps of money to somehow keep the agitation alive. The sheer size of India and its recent success has once again become a threat for a certain section of misguided Sikh youths. Amritpal Singh used to travel in luxury cars and also barged into police stations, asking for the release of his associates who are in prison. He was on the run for a very long time and used to relay messages stating that he would surrender only if he was kept in a Punjab jail. The police were unable to hunt him down for quite a long time, and certain sources claim that he was being protected by political parties who oppose India’s central government. He blatantly declared that under no circumstances would he surrender to the Indian Government. Kumar Vishwas, a poet and socio-political activist, had claimed that the present Government in Punjab and its supreme leader supported terrorists. Vishwas was once part of the same party but left them after what he called inappropriate connections and influence of the party.
Another saddening incident happened in London some time back when Harman Singh Kapoor, a Sikh restaurant owner in England’s capital, was attacked by pro-Khalistan elements. Kapoor had posted a video on social media opposing the disruption certain anti-social elements were causing in the country in London. Since then, Kapoor and his kin faced threats of rape and were said terrible things about on social media platforms. This happened at the time when the miscreants, with all impunity at their command, pulled down India’s national flag from the Indian High Commission. The restaurateur said that even the police displayed a laid-back attitude when he approached them with his complaint.
The present Indian Government is doing everything possible for the welfare of the Indian Sikh community as they are the country’s pride. Whenever there is a crisis in any part of the country or the world, Sikhs are the first to offer humanitarian aid in the form of langars (community kitchens), blood donation camps, and so much more. Sikhs fought valiantly for India’s independence, and many of them also worked with Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army, such as Pratap Singh Kairon, Niranjan Singh Talib, and Bhag Singh. These were noble and honorable leaders who served the country selflessly. As a religion, Sikhism is known to be pragmatic and fosters the spirit of service and humanity. Guru Nanak was the first Sikh Guru, and then nine more gurus succeeded him. The tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, declared Guru Granth Sahib, the scripture, as the ultimate successor, thus closing the line of human Sikh gurus. The religion emphasizes the tenets of truthfulness, faithfulness, self-control, and purity of the soul.
Mere vandalism and threatening people are not justifications for establishing a separate sovereign state. Political powers and organizations that fund such elements must realize that, geopolitically and demographically, it is not currently feasible to create a separate country. Therefore, supporting extremist groups and indoctrinating young minds is a futile tactic that will ultimately be detrimental to their cause.
What began in 1873 has lost its credibility due to the involvement and encouragement of individuals who seek social, political, and economic unrest in India. India is determined to remain united and aims to see the Sikh community thrive and play a significant role in the country’s development.
[Photo by Jasleen Kaur, via Flickr, is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0]
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
Shaumik Samar Ghosh is an author, journalist and columnist currently based in India.