Khalistan Movement surfaces again; what is it about?

Khalistan movement is the fight for a separate Sikh state owes its origins to the Punjabi Suba Movement. The Akali Dal – a Sikh-dominated political party – sought to create a separate Sikh Suba or Province. When the States Reorganization Commission, constituted to assess the demand for separate states by linguistic groups, made its recommendations, it rejected the Akali Dal’s demand. Since then though often remained silent, Khalistan is a volcano.

However, Khalistan movement is often a misunderstood topic. Although it’s described as a religious issue, Khalistan movement was a political mess that later on, got fueled by Pakistan.

Here are a few facts about Khalistan Movement:

1. Khalistan movement can be traced back to 1940’s, when Nehru promised Sikhs a semi-autonomous unit/state, so as to have a sense of freedom.

2. During partition Hindu/Muslim was the major issue, but in reality it was Hindu/Muslim/Sikh issue.

3. Issue became worse when Sikhs were assumed to join India/Pakistan, as per Nehru’s press conference on 10th July, 1946.

4. During partition, Sikhs were ignored, as Punjab was split between India/Pakistan on the basis of Hindu/Muslim religions.

5. Kapur Singh in 1947, made the controversial statement and tried to start Khalistan movement.

6. But the issue remained dormant till demand was made for Punjabi to be official language in 1950’s.

7. On 4th July, 1955, Indian Police invaded Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) and fired tear gas to disperse Sikhs, followed by Lathi Charge (beating civilians with sticks) and further beating with rifles (not firing but using rifles as melee weapons). Estimated 10,000+ Sikhs were arrested for peaceful demonstrations. This further laid foundations for the act, banning police officers carrying weapons into places of worship.

8. Followed above, police did Indian Flag march and established themselves inside Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) for 4 days.

9. Akali Dal at this time had few demands.
a) The transfer of the federally administered city of Chandigarh to Punjab.
b) The transfer of Punjabi-speaking and contiguous areas of Haryana to Punjab.
c) Decentralization of states under the existing constitution, limiting the central government’s role.
d) The call for land reforms and industrialization of Punjab, along with safeguarding the rights of the weaker sections of the population.
e) The enactment of an all-India Gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) act.
f) Protection for minorities residing outside Punjab, but within India.
g) Revision of government’s recruitment quota restricting the number of Sikhs in armed forces.

10. The sikh community was split into 2 at this stage.
I. Wanted Sikh majority state within India.
II. Wanted sovereign Khalistan.

11. Akali Dal was seeking peace, but as this was politically hurting Indira Gandhi’s Congress party. As such Indira Gandhi started supporting Bhindranwale, in hopes of splitting votes and weakening Akali Dal. Bhindranwale’s candidates were supported by congress in 1978 SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, this is the committee that manages Gurudwaras) elections.

12. This is where Khalistan movement is considered to have started.

13. In 1979 Khalistan National Council was created by Jagjit Singh Chauhan. This was after he lost Punjab Assembly Elections in 1969. Jagjit Singh Chauhan was in contact with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. This is where Jagjit Singh Chauhan issued Khalistan’s Passports/postage stamps/currency and finally declared himself as president of “Republic of Khalistan”. Chauhan was residing in UK at this moment and was regularly visiting Pakistan.

14. In late 1970’s/early 1980’s, Bhindranwale became unchallenged leader, as his speeches were highly polarizing.

15. In 1981, Lala Jagat Narain was assassinated, he was owner of “Hind Samachar” group of newspapers. Responsibility was taken by Sikh militants, He was a critic of Bhindranwale and a congress leader. Issue here was, a politician running newspapers and promoting acceptance of Hindi language, when rest of the community was advocating for Punjabi as an official language.

16. Bhindranwale was already a suspect for previous murder and was arrested, but released.

17. At this time, Bhindranwale decided to make Golden temple as his official residence.

18. Although Akali Dal accused Bhindranwale to be a congress agent and opposing him, joined hands with him as Bhindranwale became highly influential. This was done, in order to get “Anandpur Resolution” accepted, which was considered a secessionist document by Indira Gandhi. But for Akali Dal and Sikhs, it was the promise made by Nehru in 1940’s and provided a solution for a larger share of water for irrigation and return of Chandigarh to Punjab.

19. In August 1982, Dharam Yudh Morcha (Group for the Battle for Righteousness) was conducted by Bhindranwale and Akali Dal.

a) Akali Dal officially stated, that Sikhs were Indians and Anandpur Resolution did not promote the Sikh State of Khalistan.
b) Government of India decided to repress the mass agitation caused by Dharam Yudh Morcha, with a heavy hand, and police action was conducted resulting in deaths of 100+ people in various police firings.
c) Over 30,000 Sikhs were arrested in 3 months.
d) In order to please public, Sh.Giani Zail Singh was made President of India.

20. In 1982, Akali Dal organised protests in Delhi, during Asian Games.

21. Over 5000 Sikh ex-servicemen joined, over 170 were above rank of colonel.

22. At this time widespread murders were attributed to Bhindranwale and Sikh militants.

23. Sikh militants were getting support from Pakistan, in terms of money/training and weapons. And Sikh militants were held up in Gurudwaras.

24. Keeping 1955, Government of India decided not to take action on Gurudwaras, fearing public outrage.

25. In 1983, 6 Hindu passengers were taken off a bus and killed, this started the emergency rule in Punjab, which continued for more than a decade.

26. Akali Dal started protesting again in 1983, against Indian Constitution clause (2)(b) of Article 25, which referenced Sikhs/Jains/Buddhists as Hindus. Akali Dal demanded implementation of Sikh specific laws.

27. In 1984, Bhindranwale decided to bring ammunition into Golden Temple and provided shelter to militants.

28. Bhindranwale’s supporters were against this but negotiations between Bhindranwale, his supports, Akali Dal and Government of India were unsuccessful.

29. Finally, Indira Gandhi ordered the Indian Army to storm the Golden Temple complex. This came to be known as Operation Blue Star.

30. The problem here was, Pakistan’s support for militants was evident and Pakistan was looking for a way to support Khalistan movement internationally. Any more delay and Pakistan would have done so, and negotiations had broken down completely.

31. Kuldip Singh Brar (Yes a Sikh) led army units along with paramilitary forces and surrounded Golden Temple complex on 3rd June 1984.

32. Militants decided to start firing at Army without giving pilgrims the chance to leave temple premises.

33. This resulted in a 24-hour firefight, at the end.

  • 136 Army personnel were killed.
  • 249 Army personnel injured.
  • 493 civilians were killed.
  • 86 civilians were injured.
  • Who was at fault and Who shot who is still open to debate.
  • Unofficial figures go into thousands.

34. This became a military success but the biggest political embarrassment for Congress.

35. On 31st October 1984, Indira Gandhi was shot dead by 2 Sikh security guards (Satwant Singh and Beant Singh) as retaliation for Operation Blue Star.

36. This resulted in one of the biggest riots in India and violence against Sikhs across India. Congress maintained that the violence was due to spontaneous riots, although evidence is present of planned violence against Sikhs.

37. Almost every party except Congress condemned Operation Blue Star and riots after.

38. This eventually leads to 15 yr long insurgency in India.

39. During this time, specifically after 1971, Pakistan got involved, Pakistan provided training, money and weapons for militants. Some Pakistani military personnel personally came to India and worked alongside militants.

40. There were numerous militant organisations, with Babbar Khalsa being the most famous.

Khalistan movement is perhaps the biggest political mess caused by politicians. In the end, it was public, the fundamentalism that won. Even today, except few, those who seek to gain money/political scoring, no one supports Khalistan movement.

Information Courtesy: Adam Singh

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