Amritpal Singh, a follower of the Sikh militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who has been preaching the Idea of the Khalistan Separatist Movement in Punjab for a few months, has managed to escape.
The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement that emerged in the 1980s and seeks to create a separate homeland for Sikhs in the Punjab region of India. The proposed state, called Khalistan, would consist of parts of Punjab, neighbouring states (Himachal Pradesh, Haryana & Rajasthan ), and Lahore in Pakistan. The movement envisages Lahore to be the capital of Khalistan.
The demand for Khalistan emerged in response to what some Sikhs perceived as the marginalization and discrimination of the Sikh community in India. However, the Indian government launched a crackdown on the movement, and most of the militant groups were dismantled by the mid-1990s. Since then, the demand for Khalistan has lost momentum, and the majority of Sikhs in India does not support it, barring some occasional voices.
- The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present-day Punjab (both India and Pakistan).
- The movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988), but it continues to evoke sympathy and support among sections of the Sikh population, especially in the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.
- Political oppression: Discrimination, marginalization, and oppression of a particular group by the state or dominant group can lead to feelings of disenfranchisement and a desire for autonomy or independence.
- Economic grievances: Unequal distribution of resources and economic disparities can fuel demands for greater economic control and self-determination.
- Cultural and linguistic identity: The desire to protect and promote a unique cultural or linguistic identity can lead to calls for greater autonomy or even independence.
- Historical and territorial disputes: Historical claims to a particular region, border disputes, or territorial grievances can fuel separatist movements.
- External influences: External actors, such as neighbouring countries or diaspora communities, can influence and support separatist movements in a particular region.
Timeline of the Khalistan Movement
India’s Independence and Partition
The origins of the movement have been traced back to India’s independence and subsequent Partition along religious lines.
The Punjab province, which was divided between India and Pakistan, saw some of the worst communal violence and generated millions of refugees.
Lahore, the capital of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s great Sikh Empire, went to Pakistan, as did holy Sikh sites including Nankana Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
Demand for Autonomous Punjabi Suba
The political struggle for greater autonomy began around the time of Independence, with the Punjabi Suba Movement for the creation of a Punjabi-speaking state.
In 1966, after years of protest, Punjab was reorganized to reflect the Punjabi Suba demand.
The erstwhile Punjab state was trifurcated into the Hindi-speaking, Hindu-majority states of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana, and the Punjabi-speaking, Sikh-majority Punjab.
Anandpur Sahib Resolution
In 1973, Akali Dal, the major force in the new Sikh-majority Punjab, released a list of demands that would guide the political path among other things, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution demanded autonomy for the state of Punjab, identified regions that would be part of a separate state, and sought the right to frame its own internal constitution.
While the Akalis themselves repeatedly made it clear that they were not demanding secession from India, for the Indian state, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution was of grave concern.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a charismatic preacher, soon positioned himself as “the authentic voice of the Sikhs, in contrast to the Akali Dal’s leadership.
It is believed that Bhindranwale was propped up by Sanjay Gandhi to stand against the Akalis for Congress’s political benefit. However, by the 1980s, Bhindranwale had grown so much that he started to become a problem for the government.
Dharam Yudh Morcha
In 1982, Bhindranwale, with support from the Akali Dal’s leadership, launched a civil disobedience movement called the Dharam Yudh Morcha. He took up residence inside the Golden Temple, directing demonstrations and clashes with the police.
The movement was geared towards the demands first articulated in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which addressed concerns of the state’s rural Sikh population. However, amidst growing religious polarization, sectarian violence, and Bhindranwale’s own harsh rhetoric against Hindus, Indira Gandhi’s government declared the movement tantamount to secession.
Operation Blue Star began on 1st June 1984, but due to fierce resistance from Bhindranwale and his heavily armed supporters, the Army’s operation became larger and more violent than had been originally intended, with the use of tanks and air support.
Bhindranwale was killed and the Golden Temple was freed of militants, however, it gravely wounded the Sikh community around the world.
It also galvanised the demand for Khalistan.
The aftermath of Operation Bluestar
In October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, triggering the worst communal violence since Partition, where over 8,000 Sikhs were massacred in massive anti-Sikh violence.
A year later, Sikh nationalists based in Canada blew up an Air India flight killing 329 people. They claimed that the attack was to “avenge Bhindranwale’s killing”.
Punjab saw the worst violence, becoming the hub of a long-drawn-out insurgency that lasted till 1995.
The bulk of the population turned against the militants, and India headed towards economic liberalisation.
Status of the Khalistan movement today
- Punjab has long been peaceful, but the movement lives among some Sikh communities overseas.
- The diaspora is composed predominantly of people who don’t want to live in India.
- These people include many who remember the bad old days of the 1980s, and thus the support for Khalistan remains stronger there.
- The deep-rooted anger over Operation Blue Star and the desecration of the Golden Temple continues to resonate with some of the newer generations of Sikhs. However, even as Bhindranwale is viewed as a martyr by many and the 1980s are remembered as dark times, this has not manifested into tangible political support for the Khalistan cause.
THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE KHALISTAN MOVEMENT
1947: India gained independence from British colonial rule and is partitioned into two countries, India and Pakistan.
1966: The state of Punjab is divided into three parts, with the Hindi-speaking areas forming the new state of Haryana, and the Punjabi-speaking areas being divided between Punjab and the new state of Himachal Pradesh.
1973: The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was passed by the Shiromani Akali Dal, a political party representing Sikhs in Punjab, calling for greater autonomy for Punjab and recognition of the Sikh religion.
1980: The Khalistan movement gained momentum as some Sikhs demand a separate homeland for themselves, citing discrimination and economic hardship.
1982: Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a militant Sikh leader, took over the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar and declared it to be the seat of Khalistan.
1984: In June, the Indian government launched ‘Operation Blue Star’ to flush out Bhindranwale and his followers from the Golden Temple complex. The operation resulted in a military siege of the temple and the deaths of hundreds of people, including Bhindranwale.
1984: In October, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in retaliation for ‘Operation Blue Star’. This led to widespread anti-Sikh riots in which thousands of Sikhs were killed in Delhi and other parts of India.
1985: The Punjab Police and other security forces began a crackdown on Sikh militants, leading to a period of violence and terrorism in Punjab.
1992: The Khalistan movement lost momentum as many of its leaders were arrested or killed by security forces.
1995: The Punjab state government signed the Punjab Accord, which granted greater autonomy to the state and promised to address some of the grievances of Sikhs.
2002: The Khalistan movement became largely dormant, though some Sikh activists continue to call for a separate homeland.