News Analysis |
Britain has rejected India’s demand seeking a ban on US-based pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)’s plan to issue a ‘London Declaration’ for a ‘referendum’ on Punjab’s independence at Trafalgar Square on August 12. “In the UK, people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law,” a United Kingdom government spokesperson told HT as opposition to the event grew within the Indian community.
“However, we will not tolerate any groups who spread hate or deliberately raise community fears and tensions by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities and the police have comprehensive powers to deal with such activities.” The Indian high commission in London did not want to comment beyond acknowledging they had received a similar response.
The Khalistan Movement is a Sikh nationalist movement that wants to create an independent state for Sikh people, via peaceful struggle, inside the current North-Western Republic of India.
People aware of the developments said a similar response had been sent to the Indian authorities in response to their ‘note verbals’. The external affairs ministry and the high commission had sent ‘note verbals’ requesting the British government to deny permission for the event. A note verbale is a formal, unsigned diplomatic note written in the third person.
The event has revived New Delhi’s long-standing demand that London clamps down on such elements. Indian high commissioner Y K Sinha also met British foreign office minister Mark Field over the issue. Indian community members took to the social media to oppose the event as SFJ put up billboards and claimed support of some Kashmiri groups and sought to rally followers.
“On August 12, we will unveil the case for Sikhs’ right to self-determination as guaranteed in the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,’’ said SFJ’s legal advisor, attorney Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. “It is the principle of the right to self-determination and the common occupying power India that brings Sikh and Kashmiri people on a joint platform in their democratic quest for freedom of their homelands.”
“As usual the Indian authorities are overreacting to the Sikh Diaspora and resorting to misinformation. Since 1966 the Indian state is accepting the right to self-determination at the UN imposed an unacceptable ‘reservation’ that it could not apply to the people of India.
“In the UK, people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law,” a United Kingdom government spokesperson told HT as opposition to the event grew within the Indian community.
No doubt India is fearing a breakup of the country with a number of legitimate secessionist movements. “The right to self-determination is a basic human right and absolutely fundamental to the protection of individual rights. The vast majority if not all UK politicians support this right based on international law.”
The Sikh Federation added: “In our view the reestablishment of a Sikh homeland is inevitable with the Sikh Diaspora leading the way and gaining the direct support of world powers like the USA and China with a vested interest and countries like the UK, Germany, Canada and Australia to name a few, also playing their part.” There were indications of a counter-event to oppose the event.
The specter of a Sikh State in the form of Khalistan has scared New Delhi since India’s creation in 1947. The Khalistan Movement is a Sikh nationalist movement that wants to create an independent state for Sikh people, via peaceful struggle, inside the current North-Western Republic of India. An ignored aspect is that the concept of an independent Sikh state was originally floated by none other than Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru in the pre-independence period through a Sikh leader whose ear he had at that time.
Although the term had popped up occasionally as a non-serious slogan by stray unrepresentative voices during the period leading up to the partition of the country into India and Pakistan, the concept was first given formal shape and the term Sikh Home Land first used by Master Tara Singh at Nehru’s behest as a “counterblast to Jinnah’s demand for an independent Muslim state, Pakistan.
Retaliation by some Sikhs came in the way of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. This act triggered the so-called anti-Sikh riots of 1984, which has been reported to be a planned pogrom by the Congress against the Sikhs.
In other words, the demand for Khalistan was first raised to counter and kill the demand for Pakistan. Thus, ironically, Khalistan was invented to preserve India’s unity and integrity, and not to break it. It was used to frighten the British away from the idea of Pakistan.
The Sikhs as a separate nation before British rule chose to join India by choice on promises made by Nehru. The Independence of India was not a joyful event for Sikhs and the scars of partition left Sikhs in a lot of discontentment with regard to their traditional lands being lost to Pakistan and truncated Eastern Punjab being dominated by a non-Punjabi speaking majority. These grievances were further aggravated by u-turn of Nehru on promises made to the Sikh community.
Further on, Indira Gandhi tried to prop up Deras of Nirankaris to counter the Sikh’s growing political clout. Nirankari Gurus desecrated the Sikh scriptures and were allowed to do it under police protection. In a major altercation, 8 Sikhs were murdered by Nirankaris while they were protesting the desecration. This was the incident that created a call for taking up arms against the Nirankaris, and thereof against the government if it protected them.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwaleemerged as the voice of Sikhs, over-ruling the pro-State leaders like Longowal. Bhindrawale declared himself as the protector and arbiter of Sikh rights and acquired arms. A list of attacks attributed to Bhindranwale by the government but never substantiated by proof finally gave New Delhi the excuse to impose an emergency in October 1983.
The Independence of India was not a joyful event for Sikhs and the scars of partition left Sikhs in a lot of discontentment with regard to their traditional lands being lost to Pakistan and truncated Eastern Punjab being dominated by a non-Punjabi speaking majority.
In June 1984, an event would happen that would ignite the flame for Khalistan. The assault on Darbar Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple (the holiest of Sikh temples) by the Indian military forces using tanks and artillery known as Operation Blue Star was conducted in order to evict a group of armed pro-Khalistan activists from the temple a claim that remains controversial to this day with prominent politicians like Subramanian Swamy asserting that this was a disinformation campaign to legitimize the brutal assault on a holy place.
According to the Indian Army, 136 army personnel were killed and 249 injured. In all, 493 people in the complex were killed including Bhindranwale and 86 injured; the government report also mentions that 1600 people were unaccounted for, though it does not state what fraction were killed or injured. Unofficial figures go well into the thousands. Massive human right violations by Indian Army personnel took place like gunning down of prisoners and burning & looting of the Sikh Reference Library.
Retaliation by some Sikhs came in the way of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. This act triggered the so-called anti-Sikh riots of 1984, which has been reported to be a planned pogrom by the Congress against the Sikhs. This wholesale slaughter, which led to the deaths of many Sikhs including entire families, has been widely condemned by human rights activists and has been designated as genocide by the California State Assembly.
The army occupation of Punjab which followed Operation Blue Star was highly detrimental to the Sikhs. Mass human rights violations like torture, extrajudicial murders, rapes, illegal detentions, forced disappearances were inflicted upon the Sikh community by the Indian authorities to subdue resistance.
Sikh groups resisted through an armed insurgency, which carried on for decades. India has been unable to suppress the demands of a separate Sikh state by both coercion and persuasion. In order to demean the struggle for Khalistan it often uses the foreign boogeyman as a tool for disinformation.