There are 25 million Sikhs all over the world and 83% of them reside in India. Sikhs make up for 1.72% of the Indian population. The Sikh community in India is the most progressive and prosperous one in the country. Members of this community have held and proudly represented high offices. The Khalistan development is a Sikh non conformist movement trying to make a country for Sikhs by setting up a sovereign state, called Khalistān (‘Land of the Khalsa’), in the Punjab district.
WHAT IS KHALISTAN?
Khalistan literally means ‘Land of the Pure’. Even before Punjab was made a part of India there were demands for a separate Sikh state in the 1940s. Despite these demands, Punjab became a part of India in November 1966. However, there was no complete rest, these demands of a separate state did not stop. These demands resurfaced in the 1980s when Akali Dal staged a series of peaceful mass protests. What were first peaceful protests turned into heated arguments and violent episodes after Operation Bluestar in 1984.
The 1984 Operation Blue Star was the greatest internal security mission ever embraced by the Indian Army. Operation Blue Star was Indira Gandhi’s response when security and peace went haywire in Punjab.
Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, requested the military to eliminate Sikh aggressors who were collecting weapons in the Harmandir Sahib Complex (Golden Temple). Operation Blue Star was carried out between June 1 and June 8, 1984, in Amritsar.
Operation Blue Star took birth after the ascent of Khalistan development in India. The Khalistan development was a political Sikh patriot development which pointed toward making a free state for Sikhs inside the current North-Western Republic of India. Despite the fact that the Khalistan development began in the mid 1940s and 1950s, it gained momentum somewhere in the range of 1970s and 1980s.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the head of Damdami Taksal, was one of the driving forces behind Operation Blue Star. As a pioneer, Bhindranwale had an impact on Sikh youth. He convinced numerous individuals to preserve Sikh guidelines and precepts. During Operation Blue Star, Bhindranwale and Khalistan allies assumed control over the Akal Takht complex in Amritsar’s Golden Temple. Bhindranwale was viewed as an ally of the formation of Khalistan. Operation Blue Star explicitly was meant to take out Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Golden Temple complex and restore power over Harmandir Sahib.
Official reports put the number of casualties among the Indian armed forces at 83 while the number of non military personnel casualties was 492, however autonomous assessments ran a lot higher.
SIKHS FOR JUSTICE
In 2007, a law graduate from Punjab University and a practicing attorney in the US, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun founded ‘Sikhs for Justice’. This group functions from the United States of America. This group organized a rally outside the Indian embassy in Washington to promote Sikh separatist ideology. While the group makes continuous claims of enjoying wide support, the rally was said to be attended by around only 10-15 people. This rally was heavily outnumbered by Indian Americans raising pro India slogans like ‘Vande Mataram’ and ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ with the Indian flag in their hands. Sources have reported that members of the SFJ tried burning the Indian flag in front of the media and cameras.
A campaign of the group- SFJ, Referendum 2020 strives to free Punjab from Indian occupation. They launched an online voter registration through a Russian portal and called upon people living in India to register their votes for participation in the non-governmental Punjab Independence Referendum. They contend that once there is concord between all the Punjabi people that autonomy from the Indian state is desired, they will, at that very point, approach the United Nations and other global structures and bodies with the objective of restoring Punjab as a country state.
OTHER SUCH ORGANISATIONS
Over the time, apart from SFJ, many groups have emerged to raise voice for their cause of wanting a separate state of Khalistan. Some gained recognition, while some silently struggle to make a change. A few of them are:-
- ‘Dal Khalsa’ is another organization striving towards the same objective, based in Amritsar. However, their approach is more democratic and peaceful.
- Another organization called ‘Babbar Khalsa International’ that works for a separate state for the Sikhs. However, their means to achieve the same is through terrorism and armed acts. This organization is said to share a common office with Lashkar-e- Taiba in Pakistan.
- ‘Khalistan Liberation Front’ is another such organization that came into existence in 1986 that believes in violent measures to achieve their goal of having a separate state for Sikhs. This organization though, is banned by the government under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for its inclusion in a number of killings, bombings and other dreaded exercises during its vicious mission for severance of Punjab.
KHALISTAN AND INDIA
The Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) has little to no sway over Sikhs living in India. This became evident in August 2020 when they had to pay locals of Punjab to hoist the Khalistan flags and even offered ardas (prayer) for their separatist cause.
Their act of paying people to offer ardas did not even sit well with the Dal Khalsa. Dal Khalsa opposed this action because they felt that offering ardas is a matter of emotions and faith and not money.
In 2019, the Indian government banned the SFJ under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). This decision was taken on the fact that while India is a peace loving country it won’t stand any secessionist group trying to disrupt the country’s sovereignty. This step was taken as a precautionary measure to curb any mischievous act, promoted by the group. Ever since the ban, numerous cases have been filed against SFJ and Pannun, which include three sedition cases in Punjab.
SFJ in November 2020, threatened to disrupt and ban flights leaving from Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi to London. They also called out to victims of the Anti-Sikh riots of 1984 to move to the airport and occupy it. 
Even the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr. Amrinder Singh on numerous occasions made his dissent for Khalistan very evident. He praised and spoke in favour of the ban saying that it was the right step to curb anti India and separate secessionist ideologies in India. He also said that India should demand SFJ’s leader Pannun’s extradition, as FIRs have been filed against him here. To this statement, Pannun uploaded a video of himself burning an Indian flag and saying India would not be able stop the Referendum.
What is also to be taken into account is that the citizens of Punjab continue to bring to power the politician that actively speaks against Khalistan, which just goes on to prove the disinterest of people in this separatist movement.
The head of the Akal Takht, Giani Harpreet Singh is very vocal on the issue and says that all Sikhs want a separate nation but alongside that, he also emphasizes that Khalistan alone does not define Sikhs. He warned the Sikh youth to be cautious against Pakistan and organizations funded by them because they are pushing them towards terrorism and disrespecting the Indian Constitution.
The Akal Takht has also decided to confer the prestigious ‘Panth Sewak’ award to the founder of Dal Khalsa, Gajinder Singh. He spent 14 years in prison in Pakistan for hijacking an Indian flight and landing it in Lahore in 1981. He was also on the most wanted terrorists list in 2002. This move by the highest temporal seat of the Sikhs has been widely criticised.
KHALISTAN: A PROJECT OF PAKISTAN
A paper published by renowned journalist, Terry Milewski, for a leading Canadian think tank claimed that Pakistan actually gives sanctuary and prepares Khalistani assailants and enjoys tireless publicity on the issue. It is only a geopolitical agenda that poses a grievous peril to the national security and sovereignty of India as well as Canada.
He emphasized that support for Khalistan has sunk very low in India but the flame still burns brightly in Pakistan. He also brings to light the fact that while they excessively advocate for this cause they haven’t even spoken about how Khalistan would impact the Punjab district in Pakistan. Pakistan is using sentiments to manipulate people in order to incite violence in two major democratic nations.
Capt. Amarinder Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab has also stated that Referendum 2020 is the brainchild of Inter- Service Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan.  The Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Ajay Bisaria mentioned to the media that it is the involvement of Pakistani agencies in sustaining and fuelling the Khalistan agenda in Canada.
VIEWS OF OTHER COUNTRIES
Second to India, Canada is home to the highest number of Sikhs. Around 5,00,000 sikhs make up for about 1.4% of the Canadian population. Ajay Bisaria, the Indian envoy has clearly stated that pro Khalistan groups hold no power. The radical extremists are a mere faction in the general Sikh community that considers Canada their home.
The SFJ sought support from the Trudeau government for Referendum 2020 but they faced denial. A spokesperson from the Canadian foreign ministry conveyed that the Government of Canada wouldn’t be recognizing the referendum as they regard the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of India to be non-negotiable. This move by Canadian government was highly admired and valued by the Indian government, especially the Punjab Chief Minister.
The United Kingdom too rejected Referendum 2020 and dismissed demands of Khalistan. The British High Commission spokesperson claimed that this matter is for the Indian government and citizens and that while they support people expressing their thoughts they do not stand with their ideology. They showed their support to India and stated that Punjab is a part of India.
KHALISTAN- AN IMPRACTICAL DESIRE
Some might say that believing in an ideology and taking steps to achieve it is commendable, but one also has to introspect as to how realistic and practical it is. In this case while the numerous organizations raise their voices and act out for Khalistan, there are innumerable aspects they might not have considered.
The first point of concern would be the demography; Punjab before partition consisted of present day Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh from the Indian side and Punjab and Islamabad from the Pakistani side. The main question that arises is which country is going to give their territory for this Sikh state and who is economically funding them?
It is not realistic to displace around 25 million people, rob them of their jobs, their homes asking them to leave their current lives behind and start afresh in a newly formed country. It will be a repeat of the bloodshed that took place during the partition in 1947 and every individual understands how gruesome that would be.
Moreover, the issues that arise are not just of demography but also the legality and the political situations. Forming a country solely based on religion would never be authorized by the United Nations.
Considering all of the above, it is safe to say that while Khalistan may pose a minor security threat, it would never grow into a full fledged separatist movement. Sikhs are known for standing in solidarity with every community during their time of need. Pro Khalistan groups are looking for ways to create unrest in the society. However, their tactics fail to attract more people to their cause which makes their dreams reach a standstill.
 Navjeevan Gopal, “Explained: What is Sikhs for Justice, pro-Khalistan group banned by Indian govt?”, The Indian Express, Jul 12, 2019 https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-sikhs-for-justice-banned-by-centre-5825712/
 Vicky Nanjappa, “A threat to disrupt international flights: A look at why Sikhs for Justice was banned”, OneIndia, November 5, 2020 https://www.oneindia.com/india/a-threat-to-disrupt-international-flights-a-look-at-why-sikhs-for-justice-was-banned-3172549.html
 Correspondent, “Anti-India referendum: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh slams 2020 referendum, calls it brainchild of ISI”, TimesNow News.com, August 12, 2018
 Nayanima Basu, “Khalistan issue has no traction left in Canada, just like in Punjab, says Indian envoy Bisaria”, The Print, September 9, 2020 https://theprint.in/diplomacy/khalistan-issue-has-no-traction-left-in-canada-just-like-in-punjab-says-indian-envoy-bisaria/499070/
 Anirudh Bhattacharyya, “Canada to not recognise results of Punjab 2020 Referendum organised by SFJ”, Hindustan Times, Jul 25, 2020 https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/canada-to-not-recognize-results-of-punjab-2020-referendum-organized-by-sfj/story-H7Ur7veEX9Nn2VBf8BJLYJ.html
BY MEHER THAPAR | GOVERMENT LAW COLLEGE , MUMBAI