Land of the Pure: The Khalistan Movement in India

Land of the Pure: The Khalistan Movement in India

How Khalistan Movement Started

The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state called Khalistan (Punjabi: ਖ਼ਾਲਿਸਤਾਨ, lit. 'land of the Khalsa') in the Punjab region. The proposed boundaries of Khalistan vary between different groups; some suggest the entirety of the Indian state of Punjab, while larger claims include Pakistani Punjab and other parts of North India such as Chandigarh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. Shimla and Lahore have been proposed as the capital of Khalistan.

The call for a separate Sikh state began in the wake of the fall of the British Empire. In 1940, the first explicit call for Khalistan was made in a pamphlet titled "Khalistan". With financial and political support of the Sikh diaspora, the movement flourished in the Indian state of Punjab – which has a Sikh-majority population – continuing through the 1970s and 1980s, and reaching its zenith in the late 1980s.

The movement was fueled by several factors, such as:

- The perceived discrimination and oppression of Sikhs by the Indian government, especially after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

- The demand for greater autonomy and recognition of Sikh identity and culture in Punjab.

- The resentment towards the centralization and imposition of Hindi language and Hindu symbols by the Indian government.

- The influence of radical Sikh leaders and organizations, such as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Babbar Khalsa, who advocated armed struggle and violence against the state.

- The support and sympathy from some foreign countries and groups, such as Pakistan, Canada, UK, and USA, who saw the movement as a way to weaken India's regional power and stability.

The movement reached its peak in 1984, when the Indian government launched Operation Blue Star, a military operation to flush out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of Sikhs in Amritsar. The operation resulted in heavy casualties on both sides and widespread damage to the temple complex. It also sparked outrage and protests among Sikhs across India and abroad, who saw it as an attack on their faith and dignity.

In retaliation, some Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984. This triggered a wave of anti-Sikh riots in Delhi and other parts of India, where thousands of Sikhs were killed, injured, or displaced by Hindu mobs.

In the following years, Punjab witnessed a violent insurgency and counter-insurgency campaign, where Sikh militants carried out bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and hijackings against government officials, security forces, politicians, journalists, and civilians. The Indian government responded with harsh measures such as curfews, arrests, torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and human rights violations.

In 1990s, the insurgency petered out, and the movement failed to reach its objective for multiple reasons such as:

- A heavy police crackdown on separatists, which weakened their leadership and network.

- Factional infighting among different militant groups over ideology, strategy, and resources.

- Disillusionment from the Sikh population, who suffered from the violence and instability caused by the movement.

- The emergence of new political parties and leaders in Punjab, who offered peaceful and democratic alternatives to address the grievances and aspirations of Sikhs.

Today, there is some support for the Khalistan movement within India and the Sikh diaspora, with yearly demonstrations in protest of those killed during Operation Blue Star. However, there is no widespread or organized demand for secession among Sikhs in Punjab or elsewhere. The Indian government considers the movement as a threat to national security and unity, while most Sikhs regard it as a historical and emotional issue.

The Khalistan movement is a complex and controversial topic, with different perspectives and narratives. It is important to understand its origins, causes, consequences, and current status, in order to foster dialogue and reconciliation among different communities and stakeholders.

Source

(1) Khalistan movement - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khalistan_movement.
(2) Khalistan: The outlawed Sikh separatist movement that has Indian ... - CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/22/india/india-separatist-khalistan-movement-explainer-intl-hnk/index.html.
(4) Khalistan Movement | UPSC IAS | Samajho Learning. https://samajho.com/upsc/khalistan-movement/.

FAQ's

What countries are in Khalistan?

The proposed boundaries of Khalistan vary between different groups; some suggest the entirety of the Indian state of Punjab, while larger claims include Pakistani Punjab and other parts of North India such as Chandigarh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. Shimla and Lahore have been proposed as the capital of Khalistan.

Who is behind Khalistan?

Jagjit Singh Chohan (1929 – 4 April 2007) was the founder of the Khalistan Movement that sought to create a sovereign Sikh state in the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent. Chohan established the Council of Khalistan at Anandpur Sahib on 12 April 1980 and became its first self‐styled president.

What is the Khalistan issue in India?

The Khalistan issue refers to a Sikh separatist movement that seeks to establish a Sikh homeland within the Punjab region. The proposed state would consist of land that currently forms Punjab, India and Punjab, Pakistan.

Is Khalistan banned in India?

Sikhs For Justice was banned in India in 2019 as an unlawful association. It began holding a referendum for creation of Khalistan in October 2021.

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