Newspaper Article 13/02/2023
Over 60,000 Indian Australians of the Sikh faith defied the Hindu supremacist Modi led Bharatiya Janata Party government in Melbourne which is once again a prime example of how the Khalistan movement is gaining momentum. From subjecting Punjabi farmers to oppression to openly preventing Sikhs from taking part in the democratic voting system to raise the demand for the creation of a separate state in Indian Punjab, the Modi Raj is once again exposing itself as a subjugator of minorities which is pursuing a socially exclusionary agenda.
The independent observer entity named ‘Sikhs for Justice’ claimed that approximately 57,000 Sikhs cast their vote prior to closure by the Punjab Referendum Commission. The crowds which queued up outside the voting station in one of Australia’s economic hubs paved the way for stampedes as angry Sikh citizens crashed the gate of the center and went to the voting hall to cast their votes closer to closing time. The enthusiasm, the defiance and the rallying cries by a population which has been repeatedly brow beaten by Hindu majoritarianism was telling as thousands more waited to get in but were eventually stopped by the PRC.
The Khalistan Movement which gained momentum in the 1980s was largely curtailed after the 1984 Sikh riots which took place across India after the assassination of former Prime Minister of Indira Gandhi. The then Anandpur Resolution openly stated that the province of Punjab would benefit from a quasi-independent status where the Indian government would be left with powers pertaining to foreign policy, general communications, currency and defense only. The quick dismissal by Gandhi despite the Akali Dal’s president Harchand Singh Longowal insistence that the resolution was not aimed at Indian independence resulted in Operation Blue Star and served as the basis for widespread agitation and discontent.
Yet the BJP government has castigated the Indian Congress for lambasting itself over the Gujarat pogrom and turning a blind eye to the 1984 Sikh riots. Fast forward to 2023, then Sikh agitation in the 1980s has transformed into a legitimate demand for separation which is indicative of the duplicity and hypocrisy of the BJP government. The policies which are highly centralized and cater to the Gujarati, Mumbaikar, Delhi and Bangalore corporate elite is now taking a toll on India’s ability to keep its country and minority groups together.
According to Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the first phase of the Khalistan referendum in Melbourne has established the fact that Sikhs are for a separate country and will continue the peaceful and democratic process to liberate Indian Punjab under the UN Charter. Grievances center on how successive regimes from the Indira Gandhi led Congress government to the Modi led BJP has committed the genocide of Sikhs. Based on Pannun’s statements it is evident that the Khalistan movement is not an international conspiracy as dubbed by the Hindu right wing but a legitimate struggle for self-determination which is permissible under international law.
Sentiment is pronounced in the Sikh diaspora across the world. Countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia have empowered the population to exercise their right to vote in genuinely free and democratic societies. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report in 2022, authorities across India arrested activists, agitators and common citizens and accused them of initiating politically motivated charges. This essentially entails that a deprived Sikh citizen who calls for greater autonomy and protection from abuse and seclusion could easily be apprehended and incarcerated in Modi’s India. This is precisely why the largely organized Sikh diaspora is now channelizing their anger through genuine secular democracies.
The voting in the referendum which dates back to October 2021 in seven cities across the United Kingdom has also been held in Switzerland, two Canadian voting centers and in Italy. Furthermore, in Australia where freedom of speech is considered an inalienable right for every citizen, pictures of Satwant and Kehar on Khalistan referendum banners underlined exactly what the pulse is in the Sikh nationalist movement. The Hindu population in Australia which numbers around 700,000 as compared to 210,000 Sikhs were visibly irked which resulted in demonstrations followed by uproars from Sikhs who witnessed the Hindu right wing stifling the voice of India’s prominent minority group on Australian shores.
The Khalistan referendum is a message to the BJP government and its handlers that the Sikh identity cannot be wiped out with a saffron stroke. Khalistan is an aspiration and dream for thousands in the Sikh diaspora and India’s draconian domestic policies are to blame.
Note: This article appeared in Eurasia, dated 13 February 2023.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are of the author and do not necessarily represent Institute’s policy.