Referendum 2020: An Examination of the claims of Khalistani Separatists

Recently, the Pakistani ISI has been devoting a lot of resources to resurrect the dead Khalistan movement among the Sikh community abroad, especially in the UK, USA, and Canada. Like any other movement, this one too produced its own vested interests who thrive when the movement is alive, much like the Hurriyat in Kashmir thrives only when separatism is alive in Kashmir. Much like the Hurriyat, these vested interests receive money and influence from Pakistan in return for propping up the idea of Khalistan, which was decisively rejected by Bharatiya Sikhs in the early 90’s.

Just recently, a small ISI-backed group calling itself “Sikhs for Justice” organized a protest in London calling for a referendum in 2020 in Punjab. First of all, this group has no basis for representing Sikhs in any way, shape or form. They have never been elected, or appointed by Sikhs for any purpose, and are a sham organization as described by the Sikh chief minister of Punjab state. They are self-appointed, and funded by the ISI. The Times of India carried a feature that even named their ISI handler – a high ranking Lt. Col.

Now, if one moves to their claims, some photos of which were circulated on social media, one can see that each and every one is bogus, and ridiculous. Let me address them one by one.

Claim: Sikhs face an existential threat in Bharat

Now, this is simply ridiculous. First of all, the Sikh population in Bharat is growing at a healthy rate. Second of all, Sikhs face zero discrimination in the Bharatiya state. Hell, though they are only a community of 2%, Bharat had a Sikh prime minister for almost a decade. Indeed, if anything, non-Sikhs might feel discriminated against due to this. Also note that Hindus were happy to have a Sikh Prime minister, though only 2% of Bharat is Sikh, but Punjab, where 40% of the population is non-Sikh Hindu, has not had a non-Sikh chief minister ever! So who is more “oppressed”? Sikhs are over represented in every single government service, be it the IAS, the IPS, or defense. Bharat had two Sikhs in succession as the chiefs of army staff (Joginder Jaswant Singh, and Bikram Singh). As of now, the chief of air staff (Birender Singh Dhanoa), and the heads of our northern and western army commands (Ranbir Singh and Surinder Singh, respectively) are Sikhs. To allege any sort of negative discrimination against Sikhs simply sounds ridiculous: indeed, if numbers are anything to go by, Sikhs “suffer” positive discrimination (meaning, they are favoured rather than unfavoured).

Claim: Sikhs are a distinct ethnicity

Once more, this is nonsense. The Sikh gurus drew followers from all sections of Hindu society. For example, a majority of these followers were from the Jat class. The Sikh Jats are the exact same ethnicity as non-Sikh Hindu Jats. Another significant group among Sikhs is the Khatris who came from Punjabi Hindu Khatri (i.e., Kshatriya) followers of the Gurus (Gurus themselves were from the Khatri community). Most of the Sikhs still retain their caste name. To cite an example of a Khalistani Sikh: Gopal Singh Chawla would have come from the Chawla caste (a subgroup of Aroras) and his ethnicity would be identical to some non-Sikh Hindu Chawla (ex: Padma Bhushan awardee Prabhu Chawla). A rather humorous scenario arose when prominent Khalistani Jagjit Singh Chohan wanted to visit the alleged burial site of Prithviraj Chauhan who was his ancestor.

Claim: Sikh religion is stagnating in Bharat

Well, the way Bharat works is that everyone takes care of their community. The Sikhs have their own community institutions such as the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee), their political party the Akali Dal, etc. Even the state police (Punjab police) is heavily Sikh. I don’t think there is any case to be made that Sikh Panth is stagnating in Bharat. And if it is, then these aforementioned institutions should be reformed— and that is the responsibility of Sikhs. In the recent past, some Sikh institutions were hijacked by extremist elements (such as Damdami Taksal, headed by Bhindranwale). It is the responsibility of Sikh society to introspect and root out such elements.The biggest threat to the Sikh religion actually comes from Christian missionaries who are aggressively proselytizing across Punjab, with Pentecostal leader Imanul Rehmat Masih claiming in 2016 that the Christian population in the state was 7-10 per cent instead of 1 per cent as reported in the government census. Interestingly, it the much-maligned Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) that has come forward to counter conversions and bring converted Mazhabi Sikhs back to the Sikh religion.  

Secondly, the state does not interfere in Sikh institutions. The SGPC is free to run gurudwaras the way they want, and use the money collected there the way they want. And as such, they should be held accountable. By the way, non-Sikh Hindus DO NOT HAVE THIS FREEDOM IN BHARAT. Only Hindu religious institutions are controlled by the government. So, ironically, the hundi at a Hindu temple may be used by the government to subsidise Haj pilgrims! That is the state in which Hindus find themselves.

Claim: Modi’s policies are causing economic stagnation in Punjab

Once more, Punjab is governed mostly by Sikhs. Non-Sikhs are fairly under-represented. As noted, the chief minister has always been a Sikh, as have all top minister posts. Secondly, Punjab is among the more prosperous states in Bharat. Indeed, the central government has spent more money on irrigation in Punjab than any other state (this is one of the reasons Punjab was able to have the green revolution). Also, Modi is only Bharatiya PM for the past 4 years, whereas this separatist movement has been going on since the late 70’s.

Claim: Punjabi not being taught in schools in Punjab

Another claim that has no basis in reality whatsoever. To begin with, Punjabi is the sole official language of Bharatiya Punjab, and as such, schools are REQUIRED to teach it. Not only that, many districts in the adjoining state of Haryana also teach Punjabi. Not to mention that Punjabi enjoys official status in both Haryana and Delhi as well.

However, ironically enough, their claim looks to be true if they are talking about the Pakistani Punjab, where Punjabi has been systematically cleaned out in favor of Urdu. Another fact that readers may find interesting is that Pakistani Punjab, where Guru Nanak Dev Ji was born, and which is four times larger than the Bharatiya Punjab, has Sikhs numbering only in mere thousands at present. One also wonders why Pakistani Punjab hardly figures in separatists’ agenda.

Stress on two historical events— Operation Bluestar and the Delhi riots of 1984

First of all, the separatist movement started well before either of these two events. As noted, the separatists were fairly vocal since the late 70’s. Indeed, in the 1982 Asian games (before Bluestar, and before the riots) the separatists made many threats to disrupt the games and spoil Bharat’s prestige internationally. They made threats to stop grains going from Punjab. Knifing of non-Sikh Hindus became daily occurrences. In the days leading up to Bluestar, the large scale desecration of Hindu temples by throwing beef into their compounds had gained pace (This news was censored, but this information can be found in Gen. K. S. Brar’s book on Operation Bluestar). This was all BEFORE Bluestar and 1984 riots. And what was Bluestar— it was the Army’s response to the Golden Temple being converted into a military garrison by Bhindranwale’s supporters. So Bluestar was a response to something— a response to some elements making gross provocations to the state. Any sane observer would argue that the response came too late. Bhindranwale should have been stopped much earlier.

As for the Delhi riots: the Congress party and its cadres organized and conducted these riots. That is a major blot on the Congress party. Punjabi Hindus and Hindu organizations such as the RSS saved many innocent Sikh lives during the riots (as attested to by the late Khushwant Singh, who said that had it not been for the lives saved by Punjabi Hindus and the RSS workers, the death toll would have been much higher). Madan Lal Khurana (senior BJP leader), when he heard of the riots, was in hospital bed very ill. He left the hospital and personally engaged with the rioters, asking them to stop. Stories such as these are deliberately suppressed by the Khalistanis because they run contrary to their narrative. And by the way, not a single person in Bharat absolves the Congress for the blame of the riots. Watch any political debate on TV, and this issue does come up.

The other aspect that these separatists completely suppress is that Khalistani terrorists throughout the 80’s and early 90s carried out terror upon Hindus in the state of Punjab.

Almost every week there were cases of buses being stopped, the Hindus being separated out, and shot dead in cold blood. Terrorists gunned down innocent Hindus in markets, on train stations, on Ram Lila gatherings, in their homes etc. One attack on a train station that I remember killed over 50 innocent people, including women and children. Even Sikhs who spoke against Khalistanis and for the joint Hindu-Sikh culture of Punjab were not spared, and were gunned down. It is estimated that about 30,000 Hindus were killed over the years of terrorism, for only the fault that they were Hindus who were to be driven out of Punjab in order to create the state of Khalistan there. Just one instance of terrorism— the bombing of the Air India flight Kanishka— killed over 300 innocent people. So it is truly dishonest to suppress this, and keep highlighting the riots. One must condemn both, because in both it was innocents who died. It is to the credit of Hindus that they do not keep bringing up the terrorism in Punjab, choosing to forget and forgive as if it were a bad dream. It is to their credit that a poster saying “Never forget the thousands of Hindus gunned down in Punjab” has never been printed.

The falsehood continues even today— a recent issue of India West carried a feature about many such Sikh asylum seekers to the US (by the way, the story was sympathetic to them, and complained about how their food requirements were not met in US prisons). These are people who fabricate claims of persecution TODAY in order to enter the US on asylum visa. In the US, many of them work in stores with names such as “India cash and carry”, “India sweets”, “India fresh food” etc. Yet, they have falsely besmirched the name of their own country in order to gain entry into the US.

These are a very small proportion of Sikhs, let us be clear. Most Sikhs would never dream of doing such a thing. Yet we do need this large majority to bear upon this segment, and root it out.

Lastly, let us say this. Hindu Samaj has many panths, many sampradayas, many philosophies, many communities. Sikhs are a guru sampradaya, and a highly esteemed one. Till the last Guru, they considered themselves part of this Hindu samaj. One can find quotes from the last two Gurus where they refer to themselves as Hindus and their Dharma as Hindu Dharma. It is also not appreciated enough how interlinked various Hindu movements were: for example, when the Mughals hectored Guru Gobind Singh, he sought refuge in 1708 CE in the Hindawi Swarajya of the Marathas (in Nanded, Maharashtra, where he also passed away) which had established its independence from Mughal rule in the 27 year war (1680-1707 CE).

It is only the separatist movement that began in the 20th century that tried to break this branch from the tree in which it had grown and thrived without any friction, just like so many other branches grew and thrived. I ask all right thinking Sikhs to not sever this branch from the tree where it grew and was nurtured. Actually, not much is required— simply reading the teachings of the Gurus makes everything clear. Who is more important— the Gurus or the followers of Bhindranwale? The answer should be absolutely clear and simple.

Suggested reading

Operation Bluestar—the true story, by Lt. Gen KS Brar

The knights of falsehood, by KPS Gill (available online)

(This article was co-authored by Shri Vinay Kumar and Shri Deep Singh)


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About the Author

Vinay Kumar
Devout Hindu and practising brahmin, very interested in history and current affairs of Bharat. Do not believe in birth-based "caste" but rather varna based on swadharma and swabhava, and personal commitment to that varna's dharmas. I don't judge people by the religion they profess: every human being should be treated with equal dignity. At the same time, I don't judge a religion by the people I know who profess it. A religion, like any doctrine, should be subjected to critical examination using facts and reason.