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Sidra Insar Chaudhary
Sikh community’s struggle for their independent country – under the name of Khalistan – dates back to the times when British ruled the sub-continent. However, the movement really took off under the leadership of Sikh religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in the 1980s. The recent communal developments in India suggests that Khalistan movement is gaining pace rapidly once again. Peace for Sikhs, the international organization spearheading the Khalistan movement, has asked Sikh soldiers in Indian army to resign and join the Khalistan struggle. There are reports that 11,000 to 13,000 Sikh soldiers have already quit Indian army without any retirement benefits and joined the Khalistan movement. Moreover, Gopal Singh Chawlaldr of Khalistan movement has announced that Sikh are preparing for expedient Khalistan referendum in 2020.
Media around the world often only reports on Indian Muslim minority which is being systematically targeted by the Hindu nationalist government of Modi led BJP. This creates a false perception of other minorities in India being treated equally. The Sikh religion was established by Guru Nanak. The Sikhs are distinct and peaceful people who have enough in common with other religions to be able to live peacefully among them. However, the Indian state has always struggled to accommodate its various religious minorities under a single platform. The historic massacres of Muslims and Sikhs are examples of this. Now Modi and BJP only want an India with Hindus where no other religious minority has any place. The anti-minority actions of the current Indian government have certainly opened the deep wounds of Operation Blue Star. Akal Takht and other Sikh organizations and intellectuals have issued statements condemning the Indian state violence in Kashmir by calling it a repeat of 1984.
For decades, Sikh soldiers have complained of a culture of Hindu high-caste nepotism in the Indian army where Sikhs and other minorities along with low caste Hindus are sent on the front lines to die while high-caste Brahmins gets to enjoy promotions and comfy offices. Another complain is of poor resource distribution; Sikh soldiers say already scant resources available to Indian army are made available to Brahmins and whatever left is then passed on to the minority and low-caste Hindu soldiers. For doubters and skeptics of these claims, this is not the first time we are witnessing soldiers quitting Indian army in large numbers and joining Khalistan movement, it has happened before in 1980s.
States and governments around the globe often try to hide their shameful acts considered brutal and atrocious. Operation Blue Star is a similar act of disgrace for Indian state, where it not only mercilessly massacred thousands of innocent civilians from the Sikh minority but also destroyed the holiest of the site in Sikhism known as Darbar Sahib or Golden Temple in Amritsar Punjab. For Sikhs, the attack was similar to the Roman army destroying the temple at Jerusalem.
The Amritsar massacre was conducted 36 years ago in 1984 from 1 to 8 June by the Congress government led by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to kill the Sikh religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. In the previous few years, Bhindranwale and his demand for a separate homeland for Sikhs – Khalistan – had gained considerable popularity among Sikhs. Bhindranwale had taken refuge in Golden temple thinking that the sacrilege of the place would protect him from the government’s action. On the other hand, the Indian government had blood on its mind, so it planned the operation on a Sikh religious day – the anniversary of 5th Sikh Guru Arjan Dev – founder of the Golden temple. The Sikhs from around the world visit the temple to pay their respects so thousands were expected to be in there. Documents released in Britain by its government have shown that this plan was in place months before and the British government had advised the Indians on its preparation.
On June 5th 1984, the army started the operation with tanks and heavy artillery. The use of such heavy weapons also shows that the plan was always to kill as many Sikhs as possible to instill fear in their hearts so they would never demand independence again. The killing went on for three days. According to Ensaaf, a nonprofit organization that aims to end indemnity in the state-led violence, 4000 innocent Sikh pilgrims were massacred along with Bhindranwale and his devoted followers. Sikh activists have also reported eye witness accounts of several hand-bound innocent civilians getting shot from behind by Indian army. Media censorship was another aspect that made the tragedy worse. Michael Hamlyn, the reporter for The Times, reported that before the killing spree by Indian Army, statewide media ban was imposed in Punjab and all journalists were picked up in army trucks from their residences and left at the border of Punjab. Punjab was cut off from the world, curfew was imposed and all kinds of transportation banned. From these actions, it was clear Indian government didn’t want the world to know what it was going to do in the temple.
After the operation, Sikhs around the world started criticizing the attack on their religion by the Indian state. Many Sikhs resigned from civil services and returned their state awards. The largest desertion of Sikhs was from army units. Operation Blue Star left such a huge hole in the Sikh community that as an act of revenge two Sikh bodyguards of PM Indira Gandhi assassinated her after five months of the operation. In anti-Sikh riots throughout India, several more thousand Sikhs were killed, raped, and tortured.
The Amritsar massacre was also the start of mysterious Sikh disappearances as a result of the Indian government’s brutal counterinsurgency measures and police crackdowns which are still on going in the state of Indian Punjab. Human rights groups continue to ask for accountability of those responsible for killings of the Sikh community, yet many guilty now serve as leaders of important institutions, some even sit in the Indian parliament. Indian state awarded the participants of Operation Blue Star promotions, honors, and awards. These acts have been severely criticized by Sikh activists and they have further alienated the Sikh community, fueling their desire for Khalistan.
Last year Pakistan, under the leadership of PM Imran Khan, opened the Kartarpur corridor for Sikhs to visit Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Pakistan. The corridor provides visa-free passage for Sikhs in India to Gurdwara in Kartarpur Pakistan. India, instead of building on the initiative of peace, has called it an attempt to keep the Khalistan movement alive. India needs to realize the larger issue here, which is that no accountability of individuals involved in the decades-long oppression of Sikh minority is acting as an untreated disease. The Sikh community strongly believes that since the independence of India there has been a sustained and systematic effort to subvert their identity and culture by majoritarian Hindutva philosophy. Ergo, the Hindu supremacist ideology is to blame for the increasing impetus for Khalistan movement.