Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age (Routledge Advances in South Asian Studies)

Sikh Nationalism and Identity in a Global Age
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The Sikhs have traditionally been concentrated in Punjab region of undivided India although not in a majority. Before the partition of India in , Sikhs were not in majority in any of the districts of pre-partition British Punjab Province other than Ludhiana. The districts in the region had a majority of either the Hindus or Muslims depending on its location in the British province. Among the three major religions Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism , Sikhs formed the largest group In late s and s the Sikh leaders realized that Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India are imminent.

To make a case for a separate sikh state within the Punjab, Sikh leaders started mobilizing meta-commentaries and signs to argue that Punjab belonged to Sikhs and Sikhs belong to Punjab. This began the territorialization of the Sikh community. A section of Sikh leaders grew concerned that their community would be left without any homeland following the partition of India between the Hindus and the Muslims.

They put forward the idea of Sikhistan, envisaging it as a theocratic state covering a small part of the greater Punjab region. According to Oberoi, the territorialization of the Sikh community was formalized when Sikh political party Akali Dal in March , passed a resolution proclaiming the natural association of Punjab and Sikh religious community. The British India was partitioned on a religious basis in and Punjab province was divided between India and newly created Pakistan. A majority of the Sikhs along with the Hindus migrated from the Pakistani province of Punjab to the Indian province of Punjab , which then included present-day Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

The Sikh population that, in , was as high as They were still a minority in the Punjab province of India, which remained a Hindu-majority province. Despite the first mentions of the movement in early 20th century, Khalistan separatist movement was never a major issue until the late s and s when it began to militarize.

There are two distinct narratives about the origins of the call for Khalistan. One refers to the events within India and the other privileges the role of the Sikh diaspora. Both of these two narratives vary in the form of governance posed for this state e.

Even the precise geographical borders of the proposed state differs among them although it was generally imagined to be carved out from one of various historical constructions of the Punjab. After India's independence, the Punjabi Suba movement, led by the Sikh political party Akali Dal , sought the creation of a province suba for Punjabi people.

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The Akali Dal's maximal position of demands was a Khalistan and minimal position was to have an autonomous state within India. The partition of India based on the religious grounds had led to a lot of bloodshed. Concerned that creating a Punjabi-majority state would effectively mean creating a state based on religious grounds, the Indian government initially rejected the demand. The Act was implemented with effect from November 1, Punjab was trifurcated creating Punjab, Haryana and transferring certain areas to Himachal Pradesh.

Chandigarh was made a centrally administered Union territory. Akali Dal, the Sikh political party, was defeated in the Punjab elections. It asked for recognising Sikhism as a religion separate from Hinduism and transfer of Chandigarha and certain areas to Punjab. It also demanded that power be radically devoluted from the Central to state governments.

The document was largely forgotten, for some time after its adoption, but came into the limelight in the s. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented a real solution to demands such as a larger share of water for irrigation and the return of Chandigarh to Punjab.

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According to this narrative, particularly after , Sikh men who were settled outside of India, began to popularize among Sikhs in North America and Europe, the notion of a sovereign and independent state of Khalistan. One such account is provided by the Khalistan Council which had moorings in West London. Davinder Singh Parmar migrated to London in and asserted the demand for an independent state of Khalistan.

According to Parmar, his first pro-Khalistan meeting was attended by less than 20 people and he was labelled as a madman and received only one person's support. There was a lack of support but Parmar continued his efforts. Two years after losing the Punjab Assembly elections in , Chohan moved to the United Kingdom , to start his campaign for creation of Khalistan. In Parmar came in contact with Jagjit Singh Chohan in London which led to the launch of the movement. The Khalistan movement was announced formally at a London press conference. Parmar and Chohan were dismissed by the community as fanatical fringe without any support.

He went to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan and toured several historical gurdwaras. He utilized this opportunity to spread the notion of independent Khalistan, that was widely publicized by the press in Pakistan. The extensive coverage of his remarks, introduced people in India and the international community, to the demand of Khalistan for the first time.

The term Khalistan became recognizable even though it still lacked a public support. Chohan visited the United States at the invitation of his supporters in the Sikh diaspora. Advertisement of Khalistan enabled him to collect millions of dollars from the Sikh diaspora. After returning to India in , Chohan travelled to Britain in , and established the Khalistan National Council. A similar announcement was made by Balbir Singh Sandhu, in Amritsar , who released stamps and currency of Khalistan.

Operating from a building termed "Khalistan House", he remained in contact with the Sikh extremist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who was violently campaigning for a Sikh theocratic homeland. Chohan declared himself president of the "Republic of Khalistan", named a Cabinet, and issued symbolic Khalistan "passports", "postage stamps", and "Khalistan dollars". Embassies in Britain and other European countries were opened by Chohan.

The globalized Sikh diaspora invested efforts and resources for Khalistan, but the Khalistan movement remained nearly invisible on the global political scene until the Operation Bluestar of June The late s and the early s the separatist movement began to militarize and saw the increasing involvement of the Sikh religious preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale in Punjab politics. Bhindranwale articulated these grievances as discrimination against Sikhs and the undermining of Sikh identity.

The growth of Bhindranwale was not solely by his own efforts. The Congress leader Giani Zail Singh allegedly financed the initial meetings of the separatist organisation Dal Khalsa, which disrupted the December Ludhiana session of the Akali Dal with provocative anti-Hindu wall-writing. Bhindranwale was originally not very influential, but the activities of Congress elevated him to the status of a major leader by the early s. Armed Khalistani militants of this period described themselves as "Kharku". In a politically charged environment, Lala Jagat Narain , the Hindu owner of the Hind Samachar group of newspapers, was assassinated by Sikh militants on 9 September In Census of India was being conducted where the mother toungue of the citizens was being recorded.

Lala had been writing about reporting Hindi instead of Punjabi as their mother tongue by Hindus living in Punjab. This infuriated Bhindranwale and his followers. Bhindranwale had earlier been a suspect in the murder of the Nirankari leader Gurbachan Singh, who had been killed on 24 April in retaliation for killings of conservative Sikhs belonging to the Akhand Kirtani Jatha.

Bhindranwale was released in October by the Punjab State Government, as no evidence was found against him. The Akali Dal was initially opposed to Bhindranwale, and even accused him of being a Congress agent. The movement was hijacked by Bhindranwale who declared that it will continue until all the demands in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution were fulfilled. Indira Gandhi considered the Anandpur Resolution as a secessionist document and evidence of an attempt to secede from the Union of India. After the launch of the Morcha, Sikh extremists began committing acts of political violence.

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Assassination of Chief Minister of Punjab Darabara Singh was attempted and two Indian Airlines flights were hijacked by the terrorists. To restart the talks with the Akali leadership, Gandhi ordered the release of all Akali workers in mid October and sent Swaran Singh as her emissary. Bhindranwale who was then regarded as " single most important Akali leader " announced that nothing less than full implementation of the Anandpur resolution was acceptable to them. Other Akali leaders agreed to join the negotiations which ended with a compromised settlement with the governments team.

The settlement was then presented in the parliament but certain parts of the agreement were changed unilaterally due to advice from Haryana and Rajasthan CMs. The Akali leaders who were planning to announce a victory of Dharam Yudh morcha, were outraged by the change in the proposed settlement. In November , Akali leader Longowal announced that the Akali Dal would disrupt the Asian Games that as to be held in Delhi by sending teams of Akali workers to Delhi to court arrest. Negotiations between the Akali dal and the government followed but failed at the last moment due to the disagreement in the transfer of areas between Punjab and Haryana.

Akali leaders vowed to overwhelm Delhi with a flood of protestors with an aim to highlight the perceived "plight" of Sikhs in front of the international media covering the games. This frisking was seen as discriminatory and humiliating by the Sikhs. Many Sikhs who did not support Akalis and Bhindranwale began sympathizing with the Akali morcha. After the conclusion of the games, the Akali leader Longowal organised a convention of Sikh ex-servicemen at the Darbar Sahib. It was attended by a large number of Sikh ex-servicemen including ret. Major General Shabeg Singh who subsequently became Bhindranwale's military advisor.

There were widespread murders in Punjab by followers of Bhindrawale. In the two year perion between 4 August January and 3 June there were more than violent incidents in which persons were killed and injured. Out of which in the year itself between 1 January and 3 June, violent incidents happened killing and injuring This showed the power and influence that Bhindranwale had over the region. It was common knowledge that the militants responsible for bombings and murders were taking shelter in some gurdwaras.

However, the Congress-led government declared that it could not enter the gurdwaras for the fear of hurting Sikh sentiments. During this incident, the Akali Dal began more agitation in February , protesting against clause 2 b of Article 25 of the Indian constitution , which ambiguously states "the reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina, or Buddhist religion", though it also implicitly recognises Sikhism as a separate religion with the words "the wearing and carrying of kirpans shall be deemed to be included in the profession of the Sikh religion.

The Akali Dal members demanded that the constitution remove any ambiguous statements that use the word Hindu to refer to Sikhs. For instance, a Sikh couple who married in accordance to the rites of the Sikh religion had to register their marriage either under the Special Marriage Act, , or the Hindu Marriage Act — the Akalis demanded replacement of such rules with Sikhism-specific laws. Operation Bluestar was an Indian military operation carried out between 1 and 8 June , ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib complex in Amritsar , Punjab.

The total number of deaths was in violent incidents and riots while 1, people were injured. Indira Gandhi ordered the army to launch the Operation Blue Star. The army kept asking the militants to surrender, using the public address system. The militants were asked to allow the pilgrims out of the temple premises, before they start fighting the army. However, nothing happened till 7 PM. Militants had Chinese made Rocket-propelled grenade launchers with armour piercing capabilities.

Tanks and heavy artillery were used to attack the militants using anti-tank and machine-gun fire from the heavily fortified Akal Takht. After a hour firefight, the army finally wrested control of the temple complex. Bhindranwale was killed in the operation, while many of his followers managed to escape.

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Casualty figures for the Army were 83 dead and injured. The opponents of Indira Gandhi also criticised the operation for excessive use of force. General Brar later stated that the Government had "no other recourse" as there was a "complete breakdown" of the situation, State machinery was under the control of the militants, declaration of Khalistan was imminent and Pakistan would have come into the picture declaring its support for Khalistan.

While the ruling party, Congress, maintained that the violence was due to spontaneous riots, its critics have alleged that Congress members had planned a pogrom against the Sikhs. Bhagat , and Sajjan Kumar have been accused by Sikhs of inciting the mobs against them. Other political parties strongly condemned the riots. Many Sikh and Hindu groups, as well as organisations not affiliated to any religion, have attempted to establish peace between the Khalistan proponents and the Government of India.

The accord recognised the religious, territorial, and economic demands of the Sikhs that were thought to be non-negotiable under Indira Gandhi's tenure. The agreement provided a basis for a return to normality, but it was denounced by a few Sikh militants who refused to give up the demand for an independent Khalistan. Harchand Singh Longowal was later assassinated by these militants. The transfer of Chandigarh has allegedly been delayed pending an agreement on the districts of Punjab that should be transferred to Haryana in exchange. Some sections of the Sikh diaspora started to support the separatists with financial and diplomatic support.

A section of Sikhs turned to militancy in Punjab and several Sikh militant outfits proliferated in the s and s.

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A large numbers of Sikhs condemned the actions of the militants. In , When the terrorism was at its peak, the militants called the Sarbat Khalsa. When that person refused do their bidding, militant leader Gurbachan Singh Manochahal appointed himself by force the jathedar head of the Akal Takht , which is the supreme religio-temporal seat of the Sikhs. Subsequently, a number of rebel militant groups in favour of Khalistan waged a major insurgency against the government of India.

Indian security forces suppressed the insurgency in the early s, but Sikh political groups such as the Khalsa Raj Party and SAD A continued to pursue an independent Khalistan through non-violent means. On 29 April , an assembly of separatist Sikhs at the Akal Takht made a declaration of an independent state of Khalistan.

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During the late s and the early s, there was a dramatic rise in radical State militancy in Punjab. This period of insurgency saw clashes of Sikh militants with the police, as well as with the Nirankaris , a mystical Sikh sect that are less conservative and aim to reform Sikhism. Khalistan-related militant activities continued in the s, as the perpetrators of the riots remained unpunished, and many Sikhs felt that they were being discriminated against and that their religious rights were being suppressed. It also reported that there were indiscriminate attacks designed to cause extensive civilian casualties: It further reported that militants assassinated many of those moderate Sikh leaders who opposed them, and sometimes killed rivals within the same militant group.

It also stated that many civilians who had been kidnapped by extremists were murdered if the militants' demands were not met. Finally, it reported that Hindus left Punjab by the thousands. In August , Julio Ribeiro , then Indian Ambassador to Romania, was attacked and wounded in a Bucharest assassination attempt by gunmen [87] identified as Punjabi Sikhs.

This appeared to be in retaliation for Romanian arrests of KLF members suspected of the attempted assassination of Julio Ribeiro. In October , The New York Times reported that violence had increased sharply in the months leading up to the kidnapping, with Indian security forces or Sikh militants killing 20 or more people per day, and that the militants had been "gunning down" family members of police officers.

On 31 August , Chief minister Beant Singh was killed by a suicide bomber. The pro-Khalistan group Babbar Khalsa claimed responsibility for the assassination, but security authorities were reported to be doubtful of the truth of that claim. While the militants enjoyed some support among Sikh separatists in the earlier period, this support gradually disappeared. With dwindling support and increasingly effective Indian security troops eliminating anti-state combatants, Sikh militancy effectively ended by the early s.

Human Rights Watch reported that since , government forces had resorted to widespread human rights violations to fight the militants, including arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without trial, torture, and summary killings of civilians and suspected militants. Family members were frequently detained and tortured to reveal the whereabouts of relatives sought by the police. It also claims that looting of the villagers' properties and the ransacking of entire villages occurred during this period. In November , a Sarbat Khalsa , or congregation of the Sikh community, was called in response to recent unrest in the Punjab region.

The Sarbat Khalsa adopted 13 resolutions to strengthen Sikh institutions and traditions. The 12th resolution reaffirmed the resolutions adopted by the Sarbat Khalsa in , including the declaration of the sovereign state of Khalistan. There are several Sikh groups such as the Khalistan Council that are currently functional and provides organization and guidance to the Sikh community.

Multiple Sikh militant groups are organized across the countries and coordinate their military efforts for Khalistan. Such groups were most active in s and early s and has since receded in activity.

These groups are largely defunct in India but they still have a political presence among the sikh diaspora, especially in countries such as Pakistan where they are not proscribed by law. Most of these outfits were crushed during the anti-insurgency operations by An unknown group before then, the Shaheed Khalsa Force claimed credit for the marketplace bombings in New Delhi in The group has never been heard of since. On 23 June , the Boeing aeroplane operating on the route was blown up midair off the coast of Ireland by a bomb. In all, people were killed, among them Canadian nationals and 22 Indian nationals.

The main suspects in the bombing were the members of a Sikh separatist group called the Babbar Khalsa , and other related groups who were at the time agitating for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan in Punjab, India. In September , the Canadian Commission of Inquiry investigated reports, initially disclosed in the Indian investigative news magazine Tehelka , [] that a hitherto unnamed person, Lakhbir Singh Rode , had masterminded the explosions.

The United States Department of State found that Sikh extremism had decreased significantly from to , although the report noted that "Sikh militant cells are active internationally and extremists gather funds from overseas Sikh communities. In , Kuldip Nayar , writing for Rediff.

Simrat Dhillon, writing in for the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies , noted that while a few groups continued to fight, "the movement has lost its popular support both in India and within the Diaspora community". Understanding Religious Violence", "The movement is over," as many militants had been killed, imprisoned, or driven into hiding, and because public support was gone.

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Operation Bluestar and its violent aftermaths popularized the demand for Khalistan among many Sikhs dispersed globally. It also enabled Pakistan to become involved in the fueling of the movement. Some Sikh groups abroad even declared themselves as the Khalistani government in exile. The sikh place of worship, gurdwaras provided the geographic and institutional coordination for the Sikh community.

Sikh political factions have used the gurdwaras as a forum for political organization. The gurdwaras often served as the site for mobilization of diaspora for Khalistan movement directly by raising funds. Indirect mobilization was provided by promoting a stylized version of conflict and sikh history. The rooms in gurdwara exhibit pictures of Khalistani leaders along with paintings of martyrs from Sikh history.

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This visually establishes a line of oppression starting from 17th Century to modern day. Gurdwaras also host speakers and musical groups that promote and encourage the movement. Among the diasporas, Khalistan issue has been a divisive issue within gurdwaras. These factions have fought over the control of gurdwaras and their political and financial resources. The fights between pro and anti-Khalistan factions over gurdwaras often included violent acts and bloodshed as reported from UK and North America.

The gurdwaras with Khalistani leadership allegedly funnel the collected funds into activities supporting the movement. Different groups of Sikhs in the diaspora organize the convention of international meetings to facilitate communication and establish organizational order. In April the third convention was held in Slough, Berkshire where the Khalistan issue was addressed.

All these factors further strengthened the emerging nationalism among Sikhs. Sikh organizations launched many fund-raising efforts that were used for several purposes. After one of the objectives was the promotion of the Sikh version of "ethnonational history" and the relationship with the Indian state.

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The Sikh diaspora also increased their efforts to build institutions to maintain and propagate their ethnonational heritage. India has accused Pakistan of supporting the Khalistan movement in the past, to allegedly seek revenge against India for its help in creating Bangladesh and, according to India, to "destabilize" the Indian state. Rethinking Sikh Nationalism in a Global Age 2. From Panth to Qaum: The Territorialization of the Qaum: Identity in Independent India 4.

From Khalistan to Punjabiat: Globalization, Hindutva and the Decline of Sikh Militancy 5. The Politics of Recognition: South Asia, with its burgeoning, ethnically diverse population, soaring economies, and nuclear weapons, is an increasingly important region in the global context. The series, which builds on this complex, dynamic and volatile area, features innovative and original research on the region as a whole or on the countries.

Its scope extends to scholarly works drawing on history, politics, development studies, sociology and economics of individual countries from the region as well those that take an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to the area as a whole or to a comparison of two or more countries from this region. In terms of theory and method, rather than basing itself on any one orthodoxy, the series draws broadly on the insights germane to area studies, as well as the tool kit of the social sciences in general, emphasizing comparison, the analysis of the structure and processes, and the application of qualitative and quantitative methods.

The series welcomes submissions from established authors in the field as well as from young authors who have recently completed their doctoral dissertations. Learn More about VitalSource Bookshelf.