Khalistan: Sikh diaspora supports local action

The rise in militancy among Sikhs is more than a national issue; recent eruptions are testaments to resentment that has brewed since 1984, and may be strongest among those abroad

Hardnews Bureau Chandigarh 

On June 6, Sikh protestors in Jammu took the district administration and Delhi by surprise when they blocked the roads and fought pitched battles with the police. They were agitated by the manner in which Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale’s posters were removed before the 30th anniversary of Operation Bluestar, in which the Indian army engaged with Sikh militants. Bhindranwale, besides many others, died in that military operation. This was just a trailer of what was to come.

Tensions flared again in Golden Temple, Amritsar, when supporters of Bhindranwale fought with those opposed to him. The Akali government in Punjab was no help, as it took steps to release those blamed for terror acts. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reacted angrily to these suggestions, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to opt out of the 350 years celebrations of Anandpur Sahib. It may be fine for his party to be an ally of Akali Dal, and engage in ghar wapasi campaigns to convert all Indian Christians back to the pantheist faith, but PM Modi did not want to be seen with those who were also mixed up in acts of terrorism. As it is, he faced a tough time during his visits to US, Canada and Australia, where Sikh human rights organisations had succeeded in obtaining a warrant for his arrest, without bail.

While Akali Dal flirts with Sikh extremists for reasons of local state politics, identity of the new generation of Sikhs living abroad is undoubtedly shaped and defined by earlier generations and how they perceive the killings that took place during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. The extremist sections in the Sikh community have demanded that the riots be declared “genocide”, and that there be abrogation by article 25 (2) (b) of the Indian constitution, where Sikh faith is seen to be part of Hinduism.

Radical Sikh elements are attempting to move a resolution in the US Congress in November 2015 urging the US to declare the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 ``Genocide’’. To garner the support of US politicians, who wouldn’t be aware of the issue’s background, groups comprising of those who testified against Jagdish Tytler met the Governor of California, Jerry Brown, and gave him a docket containing details of the violence against the community and how the community has not received justice, even after 30 years.

To queer the Indian government’s pitch, there are reports that a group of radicals in Germany asked all pro-Khalistani activists and leaders to support the Kashmir cause and align with the Pakistan government on the matter. Expectedly, this group of elders wanted the younger generation to be exposed to the cause of Khalistan. Intelligence sources inform of an interesting development that has taken place amongst the Sikh radical groups: in the past these Sikh militants worked closely with the RSS to fight the Congress, but now it seems they have become wary of them. The radical outfit has asked their followers to keep a close watch on RSS followers.

Taking advantage of the traditional proximity between the RSS and the Sikh community, a number of radical Sikh organisations have been running an online campaign against Article 25(2) (b) of the Indian constitution, which mentions Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as part of Hinduism. The petition has received support from different groups based across Europe, including the Sikh Council, UK. Interestingly, Pakistan-based Sikh organisations such as the Sikh Research Study Centre (SRSC) and Young Sikh Partners (YSP) are also part of this campaign.

Radicalism abroad is also perhaps being fed by the rapid expansion of Dera-related activities and their growing political influence. Deras’ support has actively been sought by political parties that have hurt the Akalis in earlier elections. Expectedly, Sikh groups abroad attentive to domestic politics are quick to criticise the Dera, whom they see as diluting the purity of the Sikh panth. In December 2014, British Sikh Council protested against the alleged desecration of Guru Granth Sahib by Ashutosh Baba in Tarn Taran, Punjab.

The Sikh Federation of United Kingdom found in the recent UK parliament elections an opportunity to revive their cause. Their importance soared, as this election was expected to be a close fight, and there were constituencies where the margin was no more than a few votes. These constituencies were most vulnerable to persuasion by the Sikh radicals. They wrote a manifesto to convince political parties that they could expect support only if they declare 1984 as genocide against the Sikhs. Fifty parliament constituencies were targeted. It is not clear whether the Sikh extremists are happy with the outcome.

What is apparent in all these exertions to garner support is the acuity of Sikh radical groups abroad. Whenever suspected Sikh militants or members of radical groups are detained or face charges, the world’s Sikhs rally.  Social media and communications methods are deepening activism. Recently, when Jagtar Singh Tara, of the Khalistan Tiger Force in Thailand, was detained and  extradited to India, large numbers of radical Sikh organisations based abroad not only followed the developments related to the issue, but also protested against such detention outside Thai embassies in different parts of the world. These protests were meant to discourage Thai authorities from undertaking such enterprise in
the future.  

Home Ministry sources claim that Jagtar Singh Tara, who escaped from a prison in India, was identified in 2014 as involved in training rohingyas and Sikh extremists near Mae Sot in Southern Thailand. The camp Thai authorities raided revealed equipment and accessories for imparting training in bomb making. These sources claim that Tara was part of the network set up by ISI in Thailand, where Sikh youths were being trained. Tara reportedly told his interrogators that there were similar camps to train
Lashkar-e-Taiba militants.

All these developments firmly indicate that Sikh radicalisation is a problem that the rulers in Delhi cannot really wish away. While in the past the origin of dissent was local, it is now the Sikh diaspora that feeds the demand for a separate homeland. The Government of India is worried that the young Sikh generation settled abroad has lost touch with the land of their ancestors and is being swayed by vicious propaganda against the political class in Delhi, who prevented action against those involved in 1984’s riots. These groups take no cognisance of the steps the Indian state has taken to address Sikhs’ grievances against the Indian state. Besides a Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who apologised for 1984, the country has seen a Sikh army chief and CEC. There is surely more to the sudden rise in militancy then teaches the eye.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2015