The Indian Punjab: Another story of oppression
Qazi Mizan: Following India’s 1947 declaration of independence, the Akali Dal-led Punjabi Suba movement pushed for establishing a province specifically for the Punjabi people. The aspirations of the Akali Dal ranged from an autonomous state within India to a sovereign state in the form of Khalistan, with the working class and other Sikhs in India being given the full range of rights.
The Indian government rejected the idea because it was worried that establishing a state with a Punjabi majority would essentially entail losing control of the richly endowed Punjab area.
But in September 1966, the demand was granted by the Indira Gandhi-led Union Government. The Punjab Reorganisation Act was approved by Parliament on September 7 and went into force on November 1 of that same year. In accordance with this, Punjab was split into the states of Punjab and Haryana, along with some parts going to Himachal Pradesh. Chandigarh became a Union territory under central management.
Sikhs in Punjab expressed resentment since Punjab and Haryana now shared Chandigarh as their capital. Despite having important rivers, the Indian government also set up a water system that decreased Punjab’s water allocation to only 23%; this worsened the situation for Punjabis.
In 1973, the Akali Dal called for the devolution of authority away from the federal government. The resolution text addressed both political and religious problems, calling for the transfer of Chandigarh and other regions to Punjab as well as the acknowledgment of Sikhism as a distinct religion from Hinduism. The Sikhs were denied their political and religious rights by the Indian government, which did nothing. The Dharam Yudh Morcha was established in 1982 by the Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to carry out the resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement because they believed it offered a simple remedy for Punjabis’ problems.
After 1971, Sikhs in North America and Europe started to embrace the idea of Khalistan as a sovereign, independent state. The globalised Sikh diaspora contributed time and money to the cause of Khalistan, but the Indian government tried to put an end to the movement in June 1984 with Operation Blue Star. It is concerning that India tried to portray the Sikh movement as militant in order to use force to stifle reasonable aspirations even though all they were doing was peacefully pursuing their legal rights. According to reports, former R&AW Special Secretary G.B.S. Sidhu actively took part in the planning of Operation Blue Star and said, “R&AW itself helped develop the Khalistan mythos.” Sidhu was sent to Ottawa, Canada in 1976 to investigate the “Khalistan problem” among the Sikh diaspora, but during his three years there, he saw “nothing amiss” and believed India was making an unnecessary mountain out of a molehill.
Punjab had a large number of killings committed by Khalistan supporters in the 1980s. Operation Blue Star, which was ultimately launched by India between June 1 and 8, 1984, was designed to drive Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his armed supporters out of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, which is the most revered shrine in Sikhism.
Following Operation Blue Star, the Indian government believed that, like the Kashmiri people, the Sikhs’ desires for a separate state and autonomy had been lessened. However, a new generation of people who fiercely reject the persecution of the Indian State is beginning to form their own image of Khalistan. A popular Khalistan television series has recently Referenda have previously been held in Italy, the UK, and the USA to address the justifiable requests of the Sikh diaspora. These incidents prompted the Canadian-based Sikh organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) to organise the third phase of the fight for the release of Punjab from the BJP’s Hindutva rule in Australia. The Khalistan Referendum, according to SFJ leaders, is the final nail in the coffin of Indian hegemony. The Sikh diaspora has been calling for the prosecution and payment of damages to those responsible for Operation Blue Star, which saw over 30,000 Sikhs killed by Hindu radicals in the wake of Indra Gandhi’s death. India is attempting to cast doubt on the validity of the referendum and appease Sikh feelings by making unfounded accusations that “SFJ” is seeking publicity by inviting and assisting the voting of its supporters from other nations in Melbourne. If India is a true democracy and wants to be recognised as one, it must accept the results of the referendum and grant the freedom of self-determination to every person it is oppressing and occupying.