Khalistan Movement

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Context: The arrest of five terror suspects in Delhi- two of whom were allegedly involved in the murder of Shaurya Chakra awardee Balwinder Singh in Punjab in October- has turned the spotlight on the embers of the long-dead and buried Khalistan movement.


  • GS 1: Modern Indian history from about the middle of the eighteenth century until the present- significant events, 
  • GS 2: Issues and challenges pertaining to the federal structure 
  • GS 3: Role of external state and non-state actors in creating challenges to internal security. 
Khalistan Movement- Deep Understanding

The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state, called Khalistān in the Punjab Region. Such a state existed in Punjab from 1709 to 1849.

Historical events responsible for Khalistan:

Before Independence:

  • The Singh Sabha Movement was founded at Amritsar in 1873 with a two-fold objective, to make available modern western education to the Sikhs, and to counter the proselytizing activities of Christian missionaries as well as the Brahmo Samajists, Arya Samajists, and Muslim maulvis. For the first objective, a network of Khalsa schools was established by the Sabha throughout Punjab.
  • The Akali movement (also known as Gurudwara Reform Movement) was an offshoot of the Singh Sabha Movement. It aimed at liberating the Sikh gurudwaras from the control of corrupt Udasi mahants.

The above two movements have risen Sikh nationalism and through Khalsa schools propagating Sikh nationalism became easy and events afters independence have strengthened the claim of Khalistan.

After Independence:

  • 1947 Partition of India –Independence of India was not a joyful event for Sikhs, partition left Sikhs in a lot of discontentment with regard to their traditional lands being lost to Pakistan and also a mass exodus of immigrants from Pakistan.
  • Punjabi Suba movement – A movement was initiated in 1955 under Akali Dal a Sikh dominated political party. It sought re-organization of Punjab along linguist lines, seeking division of the state into Punjabi and non-Punjabi speaking areas. After a series of violent protests movement resulted in the trifurcation of Punjab into Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.
  • Anandpur Sahib Resolution reignited the passion of Sikhs and sowed the seeds of the Khalistan movement. The resolution demanded autonomy for the state of Punjab, identified regions that would be part of a separate state, and sought the right to frame its own internal constitution.

Although these events have sown the seeds of Khalistan, the Khalistan movement was intensified by the following events

  • Leaders like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale travelled across Punjab advocating a return to the Khalsa or a more orthodox form of Sikhism.
    • Inspired by the Khalistan ideology led the Khalistan as an extremist movement(through violent protests and killings of high-profile persons in the Indian government) and turned against the Indian government.
  • Operation Blue star was conducted to capture Bhindrawale in Golden Temple Complex, but the operation resulted in a strong anti-India sentiment.
  • The assassination of Indira Gandhi: The then PM Indira Gandhi was seen as an enemy of the Sikhs and two Sikh guards of her assassinated her in 1984. Her killing was followed by wide-spread riots against the Sikhs in Delhi & other parts, the genocide of Sikhs across India fuelled more anti-India sentiment.
  • Manifold extremist groups like the Khalistan Liberation Force, Khalistan Commando Force, Babbar Khalsa, and umpteen others gained prominence and roamed around freely across Punjab. Which led to more polarization and radicalization of youth by these groups.
  • Pakistan’s ISI tried to foment the violence by providing support to extremist groups.
  • Referendum 2020:
    • Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) in its London Declaration (in August 2018) has announced to hold the first-ever non-binding referendum among the global Sikh community.
    • Referendum 2020 has a dedicated website, which notes: “Once there is a consensus within the Punjabi people that independence from India is desired, we will then approach the UN and other international forms and bodies with the goal of re-establishing Punjab as a nation-state”.
    • In the World Cup semifinal, pro-Khalistani supporters with Referendum 2020 T-shirts in Manchester.
Khalistan movement- the tangle of different countries 

The Khalistan movement which started on Indian Soil is no more restricted to India and the movement has slowly gained attraction from many countries due to people supporting the movement or state support to the movement.

  • International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), established in 1984 seeks to establish a separate country for the Sikhs of India called Khalistan but operates in the countries like the UK, Canada. It was also responsible to polarize people and pursue violent means Ex: Jaspal Atwalwas involved in shooting the Punjab Minister as part of the Khalistan movement in 2018.
  • US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) is a pro-Khalistan group that is also involved in terrorist activities to support secessionist activities. 
  • In Canada– Immediately after Operation Blue Star, authorities were unprepared for how quickly extremism spread and gained support in Canada, with extremists involved in killing thousands of Hindus and also include blowing up Air India flights. Canada has become a safe ground to Khalistani's where they can operate events in India.
  • Pakistan- with a long aspired to dismember India through its Bleed India strategy, Pakistan has actively supported the Khalistan movement and turn the Sikhs against India.
Pakistan Role in Khalistan Movement

The report, released by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute(a Canadian think tank) and titled “Khalistan: A project of Pakistan“, alleges that Khalistan is a geopolitical project nurtured by Pakistan, and threatens the national security of Indians and Canadians.

  • An Indian Army veteran has claimed that Khalistanis, the secessionists demanding a separate homeland in the sovereign territory of India, are getting support from Pakistani Muslims in Britain and Canada
  • The home ministry had said 9 individuals were operating from Pakistan and other foreign soil and were involved in various acts of terrorism and designated as terrorists under the provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).
  • Pakistan is also involved with funding the organizations and involving them in drug smuggling and money laundering to strengthen secessionist movements.
  • A former Pakistan army general, Mirza Aslam Beg, has also been openly pushing the government to assist the movement.
  • Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and Referendum 2020 are supported by Pakistan.
  • Intelligence officials said the websites of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) share their domain with and source content from a Karachi-based website.
  • The issue of Sikh radicalism has been worrying India, especially in view of the presence of Khalistan sympathizers in the Pakistani side who play a role in the management of holy Sikh places in Pakistan.
  • India had earlier protested after such individuals featured in Pakistan’s team for the Kartarpur corridor project.
The link between the Khalistan movement and the Kashmir issue

Of the many separatist insurgencies, India has faced since independence, those in the states of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir have proven the most destructive and potent threats to the country’s territorial integrity.

  • Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) is also trying to radicalize the youth of Kashmir and openly extending support for the secession of Kashmir from India.
  • Links between Khalistan leaders and Insurgency agents of Pakistan An example is the leading Khalistani figure in Pakistan, Gopal Singh Chawla, who makes no bones about his friendly alliance with the Pakistani jihadist Hafiz Saeed, leader of the feared Lashkar-e-Taiba.
  • In the last 30 years, LeT, claiming to be fighting on behalf of J&K, has mostly drawn recruits from the eastern and central areas of Punjab. Now with the rise of farmers protest it will be easy for terrorist grouping like LeT, ISIS to recruit the grievance farmers to revive the Khalistan movement in India.
  • With the increase in technology penetration, it will also be easy for ISIS to radicalise people especially the minorities and farmers to attack the security of India by using farmers protest as a reason.
  • Trained Armed Forces
    • Police must be effectively trained to deal with this new phenomenon of urban terror.
    • Every state should have an NSG-type of commando force to counter lethal terror strikes.
    • Rehearsals should be periodically undertaken for search-and-rescue operations after large-scale terrorist strikes and different contingencies should be simulated and practised.
  • Good governance and socioeconomic development: Focussing on development work and its actual implementation on the ground for which a clean, corruption-free and accountable administration is imperative to weed out such movements.
  • An increase in intelligence sharing and coordination between agencies such as NIA, IB and state police, etc. is a must to prevent such incidents.
  • International Cooperation: India must actively collaborate with countries like Canada and UK to have a coordinated attack on the Khalistan movement.
  • A multi-pronged strategy focusing on rational and logical counter-propaganda should be adopted with the help of civil society, NGOs, etc. We need to have very strong online surveillance capabilities. Social media monitoring capabilities to counter such kind of radicalization of youth by Khalistan supporters.
  • Deterrence to be built by a strong legislature. This may require special laws and effective enforcement mechanisms, but with sufficient safeguards to prevent its misuse.

The secessionist movements such as the Khalistan movement should be tackled smoothly without hurting the sentiments of Sikhs. It is need of the hour that the Indian government must take steps and measures to prevent the movement from gathering attraction by arresting the sympathizers and supporters of Khalistan as done in the recent Punjab case(arrested Khalistani terrorist).

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