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An Investigation into the Beginnings of the Khalistan Movement

The Khalistan movement is a separatist group that is working towards the goal of establishing a sovereign state for Sikhs in the Punjab region that would be called Khalistan.

Khalistani Movement UPSC
Khalistani Movement UPSC

A Concise Introduction to the Khalistan Movement

The Khalistan movement is a separatist organisation that is working towards the goal of establishing a sovereign state for Sikhs in the region known as Khlistan. Lahore would serve as the state capital of the proposed state that would incorporate both the Indian and Pakistani portions of the province of Punjab. After the fall of the British Empire, the movement got its start, and in the 1970s and 1980s, with the help of financial and political support from the Sikh diaspora, it gained momentum and became more prominent. In the 1990s, the insurgency saw a decline for a variety of reasons, including a strong crackdown by the police, internal conflicts, and a loss of support from the Sikh population. Even though there is some support for the movement in India and the Sikh diaspora in the West, it has not achieved its goal, and there are still demonstrations held every year to commemorate those who were killed during Operation Blue Star. There have been occasions when members of the Khalistan movement have voiced their desire to expand their territory beyond Punjab, namely to areas of the northern and western provinces of India.

The Khalistan Movement: The Historical Circumstances and Occurrences That Led to the Formation of It


The Singh Sabha Movement was established in Amritsar in 1873 with the combined goals of providing the Sikh community with access to contemporary western education and combating the proselytising operations of a variety of religious groups, including Christian missionaries, Brahmo Samajists, Arya Samajists, and Muslim maulvis. In order to accomplish the first goal, the Sabha set out to create a network of Khalsa schools all over the state of Punjab.

The Singh Sabha Movement was the catalyst that led to the formation of the Akali movement, which is also known as the Gurudwara Reform Movement. Its primary objective was to wrest control of the corrupt Udasi mahants who ran the Sikh gurudwaras from their hands.

These two movements played a significant part in the promotion of Sikh nationalism, and the Khalsa schools were instrumental in the dissemination of Sikh nationalism around the world. As the Akali movement continued to advocate for greater autonomy and control over Sikh religious institutions, the events that followed India's independence served to further strengthen the claim for Khalistan. Overall, the Khalistan movement that would emerge in subsequent years was built upon the basis that was created by these historical movements.

Post Independence

The partition of India in 1947 caused dissatisfaction among Sikhs because they were forced to leave their ancestral lands, which were given to Pakistan, and because it resulted in a large-scale migration of immigrants.

The Punjabi Suba movement worked towards the goal of reorganising Punjab along linguistic lines; as a consequence, Punjab was eventually divided into the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh.

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution sparked Sikh fervour and planted the seeds for the Khalistan movement, which sought the right to write the constitution of a separate state, identified places in Punjab that should be part of a new state, and demanded autonomy for the province of Punjab.

Intensification of the Khalistan movement was facilitated by the advocacy of leaders such as Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale for a return to orthodox Sikhism.

Strong anti-India sentiment emerged as a direct consequence of Operation Blue Star, which had been carried out with the intention of capturing Bhindranwale.

In 1984, the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sparked anti-Sikh riots and further exacerbated resentment towards India.

The young people were radicalised by extremist organisations that rose to prominence, including as the Khalistan Liberation Force, the Khalistan Commando Force, and Babbar Khalsa.

The Inter-Services Intelligence agency of Pakistan (ISI) attempted to incite violence by providing support to extremist organisations.

Referendum 2020 was announced by Sikhs for Justice with the goal of organising a vote by the worldwide Sikh community for independence from India. This vote would not have any legal weight.

At the World Cup semifinal in Manchester, there were witnesses of pro-Khalistani supporters wearing T-shirts with the phrase "Referendum 2020."

The Complicated Nature of the Khalistan Movement Across a Number of Different Countries

The Khalistan movement, which had its beginnings in India, has recently expanded beyond the boundaries of that country and received backing from a number of other nations. The International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) was created in 1984 with the goal of establishing a separate homeland for Sikhs living in India that would be called Khalistan. It is active in nations such as the United Kingdom and Canada, but it has also resorted to violent measures in order to polarise people, as was seen by Jaspal Atwal's killing of the Punjab Minister in 2018.

Another pro-Khalistan organisation, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), with its headquarters in the United States, is involved in aiding separatist operations by engaging in terrorist acts. Following the events of Operation Blue Star, the authorities in Canada were taken aback by the speed with which extremism spread across the country and support for the movement increased. Extremists are to blame for the deaths of thousands of Hindus and even for the bombing of airliners belonging to the Air India airline. In recent years, Canada has emerged as a safe haven for Khalistanis seeking to organise activities in India.

In line with Pakistan's long-held objective of breaking apart India through its "Bleed India" strategy, Pakistan actively supports the Khalistan movement in an effort to influence Sikhs to take an antagonistic stance towards India.

Pakistan's participation in the efforts to promote the Khalistan Movement

In a recent paper titled "Khalistan: A project of Pakistan," which was published by a Canadian think tank known as the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, the authors assert that the secessionist Khalistan movement is a geopolitical project that has been supported by Pakistan and that it poses a threat to the national security of both India and Canada.

One who served in the Indian Army claims that Pakistani Muslims currently residing in Canada and the United Kingdom are providing the Khalistanis, who advocate for a separate country in India, with support. The Indian home ministry has identified nine persons who are operating from foreign soil, including Pakistan, who are involved in acts of terrorism and labelled as terrorists under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Pakistan is one of the countries in which these individuals have their bases of operations.

In addition, Pakistan is suspected of providing financial support to organisations that are involved in the trafficking of illegal drugs and the laundering of illicit funds in order to bolster separatist activities. The government of Pakistan is known to support Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and Referendum 2020. A former Pakistan army officer named Mirza Aslam Beg has publicly asked the government to assist the Khalistan cause.

Officials from the intelligence community have discovered that the websites belonging to SFJ both share their domain name with a website situated in Karachi and obtain their content from that other website. India is concerned about the issue of radicalism within the Sikh community, particularly as a result of the presence in Pakistan of Khalistan sympathisers who are involved in the management of Sikh sacred locations in that nation.

India has expressed concern in the past on the participation of people like these on Pakistan's team working on the Kartarpur corridor project.

Where Does the Khalistan Movement Currently Stand Today and What Is Its Current Status?

Even though things have calmed down quite a bit in the state of Punjab, the Khalistan movement is still active in some of the Sikh communities that have settled outside of India. The majority of this diaspora is made up of people who have voluntarily left India, and among them are people who have vivid memories of the violent years that occurred in the 1980s; as a result, they provide a greater foundation of support for the Khalistan cause. Some members of the younger generations of Sikhs still carry the anger and resentment that stems from Operation Blue Star and the desecration of the Golden Temple. These events took place in 1984. However, despite the fact that many people think of Bhindranwale as a martyr and recall the 1980s as a troubling era, this feeling has not yet materialised into a significant amount of support for the Khalistan movement in political circles.

Even though there is a small minority that clings to the past and continues to advocate for Khalistan, their significance is not due to popular support; rather, it is due to their attempts to maintain political influence by aligning themselves with various political parties, both from the left and the right, and Amritpal Singh is one of those individuals.

Who is this Amritpal Singh, anyway?

The self-proclaimed preacher who has been at the centre of the dispute was largely unknown before the passing of the actor and activist Deep Sidhu the previous year. This event brought him to the forefront of the controversy.

Sidhu was a supporter of the farmer's movement in India, which lasted for an entire year, and he also established Waris Punjab De, an organisation that worked to defend Sikh civil liberties. In order to fight the efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to modernise the agricultural sector, the organisation rallied a number of farmers and activists, the majority of whom were Sikh. The farmers were concerned that the measures being considered would result in lower pricing.

After Sidhu was killed in a car accident in February 2022, Amritpal Singh assumed the role of leader of the movement. He gained popularity and a large following as a result of his impassioned and frequently controversial speeches, which he led at marches and at which he was the leader. His statements regarding social issues and the defence of Sikh religious rights against what he refers to as Hindu nationalist groups led by Modi have struck a chord with a significant number of Sikhs residing in the state.

Singh has compared himself to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a senior member in the Khalistan movement who was assassinated by the Indian army in 1984 when they invaded Amritsar's Golden Temple, the holiest site in Sikhism. Bhindranwale was killed after the Indian army attacked the holiest temple in Sikhism, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar. This action was carried out in accordance with a directive given by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

In a recent instance, Amritpal Singh made a speech in which he invoked the rhetoric of Bhindranwale. Singh said that Home Minister Amit Shah may face the same fate as Gandhi after Shah voiced his opposition to Khalistan.

This week, Tarsem Singh, Singh's father, gave an interview to some reporters in which he claimed that the search for his son was a "conspiracy" and that Singh was actually working to overcome his addiction to drugs.


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