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The Khalistan discourse

The Khalistan movement has resurfaced and is capturing global attention as activists across Australia, Canada, the UK and the US rally in protest against the mysterious killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent advocate for an independent Sikh state.

Nijjar, who was labeled a wanted terrorist by the Indian government, was fatally shot in Vancouver, Canada – a city with a substantial Sikh population. This incident has sparked widespread reactions and escalated tensions between the Sikh diaspora community and Indian authorities, reigniting debates about Khalistan and its implications in the Western world.

Following the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, mass protests erupted among pro-Khalistan supporters in Western countries with significant Sikh communities. While most demonstrations were peaceful, there were instances of violence, such as the torching of the Indian consulate in San Francisco. Canada, home to the largest Sikh population outside of Indian Punjab, became a focal point for these protests, straining diplomatic relations between Canada and India.

Indian officials accused the Canadian government of insufficiently countering Khalistani groups operating within its borders. However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government, emphasizing Canada’s commitment to freedom of expression while condemning violence and extremism. As diplomatic tensions persist, the Canadian government faces the challenge of striking a balance between freedom of expression and national security concerns, as it addresses potential threats while safeguarding Sikh rights.

The diplomatic row between Canada and India has led to an unprecedented situation where pro-Khalistan and Modi-supporting diaspora groups have organized parallel rallies in North America, the UK and Australia. This clash between two groups of the Indian diaspora on foreign soil is a unique development in contemporary history. The sensationalized coverage of these incidents by the Indian media has further fuelled tensions, potentially aimed at garnering domestic support for the ruling BJP government.

The Khalistan movement emerged in the 1970s and the 1980s in response to perceived political and economic marginalization of Sikhs in India. It aims to establish an independent Sikh state called Khalistan in the Punjab region. Although the movement lost momentum in the 1990s, it continues to have a presence in the Western world.

Canada, in particular, has been significantly affected by the movement, especially during its peak in the 1980s and the early 1990s. Some prominent Canadian Sikhs have publicly expressed support for the cause of Khalistan. It is important to note that the Sikh community in Canada is diverse, and not all Sikhs support or identify with the movement.

Although the influence of the movement may be less pronounced in the US compared to Canada, it still holds significance. Sikh diaspora communities in the US actively raise awareness about the Khalistan cause, organize events, and engage in lobbying efforts. While on a smaller scale, the movement has made its mark in the US, underscoring the global reach and impact of the Khalistan movement.

Social media platforms are extensively used to promote pro-Khalistan content, with young Sikhs in both Punjab and Western countries heavily relying on the internet and social media platforms for information and analysis. Pro-Khalistan groups effectively employ platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp to conduct campaigns, such as referendums, to gauge the opinions of Sikhs residing across Europe and North America regarding the establishment of an independent country called Khalistan.

In Toronto alone, over 100,000 Sikhs participated in such a campaign in 2022, indicating that support for the Khalistan cause resonates strongly within the diaspora community.

The Indian government’s approach to dealing with the pro-Khalistani diaspora may inadvertently increase support within the community, as people in the West fearlessly express their opinions while authorities respect their right to freedom of expression and dissent. This stands in stark contrast to South Asian countries, where dissenting voices often face repression by the state.

India has been attempting to portray pro-Khalistan activists as extremists who could pose a threat to their host countries. Consequently, they argue that these activists should be either deported or silenced through preventive measures. However, authorities in Western countries typically refrain from interfering in the personal matters of their citizens unless they violate local laws.

Gaining a comprehensive understanding of the dynamics and implications of the Khalistan movement is crucial to comprehending its impact on politics and society in Western countries. The future trajectory of the Khalistan movement remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: India is grappling with an unexpected challenge posed by pro-Khalistani supporters.

Email: ershad.mahmud@gmail.com

Ershad Mahmud, "The Khalistan discourse," The News. 2023-07-17.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Sikh community , Extremism , Violence , Hardeep Singh Nijjar , Canada , India , BJP