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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 8/5/19

India Places Sikh Separatists Under Surveillance

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Sikh man at the Golden Temple
Sikh man at the Golden Temple
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The Indian government has empowered eight states, including Punjab and Delhi, with a "sizeable presence of Sikh population" to take action against the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) group which calls for a referendum in 2020 for an independent Khalistan state. US-based SFJ was banned on July 10, 2019 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act by Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led cabinet committee on security "for openly espousing the cause of Khalistan" and "pushing for Sikh Referendum 2020."

In its order, the home ministry noted, ""In exercise of the powers conferred by section 42 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (37 of 1967), the central government hereby directs that all powers exercisable by it under section 7 and section 8 of the said act shall be exercised also by the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, government of National Capital Territory of Delhi and Chandigarh administration". "This notification deals with only those states which have a sizeable Sikh population and where the organizations like SFJ can play foul and try to brainwash Sikh community in favor of the Khalistan movement, through various means," a senior home ministry official told Economic Times.

Sikhs For Justice (SFJ)

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The SFJ was founded in 2007. Initially, the group was campaigning for justice for victims of the 1984 Sikh genocide. It is headed by Avtar Singh Pannun and Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. It's online support is close to 200,000.

In the first week of November 1984, Sikhs were slaughtered by mobs all over India following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The assassination was apparently in retaliation for the military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine in Amritsar, in June that year.

The ill-conceived army operation was planned and executed to deal with a handful of militants inside the temple. Known as Operation Bluestar, it left many pilgrims dead and important buildings destroyed. Many analysts believe and say the attack was avoidable as it alienated Sikhs from the mainstream and galvanized the movement for Khalistan.

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However, SFJ went a step further when a far-right Hindu nationalist group, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), announced in 2015 that India will become Hindu state by 2023. The statement came from VHP Leader Ashok Singhal after Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014. This gave SFJ an excuse to raise the issue of a referendum in 2020.

According to referendum2020.org, "the referendum 2020 campaign aims to gauge the will of the Punjabi people with regards to reestablishing Punjab as a nation state. Once we establish consensus on the question of independence, we will then present the case to the United Nations for reestablishing the country of Punjab."

The population of Sikhs in the world is around 27 million. Of this, approximately 83% live in India with 76% living in Punjab. This is the only place where Sikhs are in the majority.

Dr. P. S. Sahni & Shobha Aggarwal

Reacting to the government's order about surveillance of Sikhs, political activists, Dr. P. S. Sahni & Shobha Aggarwal, wrote in the Counter Current: "How would the administration ensure that 99% or more of Sikhs who may have nothing to do with the issue at hand or may have no view on the issue are not harassed by the police?"

The authors said the government move raises the following crucial questions:

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1. Why should the entire Sikh community be treated with suspicion?

2. Has the administration factored in the possibility of harassment/humiliation or hunting down/hounding out of innocent people at a mass scale by overzealous officials?

If the past record is any benchmark to go by, then danger lurks for the community. During the mid-1980s when militancy in Punjab was being 'dealt' with, the Army's obsession with Amritdharis (Sikhs baptized as Khalsa) became clear from a Circular (No. 153) issued in July 1984 which read:

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 
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