By Asad Ali
The issue of marginalization of any religious or ethnic group is a complicated. There are different communities in the world who are living as per their religious traditions. However, there are a few communities facing discriminations due to the irresponsible behavior of their states. The Sikh community is one them.
The Sikh community has seen many ups and down particularly in India. Under the Modi government, discrimination against the community has increased extensively as BJP is on the path to make India Hindu Rashtra (Hindu State). There have been instances and concerns raised regarding the marginalization of Sikhs in India.
Sikhism is a minority religion in India, with a significant population primarily concentrated in the state of Punjab. Tens of thousands of Sikhs are living abroad due to challenges facing in India by the community. Like other religious communities, Sikhs have faced challenges and instances of discrimination in different periods of history. It is essential to consider historical and political factors that have influenced the relationship between the Sikh community and the Indian state.
One significant event in recent history is the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, which followed the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. The riots resulted in widespread violence against Sikhs, leading to loss of life, property, and displacement. This tragic event has had long-lasting effects on the Sikh community and continues to be a sensitive issue.
There have also been concerns raised about religious discrimination, stereotyping, and profiling faced by Sikhs, particularly due to their distinct appearance, including turbans and beards. Incidents of hate crimes, job discrimination, and social marginalization have been reported in some cases. Sikhs have advocated for their rights, seeking equal treatment and protections under the law.
Owing to the discrimination against the community, several Sikh leaders have made an organization called Sikh For Justice (SFJ). The objective of the organization is to protect the rights of community and expedite their struggle for independent state for Sikhs living across the world. To accomplish this objective, the SFJ has been holding referendums in different cities of the world such as London, Melbourne, New York and now Sydney. All chapters of referendum have seen massive participation of Sikh community who voted for separate homeland called Khalistan.
Recently on 04 June 2023, the SFJ organized referendum in Australian city of Sydney. Just like other referendums, the Sydney chapter has also witnessed massive turnout. Over 31,000 Sikhs voted for Khalistan Referendum in Sydney amid stiff resistance from the Indian government and Indian PM Modi’s personal campaign to stop Sikhs from holding the third phase of the referendum in Australia. The Sydney phase of Khalistan Referendum was organised to mark the anniversary of the 1984 Operation Blue Star Amritsar Genocide when Indian authorities killed thousands of Sikhs during a bloodied attack on Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple). Thousands of Sikh men and women queued outside Shaheed General Shabeg Singh Khalistan Referendum Voting Centre on Sterling Road, Michinbury, from 9 am and cast their votes till 5 pm under the supervision of the independent Punjab Referendum Commission which is overseeing the worldwide referendum voting, commissioned by Pro-Khalistan separatist group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).
Two weeks before the Khalistan Referendum voting in Sydney, PM Modi was in Australia where he met the Australian government authorities and urged them to stop Sikhs from going ahead with voting but the Australian government told Modi that the whole of Canberra respected India’s position it was no in position to stop its citizens from expressing their legal and democratic right.
The Sikhs for Justice, General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun asserted that Sydney Khalistan Referendum voting is a prodigious journey of Sikh sovereigntists from June 1984 while defending Sri Akal Takht Sahib with ‘bombs-bullets’ to ‘ballot-voting’ in 2023 to liberate Punjab from Indian occupation.” Pannu said the Sydney turnout was a reflection of an extraordinarily growing global support for the liberation of Punjab from Indian occupation.
The referendums have sent a clear message that they want liberation of Punjab from the Indian occupation, in the same way Hindus got freedom from the British Raj. Dr Bakhshish Singh Sandhu, President Council of Khalistan said Sikhs are under occupation of India and the only solution is liberation. He further added that we will liberate Punjab to save Punjab from India, to preserve our values, religion and culture.
Religious discrimination and hate crime against the Sikh community has increased in recent years. In India, workplace discrimination harms Sikhs in a range of public and private sector jobs including transportation, entertainment, health care, the military and law enforcement by allowing for the biased interpretation and application of government policies and laws. Regardless of the details, time and again Indian government’s policies are interpreted in a way which disproportionately impacts minority communities particularly Muslims and Sikhs and Modi government allows it to keep happening.
Likewise, in some regions of India, law enforcement and judicial officials have proven unwilling or unable to seek redress consistently for victims of religiously-motivated violence or to challenge cultures of impunity in areas with a history of communal tensions, which in some cases has fostered a climate of impunity. In particular, using the violence that targeted Sikhs in 1984 as an example, declares that justice remains slow and ineffective for the victims of large-scale communal violence.
India has not only persecuted minorities within its own borders but has tried to do the same abroad. As a party to the UN, India is obligated to create laws that will uplift its minorities. UN member states also have the obligation to protect these minorities and ensure that other countries are not infringing on minority rights by providing assistance and guidance on how to encourage the protection of religious minorities. Moreover, the international community must be a stronger advocate for religious minorities by passing stricter legislation that does not tolerate persecution and aims to maintain their full rights as religious minorities and as humans.
The writer is Islamabad based expert of strategic affairs