Spurned Sikh Separatists Rebuild in the West

Khalistani attacks against Hindus and Indian assets overseas escalate

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Sikh Separatism in India

The concept of Khalistan – an ostensible sovereign Sikh state – can be traced back to the Sikh empire that reached its zenith in the middle of the nineteenth century. The empire quickly dissipated after its dynamic ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, died in 1839. Its territory was absorbed into the British colonial empire following its defeat in the 1849 Anglo-Sikh War. 

As Pakistan was being carved out of India in 1947, Sikhs began dreaming of a country of their own. However, with brutal atrocities against Sikhs in Pakistan and their resettlement in India, the demand for a separate Sikh state subsided.

The Sikh separatist movement under the Khalistan banner reared its ugly head in the late 1970s with support from Pakistan. Khalistani militants attacked Indian political institutions in Punjab— including police personnel and politicians,[1] killing thousands of civilians and leading to a state of emergency in Punjab. The terrorist leader Bhindranwale moved his men and advanced weaponry into the Sikhs’ holiest shrine – the Golden Temple, compelling the Indian army to launch a crackdown in which the top Khalistani leaders, including Bhindranwale, were eliminated. Events culminated in October 1984 in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, leading to widespread anti-Sikh violence, with Indira Gandhi’s son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, and his political cronies allegedly playing lynchpin roles.

The excesses committed by the Khalistani terrorists and their links with Pakistan-based terrorist organizations ultimately resulted in their near-complete extinction in India – both physically and ideologically. However, they continued to find safe havens in Western countries, often pretending to be victims of oppression at the hands of the Indian state.

Fringe Group… Barking at the Wrong Tree

It is widely known that the Khalistan movement represents a fringe element of the Sikh community in India. According to a 2021 Pew Research report, [2] “A near-universal share of Sikhs say they are very proud to be Indian (95%), and the vast majority (70%) say a person who disrespects India cannot be a Sikh.” Even among the Sikh diaspora, only a small fraction supports the separatist movement.[3] However, it is the vociferous extremist minority that receives all the media coverage and has succeeded in intimidating the majority into silence.

Another rarely discussed fact is that the 19th-century Sikh empire, which serves as the presumptive basis of the independent Sikh homeland, was centered in Lahore in modern-day Pakistan. Therefore, the demand for a separate Sikh state to be carved out of modern-day India is a silly case of barking at the wrong tree! 

Separatism in Sikh Diaspora

Sikhs have migrated in large numbers to British Commonwealth countries, USA and Germany. Some have amassed small fortunes and political clout. Between 1980 and 1984, a “Republic of Khalistan” in London founded by Jagjit Singh Chohan set up embassies, collected funds from Sikhs in the UK, Canada, Germany, and the USA, and supported Bhindranwale’s demand for an independent Khalistan. Meanwhile, the extremist elements in the West continued their terrorist activities, including airplane hijackings[4], random civilian killings[5],[6], and assassinations of political leaders.[7]  

In 1997, the so-called Council on Khalistan in Washington DC lobbied Congress to pass sanctions against India because of “terrorism against Punjab”; the resolution was debated but never passed.

In Canada, the National Democratic Party, a left-leaning national political party, is headed by a Khalistani. In the U.S., organizations like Sikhs for Justice provide physical and financial support to separatists in India or join any sort of civic action involving Sikhs.

Pakistan, as part of its multiprong strategy of “bleeding India with a thousand cuts,” has been providing financial and organizational support to the Khalistan movement for decades.[8,9] Two Khalistani organizations – Babbar Khalsa International and International Sikh Youth Foundation are designated entities[10] by the U.S. State Department.

Pakistan’s sponsorship of Khalistan sympathizers is suspected to be behind several acts of vandalism against Hindu temples and Indian government buildings. In 2019, Khalistani organizations protested outside the Indian High Commission in London and attacked Indians with swords[11]. The Indian high commission was subject to vandalism[12] throughout September 2019, including protests planned on Diwali.[13]

However, as Pakistan’s economy teeters on the edge of collapse, the Khalistanis find themselves in a do-or-die situation. Seeing their primary funding source rapidly drying up, they are desperate to show some quick wins to justify their existence.

The Recent Surge

Desperation caused by Pakistan’s instability and uncertain future is the primary reason for the recent surge in Khalistani violence. Although aided and abetted by Pakistan, these operations are hosted in Western countries.

Here we list nearly two dozen incidents of vandalism or violent demonstrations by Khalistan gangs from September 2022 through March 2023. Most of these incidents have occurred in three major epicenters of the separatist movement: Canada, the U.K., and Australia. It is nothing short of ironic that these countries have allowed Khalistan terrorism to fester in their respective backyards while spending copious amounts of taxpayer money to fight terrorism elsewhere.


[1] Jetly, Rajshree. “The Khalistani Movement in India: The Interplay of Politics and State Power.” International Review of Modern Sociology 34, no. 1 (2008): 61–75. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41421658.

[2] Religion in India: Tolerance and Segregation | Pew Research Center

[3] https://www.punjabnewsexpress.com/diaspora/news/majority-of-sikhs-in-canada-denounce-khalistan-referendum-during-popular-bassi-show-181274

[4] www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/lssns-lrnd/index-en.aspx

[5] Sikh Gunmen Kill 24 Hindus, Wound 7 on Punjab Bus – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

[6] Backgrounder, Punjab (satp.org)

[7] C. Christine Fair, Kerry Ashkenaze & Scott Batchelder (2021) ‘Ground Hog Da Din’ for the Sikh insurgency?, Small Wars & Insurgencies, 32:2, 344-373.

[8] Pande, Aparna, et al. “Pakistan’s Destabilization Playbook: Khalistan’s Separatist Activism within the U.S.” Hudson Institute. https://www.hudson.org/foreign-policy/pakistan-s-destabilization-playbookkhalistan-separatist-activism-within-the-us

[9] khalistan: a project of pakistan – Search (bing.com)

[10] https://www.state.gov/executive-order-13224/#state

[11] Attack on Indian High Commission: The protestors & handlers – The Economic Times (indiatimes.com)

[12] British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raaab On Protests Outside Indian Embassy (ndtv.com)

[13] Kashmir protest banned from taking place outside India’s mission building on Diwali – Times of India (indiatimes.com) 

Dr. Jai Bansal is a retired scientist, currently serving as the VP Education for the World Hindu Council of America (VHPA)

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