• Recently, the S. Department of Justice announced that it had foiled an alleged plot by an Indian official to murder a Sikh activist and American citizen in New York City.


  • The anti-Sikh violence of 1984 made many Sikhs feel like the pattern of abuses under Indian leadership would not end.
  • It fueled a new movement for Sikh self-determination.
  • In July of 1984, Sikhs gathered in Madison Garden in New York City and announced their commitment “to support the struggle of Sikhs in the Punjab for self-determination and the preservation of their distinct and religious identity.”
  • Less than two years later, thousands of Sikhs gathered at the Golden Temple in their political tradition of Sarbat Khalsa and announced a resolution to recognize Khalistan.
  • From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Punjab was enmeshed in a violent struggle.
  • A segment of the Sikh population took up armed resistance, with the aim of winning an independent Sikh state, free from the tyranny of India.
  • This period of insurgency is often what westerners mean when they are referring to the Khalistan Movement.


  • Khalistan is the name of the proposed state envisioned by some Sikhs.
  • The ethno-religious liberation movement gained traction in the 1970s and early 80s in India.
  • It later died down but has developed momentum among the Sikh diaspora in recent years.
  • Some Khalistan supporters have called for the incorporation of the Pakistani side of Punjab.
  • There is division among supporters of Khalistan on the boundaries of a sovereign Sikh state, but most agree that it would encompass the state of Punjab in India.

  • While other groups argue that some areas of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, states surrounding India’s Punjab, should also form part of the proposed nation.
  • The historical Punjab region is located in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent and includes modern-day eastern Pakistan and northwestern India. 


  • The idea of a separate Sikh state, or ‘Khalistan’, first emerged in the 1940s in response to the Muslim League’s demand for Pakistan.
  • The Sikh leaders and intellectuals had mooted several proposals, including Azad Punjab, Sikhistan and Khalistan, in order to safeguard the political, economic and cultural interests of Sikhs.
  • However, Sikhs were only 14 per cent of the population in undivided Punjab and were thinly spread throughout the state.
  • This, along with lack of conviction among its leadership and little popular support from below, ensured that ultimately the Sikh leadership reconciled itself to the division of Punjab and India, and sided with the Indian National Congress.
  • Following the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, the Punjabi Suba movement emerged which called for the establishment of a Punjabi-speaking autonomous Sikh state.
  • In 1952, the then-Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared he would suppress the demand for a Punjabi-speaking state, leading to divisions between Sikhs and Hindus.
  • Ultimately, in 1966, the state of Punjab was created with Chandigarh as its capital.
  • In the 1970s and 80s, following for the Khalistan movement re-emerged among Sikhs in India and the diaspora.
  • Spurred by the Sikh rebel leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the movement became an armed rebellion.
  • The rebellion lasted more than a decade and was suppressed by a violent crackdown by the Indian government, in which thousands of people were killed, including prominent Sikh leaders.
  • In 1984, Indian forces stormed the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest site, in Amritsar, Punjab to flush out separatists who had taken refuge there.
  • The operation killed about 400 people, according to official Indian government figures, but Sikh groups say thousands were killed.


  • Those who support Khalistan and the 2020 referendum include clean-shaven Sikhs, particularly those from rural backgrounds, and form a significant part of the neo-panthic movement.
  • These neo-panthics are highly factionalised, intolerant of dissenting views and often abusive on social media.
  • Meanwhile, a highly organised and vociferous minority among the radical Sikhs has kept the Khalistan cauldron boiling among the diaspora in countries like Canada, USA, UK and Australia.
  • Taking advantage of the liberal laws and their concentration in areas like Surrey and Brampton, supporters of Khalistan have penetrated into all political parties in Canada.


  • If the crisis escalates, trade and investments could take a hit.
  • In 2022, India was Canada’s 10th largest trading partner.
  • Goods exports to India amounted to $5.4 billion and services exports, $6.2 billion, according to the Trade Commissioner Service.
  • Imports from India were $6.4 billion and $2.9 billion, respectively.
  • According to Trading Economics/UN Comtrade data, Canada’s top export to India in 2022 were fossil fuels and related products (nearly $1 billion), followed by fertilisers (close to $748 million), and wood pulp and plant fibres ($384 million).
  • According to Reuters, more than 600 Canadian companies and organisations have a presence in India.
  • Bilateral commercial relations between the two countries are worth $100 billion, which includes $70 billion of Canadian portfolio investment in India.
  • Bilateral goods trade between Canada and India rose to $8.2 billion in 2022, up 25 per cent from a year earlier.
  • If Canada imposes restrictions on student visas or the Indian government creates hurdles, it will reduce student inflow.
  • This will hurt Canada as well, as CBIE data show Indian students contributed $4.9 billion to the Canadian economy in 2021.
  • India suspended issuing visas to Canadian citizens amid the escalation, citing “security threats” disrupting work at its missions in Canada.
  • Also, in a tit-for-tat move, India expelled one of the top Canadian diplomats last week after Canada’s foreign minister expelled Pavan Kumar Rai, the most senior member of India’s foreign intelligence agency operating in Canada.


  • A peaceful, open, and honest dialogue with all stakeholders, including Sikh community leaders and organizations, is crucial. It’s essential to understand their concerns and aspirations.
  • On the other hand, it is equally crucial to address extremist and radicalizing elements within the Sikh community or any other group that may be promoting separatism.




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