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The Revival of Sikh Fundamentalism
Given the religious and political climate throughout the colorful history of India, Sikhism never appeared to pose a persistent threat to the politics of India.  After the partition of India into Pakistan and India in 1947, the Sikhs were still left without a means of political participation to voice their civic grievances. Consequently, they were gradually recruited by predominantly Hindu governmental officials into the Indian political infrastructure and were used to serve the interests of the nation.  Excessively manipulated and mistreated by the Hindu majority, the Sikhs came to resent their participation in the Indian state, and by following a popularized resurgence of the militant Khalsa order, the Sikhs were persuaded to utilize more hostile methods of voicing their collective political concerns.   It was only after a 1984 militant uprising that the threat of Sikh nationalism was detected by the Indian government, and accordingly, their political desires were taken more seriously. To the chagrin of the Sikh nationalists, the revolt was essentially quelled by 1992, but had it not been for a few chance events, the outcome could have been quite different.   It is this fact—coupled with the potential outcomes of alternatives to revolution—that leads one to deduce that the use of terrorism increases the likelihood of the Sikh homeland, Khalistan.  

Prior to the outright revolt beginning in 1984, the people of the Punjab, the area designated as the eventual state of Khalistan, lived under horrid conditions imposed by the Indian government. Predominantly an agricultural province, Punjab was exploited by India, and in return for their gracious acceptance of said exploitation, the farmers of the Punjab fell prey to financial ruin.  This was due to (among other things) lack of sufficient power and water, the high cost of electricity and diesel fuel, and an inadequate support price for wheat.  The central government restricted the aforementioned items, and eventually, the situation reached a critical mass—that is, the citizenry was forced to either demand some form of self-rule or to wait complacently for death.   The choice, therefore, was obvious.   It is reasonable to assume that the condition in which the Sikhs had previously lived is no longer an optional lifestyle.  The establishment of a separate Sikh nation-state becomes necessary in order to guard against the injustices that had once been perpetuated on this people, and there are three possible avenues by which the Sikhs could theoretically achieve this state—outright terrorist warfare with India, intervention from an outside mediator, or an entry into Indian politics so as to affect a change from within.  The first two options are possibly interdependent on one another, and the third is essentially wishful thinking.   Direct participation in the Indian government by the Sikhs was once believed to be within the scope of possibility; past experience, however, has shown that such a notion is idealistic at best.  Since the time of Indian independence in 1947, Sikhs have apparently identified more (in terms of religious persuasion) with Hinduism rather than Islam—numerous reasons for this identification exist, and not the least of which is Islam’s adamant opposition to innovation after Muhammad.   An eventual absorption of Sikhs into mainstream Indian society never occurred, but many Sikhs suddenly found themselves in places of military prominence.  In terms of the masses, Sikhism was rejected by the common people of India, thereby barring its adherents from attaining offices of political authority.  Although no official ban existed, Sikhism was largely sequestered from politics, and Hindu classism and exclusiveness likely played a role in this rejection.   Such is the case today, and it is evident, therefore, that Sikhism is at a significant disadvantage in Hindu society in terms of political activism, but capitalizing on what little prominence they were given in Indian society, the Sikhs were once able to voice their grievances through more direct means—that is, the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.   Although it is deplorable (in the eyes of many) to advocate such extremism, the Sikhs were only able to delineate the importance of their cause once Gandhi was slain.  Had the Sikhs not violently eliminated the prime minister, the small Punjabi resistance would have gone unnoticed by anyone other than those immediately and intimately affected.  Sikhism made known to the global community that their collective voice should be heard and that a dismissal of the problem would likely result in further retaliation.  Unfortunately for the Sikhs, an event of this magnitude was never repeated.  Sikhism, therefore, was unable to pursue equal representation through political channels, and it was only after a violent insurgence that the world took notice.  The only mistake, many would argue, was their unwillingness or inability to incite further acts of rebellion.   The remaining options (terrorist warfare and external mediation) offer the possibility of more practical solutions.  Although the odds of an outright Sikh victory in the face of concerted Indian military pressure are slim, the possibility of a protracted guerrilla/terrorist war could (over time) convince the Indian government that a recognition of Sikh interests would remedy the economic and social drains of armed conflict.  In essence, the government could very well allow the establishment of Khalistan in the interest of civic and social order.

Many would argue that acts of terror—or even the threat thereof—can actually bring about an eventual solution to the problem at hand (e.g., the ordeal concerning the Irish Republican Army, or IRA).   If guerrilla violence could not directly result in the formation of Khalistan, the indirect benefit of gaining international attention could bring about change in the Punjab.  If terrorist activity is excessively rampant, the international authorities would have no recourse but to make an attempt at an amelioration of the issue.  The United Nations is renowned for its propensity to re-draw international borders, and the issue of Khalistan would serve as a prime opportunity to exercise this authority.  Terrorism, therefore, although beleaguered with harsh side effects, is a practical means to justify a social wrong perpetuated by the Hindu majority of India.

Regardless of the option chosen, it is a given that the Sikh people will not and cannot return to the life prior to 1984, but riddled with its infamous oppression and classism, Indian society does not seem to be able to adequately address the needs of this restless people.  The Sikhs are a proud people with a rich history, and to force them to live in complacency would be to further bruise and already devastated ego.  Although the use of terrorism appears cruel and altogether heartless, the alternatives have proved ineffective; one might reasonably argue that it is only fitting for the Indian populous to be punished with the same hatred that they have so fervently embraced in the past.  Emotional tangents aside, the only practical and potentially effective strategy for the establishment of Khalistan is an offensive targeted at the state that has propagated the inequality of the past—any other course of action, however noble it may be, would be in vain.

J. Adam Brockwell

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