|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
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
(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
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
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.
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
Sikhism was rejected by the common people of India, thereby barring
its adherents from attaining offices of political authority.
no official ban existed, Sikhism was largely sequestered from
politics, and Hindu classism and exclusiveness likely played a role
Such is the case today, and it is evident, therefore, that Sikhism
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
many) to advocate such extremism, the Sikhs were only able to
delineate the importance of their cause once Gandhi was slain.
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
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,
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
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
allow the establishment of Khalistan in the interest of civic and
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).
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
excessively rampant, the international authorities would have no
recourse but to make an attempt at an amelioration of the issue.
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
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
be able to adequately address the needs of this restless people.
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
punished with the same hatred that they have so fervently embraced
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