the 1920s, Sikhs have experienced many struggles concerning their status within
India and their demands for Khalistan.
Sikhs Gain, Then Lose Majority Status
the 1920s and 1930s, the movement for independence from Great Britain gained steam.
Sikhs felt increasingly threatened by the political and religious activism between
both Muslims and Hindus. Generally, Sikhs allied with Hindus to counterbalance
the power of the Muslims, who made up a majority in most areas of the Punjab.
independence was achieved and the partitioning of the Punjab occurred in 1947most
Sikhs fled to the Punjab area of India. In 1948, the Indian government combined
the Punjab's princely states into one unit, called Pepsu, which had a Sikh majority.
Encouraged by gaining a majority status, the Shiromani Akali Dal, the chief political
party of nationalistic Sikhs, began to call for a Sikh state within the Indian
Fearing that the Sikhs might demand greater autonomy or even independence,
Jawharlal Nehru tried to weaken Sikh political strength by combining Sikhs and
Hindus into a larger state. In 1956 the Indian government merged Pepsu with other
areas (today's Haryana and parts of Himchal Pradesh) to create the state of Punjab.
The government also declared that Punjab was a bilingual state with both Punjabi
and Hindi being designated official languages. In the merged state, Sikhs made
up only 35% of the population and lost the majority status they had held in Pepsu.
Many Sikhs were angered by the Indian government's actions.
Their Majority Status
In 1966-after ten years of attempting to suppress
Sikh demands for an autonomous Sikh state-the Indian government reversed its approach.
boundaries of the Indian state of Punjab were again revised (see 1966 map). Some
land was added to the existing state of Himchal Pradesh; the rest was divided
into two states: Punjab-which was almost 60% Sikh, and Haryana-which was 90% Hindu.
revisions of the state boundaries served two purposes: to eliminate Sikh discontent
over the 1956 creation of the state of Punjab, which eliminated the Sikhs' majority
status, and to reward the Sikhs for their loyalty, patriotism, and contributions
to India's war with Pakistan in 1965.
The creation of the state of Punjab
in 1966 was designed to give Sikhs a state in India where their religion and language
would have local dominance. However, it is important to note that the creation
of this new Punjab state went against Jawaharlal Nehru's vision of a secular India.
Nehru's vision led him to oppose reorganizing state boundaries on the basis of
religion even though he did permit it for linguistic reasons ).
For some Sikhs,
the creation of the state of Punjab in 1966 gave them the majority status that
they had long demanded; others demanded a Sikh state independent of India.
Gandhi Angers Sikhs
While Sikhs made up the majority of the population
in Punjab in 1966, they were not united politically. Farmers mainly supported
the Shiromani Akali Dal, while urban Sikhs, wealthy landowners, and Hindus supported
the Indira Gandhi's Congress Party. Both parties favoured keeping the state of
Punjab within India. However, the main issue dividing these two groups is that
the Shiromani Akali Dal supported giving Sikhism special privileges and protection.
This position conflicted with Nehru's and the Congress Party's vision that India
should be a secular state with no special favours or protection given to any particular
religion. The Shiromani Akali Dal's attempts to enact new laws by the Punjab parliament
to strengthen Sikhism failed due to the opposition of the equally strong Congress
In 1980, Indira Gandhi attempted to gain political power for her Congress
Party by exploiting differences among Sikhs. She supported a radical Sikh teacher,
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (photo), to weaken the Shiromani Akali Dal. Indira
Gandhi believed that by supporting Bhindranwale she could split the opposing Sikhs
into two camps and thereby ensure that her Congress Party would gain control of
the legislature of the Punjab.
Bhindranwale's radical demands soon attracted
dissatisfied young male Sikhs. His most important radical demand was the establishment
of an independent Khalistan that would be separate from India. He armed his followers,
and they began attacking Hindus and moderate Sikhs who did not support an independent
Realizing that she could no longer control Bhindranwale's movement,
Indira Gandhi tried to suppress the growing violence in the Punjab. In June 1984,
she ordered the Indian army to invade the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where Bhindranwale
and his followers had barricaded themselves. Between 500 and 1,000 Sikhs were
killed. The Golden Temple was (and still is) the Sikhs' holiest shrine and the
Sikh people were deeply shocked and angered by Indira Gandhi's actions. Indira
Gandhi was assassinated by two of her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Riots
immediately broke out all over India in response to Indira's death. Hindus beat
and killed thousands of Sikhs, who could easily be identified by their distinctive
Radical Sikhs Begin Revolution But Are Suppressed
India's Punjab, radicals in the Sikh community organised a secret government and
began a revolution in 1987 to establish an independent Khalistan.
to the revolution, the Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi, dismissed Punjab's
government and imposed presidential rule on the state. His actions were permitted
according to the Indian Constitution. The Indian army sealed off the Punjab's
border with Pakistan in an attempt to end the flow of money and arms from Muslims
to the Sikh rebels. The police force was doubled in size, given better weapons,
and permitted to do whatever was necessary to defeat the rebels.
Official government sources admit that more than 20,000 people were
killed between 1984 and 1995 as a result of this revolution when the Indian government
claimed victory. Some claimed the number of victims was five times the amount
suggested by the government.
Sikhs are demanding justice for the thousands
of Sikh youth that were illegally detained, tortured, and murdered by the police.
Private Sikh organisations and the Indian government are currently investigating
the abuse of power by police during the campaign against the rebels.
1995 stability, order, and some prosperity have returned to the Indian State of
Punjab. Political power has been returned to local authorities. The Shiromani
Akali Dal and its allies won the elections in 1997 and replaced the Congress Party
at both the state and federal levels of government.
The revolution has been
suppressed and order has returned to the Punjab, but one can only wonder how long
it will last since so many Sikhs remain dissatisfied.
Sikhism Faces Present
One threat to Sikhism is that Hindus do not recognise Sikhism as
being different from Hinduism. Hindus claim that Sikhism is just one of the many
forms of Hinduism. For this reason, Sikhs fear they will not be able to maintain
their distinct religious identity and will be absorbed into Hinduism.
argue that they are not Hindus, and they demand that Hindus recognise their distinctiveness.
However, some Sikh behaviours conform more closely to Hindu beliefs than the teachings
of Sikh gurus. For example, Sikh gurus denounced caste distinctions, yet the caste
system has persisted amongst Sikhs. Caste is one of the most deeply rooted aspects
of Hindu belief and behavior. When Sikhs adhere to the caste system, they weaken
the argument that they have a distinct religion and increase the risk of Sikhism
being assimilated into Hinduism.
A second threat to Sikhism is the difficulty
the Sikhs who live outside of India (40%) have in balancing their religious practices
with the expectations of modern life. It is sometimes difficult for those Sikhs
who associate closely with other cultures to avoid including practices in their
lives that are not acceptable to Sikhism. It is likewise difficult for them when
living outside the Sikh community to rigorously adhere to practices required by
Sikhism. It is these changes in lifestyle that threaten Sikhism and have created
differences of opinion among Sikhs over who belongs to the Panth. Such differences
of opinion have divided the Sikh community and have occasionally led to violence
A third threat to Sikhism is that Sikhs are losing their religious
majority status in Punjab. Young, educated Sikhs are leaving India's Punjab for
better career opportunities in Europe, North America, and even other parts of
India. At the same time, poor Hindu Indians are moving into the prosperous Punjab
to pursue better job opportunities for themselves. With this shift in religious
populations comes the threat of Hindu oppression. Sikhs fear that as they become
a religious minority they will lack the power to maintain their religious identity.
In response to these threats, many Sikhs want an autonomous state within India
that they can control and where Sikhism is given special status. Other Sikhs believe
that having an independent country separate from India is the only way to prevent
being assimilated into Hinduism.
Taken with courtesy from: http://www.cet.edu/earthinfo/sasia/punjab/PJtopic6.html