About-the world this week, 19 March to 25 March 2023: Sikhism and Khalistan, an Indian Member of Parliament is disqualified, and it’s not all right to be Gay in Uganda.
India: Sikhism and Khalistan
Sikhism is a religion, which developed from the spiritual teachings of Guru Nanak who lived between the years 1469 and 1539. He is the founder, the faith’s first Guru, and was followed by nine Sikh Gurus. Guru means a spiritual and intellectual Teacher. The Tenth Guru, Gobind Singh who steered Sikhism between the years 1666 and 1708 named the Sikh Scripture called the ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ as his successor. This brought to an end the line of human gurus and established the Scripture as the Eleventh and the last eternally living Guru-a religious, life-guide for Sikhs.
Guru Nanak preached a new concept of God as, supreme, all powerful, truthful, formless, fearless, without hate, the sole, the self-existent, the incomprehensible and everlasting creator of all things. He taught people that the ‘One God’ dwells in every one of his creations, and that all human beings can have direct access to God without the need of any rituals or priests. Setting up a unique spiritual, social and political platform based on equality and fraternal love. He rejected the path of renunciation, laying emphasis on family life.
The Guru Granth Sahib opens with the ‘Mul Mantar’, a fundamental prayer about one God. The core beliefs of Sikhism, articulated in the Scriptures, include faith and meditation in the name of the one creator; divine unity and equality of all humankind; engaging in selfless service; striving for justice for the benefit and prosperity of all; and honest conduct and livelihood while living a householder’s (family) life. Sikhism rejects claims that any particular religious tradition has a monopoly on absolute truth. Sikhism also emphasises the remembrance of the teachings of the Gurus, which can be expressed musically through ‘kirtan’, or internally through ‘naam japna’ -meditation on God’s name- as a means to feel God’s presence. It teaches followers to transform the ‘five thieves’, lust, rage, greed, attachment, and ego to achieve ‘wealth’ in life.
The Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, initiated the ‘Khalsa’ (pure) tradition, which refers to the community that considers Sikhism as its faith, as well as a special group of initiated Sikhs. Upon initiation, a Khalsa Sikh is given the titles of Singh (male), meaning lion, and Kaur (female), meaning princess, and is sworn to a behavioural code of conduct of the Sikh faith.
Guru Gobind also introduced the ‘Five Ks’ in Sikhism, which he commanded Khalsa Sikhs to wear at all times. They are: Kesh – unshorn hair and beard as a respect for the perfection of God’s creation; Kangha – a comb for the Kesh, usually wooden, to comb the Kesh twice a day; Kara – a bracelet, usually made of iron or steel as a constant reminder that whatever a person does with their hands has to be in keeping with the advice of the Gurus and to symbolise God as never-ending; Kachera -an undergarment, short breeches, with a tie-knot, to be quickly ready for defence or battle; and Kirpan- a small curved sword of any size, shape or metal, used to defend others. The Kesh was to be contained in a Turban, to clearly and quickly identify Sikhs, among other symbols.
The City of Amritsar in Punjab occupies a significant position in Sikhism, with it being, not only home to hundreds of thousands of Sikhs but also the chief pilgrimage destination for Sikhs living elsewhere in India and abroad. The principal focus for pilgrims is the Golden Temple and its complex of several adjacent buildings located around a central tank. Situated on the west side, facing the causeway to the temple, is the Akal Takht, the chief centre of authority of Sikhism and the headquarters of the Shiromani Akali Dal (Supreme Akali Party), the main political party of the Sikhs in Punjab.
Sikhs have been living predominantly in the Punjab region of India. Before its conquest by the British, the region around Punjab had been ruled by a confederacy of Sikh Misls – Cavalry based armies – founded by Banda Bahadur. The Misls ruled over the entire Punjab from 1767 to 1799, until their confederacy was unified into the Sikh Empire by Maharajah Ranjit Singh from 1799 to 1849.
At the end of the Second Anglo-Sikh War in 1849, the Sikh Empire dissolved into separate princely states and the British province of Punjab. ‘Religion-nationalist’ movements emerged in response to British ‘divide and rule’ administrative policies to counter religious conversions and a general belief that the solution to the downfall among India’s religious communities was a grassroots religious revival.
The Akali movement was started in 1920 by the Central Sikh League’s political wing, the Akali Dal, which was founded in Amritsar in December 1920. The term Akali derives from the word Akal (timeless or immortal) used in the Sikh scriptures. The movement was named after the Akalis, a Khalsa militant order from the time of Guru Gobind Singh which had risen to prominence under Akali Phula Singh, one of the commanders of the Sikh Empire.
The Akali movement, also called the Gurdwara Reform Movement, was a campaign to bring reform in the Gurdwaras (the Sikh places of worship) in India during the early 1920s. It led to the introduction of the Sikh Gurdwara Bill in 1925, which placed all the historical Sikh shrines in India under the control of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC). The Akali Dal assists the SGPC.
As the British Empire began to weaken in the 1930s, Sikhs made their first call for a Sikh homeland, called Khalistan (land of the pure). The Khalistan movement was started as a separatist movement seeking to establish a sovereign state of Khalistan in the Punjab region. The proposed state would consist of the territory which currently encompasses Punjab in India, and Punjab in Pakistan, with Lahore as its capital.
Meanwhile India was set to be partitioned on religious lines as Hindu and Muslim States.
During the pre-partition talks in the Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League one of the demands was that Punjab be made into a Muslim state, which the Akalis viewed as an attempt to usurp a historically Sikh territory. In response, the Sikh party Shiromani Akali Dal argued for a community that was separate from Hindus and Muslims. The Akali Dal imagined Khalistan as a theocratic state led by the Maharaja of Patiala with the aid of a cabinet consisting of the representatives of other units.
Following the independence of India from British Rule in 1947, the Punjabi Suba movement, led by the Akali Dal, sought the creation of a province (Suba) for Punjabi people. The Akali Dal’s maximal position of demands was a sovereign state-Khalistan-while its minimal position was to have an autonomous state within India.
As the religion-based partition of India led to much bloodshed, the Indian government initially rejected the demand, concerned that creating a Punjabi-majority state would effectively mean yet again creating a state based on religious grounds. However, later India was divided into States, for administrative purposes, mostly on a linguistic basis. And Punjab (as partitioned between India and Pakistan) became a State in India.
Ever since the movement gathered force in the 1980s, the territorial ambitions of Khalistan have at times included Chandigarh; sections of North India, including the whole of Indian Punjab; and some parts of the western states of India.
In 1940, the first explicit call for Khalistan was made in a pamphlet titled ‘Khalistan’. With financial and political support of the Sikh diaspora, the movement flourished in the India’s Punjab, continuing through the 1970s and 1980s, and reaching its zenith in the late 1980s. This period also saw the rise of militant-minded Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale as a leading figure of the Khalistan movement.
With the Shiromani Akali Dal failing to win respectable seats in Elections to the State and Central Legislatures it came up with a list of demands called, ‘The Anandpur Sahib Resolution’ in 1973 to improve its prospects and galvanise the Sikhs. The resolution declared its goal was to establish a State for Sikhs with quasi-independent status, leaving only the powers of Foreign Relations, Defense, Currency and General Communications subject to the jurisdiction of the Central Government. The then Prime Minister (PM) of India, Indira Gandhi, viewed the Anandpur Sahib Resolution as a secessionist document and refused to accept it.
The Anandpur Sahib Resolution reached prominence in the 1980s when the Akali Dal and Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale joined hands to launch the Dharam Yudh Morcha in 1982 in order to implement the Resolution. Thousands of people joined the movement, feeling that it represented a real solution to demands. This included a larger share of water for irrigation, the return of Chandigarh to Punjab, which was shared with Haryana State, and of course, the idea of a Sikh Homeland. The movement turned militant and Punjab went into turmoil with terrorism becoming the order of the day.
In 1982, Bhindranwale and his militant cadres occupied the Golden Temple complex and made it his headquarters and later fortified the Akal Takht. During this time Bhindranwale ruthlessly killed many of this opponents including a former Jathedar of Akal Takht, Giani Pratap Singh. The killings were brutal to inspire terror such as chopping off the breasts of a female opponent named Baljit Kaur. Bhindranwale went on to establish what amounted to a ‘parallel government’ in Punjab settling cases and resolving disputes, while conducting his campaign for Khalistan.
With Bhindranwale growing to become a menace, in June 1984, PM Indira Gandhi ordered Operation Blue Star, which was carried out by the Indian Army to flush out Bhindranwale and his armed followers from the Golden Temple Complex. This resulted in hundreds to thousands of deaths including that of Bhindranwale. And the crackdown on militancy in Punjab brought back a semblance of peace in the State.
Then in 1984 PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh Bodyguards in a revenge action, which led to riots targeting Sikhs in northern India for being responsible for the killing.
In the 1990s, the insurgency petered out, and the movement failed to reach its objective for multiple reasons including a heavy police crackdown on separatists, factional infighting, and disillusionment from the Sikh population.
Now enter the year 2022 and 2023.
Amritpal Singh, 30 a self-styled Sikh preacher and separatist began reviving the idea of Khalistan in Punjab state, which has stoked fears of violence and brought back painful memories of a bloody insurgency that killed thousands. He was relatively unknown until the death of actor and activist Deep Sidhu in 2022.
Sidhu backed the country’s year-long farmer’s movement and founded Waris Punjab De-a group established to protect Sikh rights.
Waris Punjab De mobilised farmers and activists – many of whom were Sikh – against the Government of India’s attempt to modernize the country’s agricultural sector with the introduction of new Farm Laws, Farmers feared the changes would push prices lower. In a rare retreat, the laws were repealed in November 2021. But the Waris Punjab De continued its campaign to protect the Sikh religion and Punjab’s culture.
Sidhu was killed in a car crash in February 2022 and Amritpal Singh took over the reins, leading marches and giving impassioned – often provocative – speeches, building a large following and gaining popularity.
The popularity proabably went to his head and about a month ago he stormed a police station in Punjab along with his gun and sword-wielding gang of supporters to release an imprisoned fellow follower. They shouted pro-Khalistan separitist slogans and Amritpal Singh said he does not accept India as a nation. He likened himself to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. The police quietly watched him whisk away his devotee.
Then the Police ‘found their guns’ and piled up charges on him for attempted murder, obstruction of law enforcement and creating disharmony in society.
Early this week, Punjab Police and central agencies launched a massive crackdown on Amritpal Singh and over 110 of his associates were arrested. However, he is still on the run. Internet was suspended in Punjab for a few days. Police say that Singh was in contact with the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence(ISI) and received funds from Pakistan. Furthermore, Singh was creating a private army in the guise of an anti-drug drive and de-addiction centre.
Following the crackdown, official Indian Government establishments in London and San Francisco were attacked. Singh’s supporters vandalised the Embassies, tearing down the Indian flag and replacing it with the Khalistan Flag.
The Khalistan movement is outlawed in India and considered a grave national security threat by the government – a number of groups associated with the movement are listed as ‘terrorist organizations’ under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. But it continues to evoke a level of sympathy from some Sikhs, particularly in Canada, United Kingdom and Australia, which is home to sizeable Sikh communities, many of whom fled Punjab following independence in search of better economic opportunities. A small but influential number of those Sikhs support the idea of Khalistan, with referendums periodically held to reach a consensus to establish a separate homeland within India.
Late this week a Court in India’s Gujarat State, convicted Rahul Gandhi, a Member of Parliament representing Wayanad in the state of Kerala, and a leader of India’s grand old party – The Congress- for his comments in an Election Rally about PM Narendra Modi’s surname. He was found guilty of criminal defamation and handed down a two-year jail sentence. However, the same Court allowed him a 30-days bail, suspending ‘only the jail sentence’, to allow him to make an appeal. Rahul was present in Court to ‘receive the award’!
In the year 2019, during an Election rally in Karnataka State’s Kolar, Rahul Gandhi said, “Why do all thieves have Modi as their surname?” In his speech, he went on to name fugitive Indian diamond tycoon Nirav Modi, banned Indian Premier League boss Lalit Modi, and PM Narendra Modi.
The case against Rahul Gandhi was brought by Purnesh Modi a former Bharatiya Janata Party Minister in Gujarat State, on the premise that ‘Modi’ being an Other Backward Class (OBC) Community, Rahul has insulted and defamed the entire community by comparing them with thieves. Modi is a common last name for many in Gujarat.
Following the conviction Rahul Gandhi was (automatically) disqualified from his Lok Sabha membership. This was based on a 2013 Supreme Court order, which decreed that a lawmaker convicted in a crime and sentenced to two or more years in jail stands disqualified from the Parliament with immediate effect.
This is a fabulous case of democracy working in India and the Law of the Land taking its course.
People who identify as gay in Uganda risk life in prison after parliament passed a new bill to crack down on homosexual activities. It also includes the death penalty in certain cases.
The debate around the bill had led to fear of more attacks on gay people and blackmail. People were receiving calls on the lines of, “if you don’t give me money, I will report that you are gay”.
The bill is one of the toughest pieces of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda but this bill introduces many new criminal offences.
Amnesty International has called the bill, which criminalises same-sex between consenting adults, appalling, ambiguous, and vaguely worded. It has also been condemned by both United States and the United Kingdom.
The bill will now go to President Yoweri Museveni who can choose to use his veto to overturn the bill or sign it into law. He has himself made several anti-gay comments, in recent weeks, and also criticised Western countries for putting pressure on Uganda over the issue.
Same-sex relations are banned in about 30 African countries, where many people uphold conservative religious and social values.
More homeland stories coming up in the weeks ahead. Stay with World Inthavaaram. Fight another day.