It is a very important part of the quest to create a better and safer world that just as we should know what to adopt, similarly we should know what to avoid. All ideologies based on a mix of inter-faith hostility ( called communalism in India), fundamentalism and sectarianism should be avoided like plague.
Whether ideologies based on sectarianism, communalism, fundamentalism etc. are pushed by some persons claiming to be Hindus or Sikhs, Muslims or Christians, or persons claiming to be of any other religion, whether these are announced from the housetop or pursued with quiet mischief, all these should be opposed with equal strength.
The Khalistani ideology is one such ideology based on a mix of sectarianism, communalism, fundamentalism and separatism which should be rejected firmly. A few decades back when the Khalistani movement peaked, it brought great distress to Punjab, and to a much lesser extent to some other parts of India.
Many innocent persons of other communities as well of the Sikh community were killed by Khalistanis. Some of the noblest persons within the Sikh community committed to unity of people of all faiths and to socio-economic justice were specifically targeted by the Khalistanis and killed. The enormously talented Punjabi poet Pash was among those who were pursued by the Khalistanis and finally killed.
In other incidents people of other faiths were specifically identified and killed by the Khalistanis. Vulnerable young men were led astray by their inflammatory talk and their lives and those of their families were ruined. When there was a strong and ruthless campaign by security forces against them, many innocent persons were also caught in this and their lives were also destroyed.
For long periods there were curfews and disruption of economic activity. Huge money was freely available from across the border in Pakistan as well as from sympathizers in western countries for the Khalistanis and they had access to modern weapons and arms training, increasing their destructive power.
Following the great and courageous initiative of India in the liberation of Bangladesh , the USA government and its allies were also out to create problems for India and they too indirectly helped the Khalistanis ( apart from facilitating the task of those who conspired to kill Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and his family members in Bangladesh).
On the other hand there were many people in Punjab who very bravely resisted the Khalistanis. Brave Sikhs who believed truly in the very noble teachings of Guru Nanak were in the forefront of defending minority rural population ( mainly Hindus) and in resisting the Khalistanis, almost always with much lesser arms. The people from various left ideologies were also in the forefront of this courageous resistance. I could see this at the time of my visits to villages to report on this resistance. I could see also the clear if more quiet resistance of ordinary people to the Khalistani ideology. The courageous role of many democratic and human rights organizations was also praiseworthy as they worked hard to cope with the difficult task of both resisting the Khalistani onslaught as well as the excesses of the security forces.
In more recent times it has been reported from time to time that there is some revival of Khalistani thinking and its followers and we need to be more careful about this. However there should be a clear distinction between those who may have been Khalistanis in the past but are now trying to avoid this and lead a normal life , and those who try to the spread the Khalistani thinking even now. While the former should be encouraged to lead a normal life, the efforts of the second section to revive the discredited Khalistani movement should be resisted.
Some persons close to the ruling regime have alleged that there is a strong presence of such persons at the protest sites of farmers’ movement. There is a lot of evidence that this is a farmers’ movement that unites people of all faiths and regions of India and hence this allegation of the ruling regime is not true.
In addition we have the additional safeguard that many groups and persons who resisted the Khalistanis and sacrificed a lot, including lives of near and dear ones in the course of this resistance, are very active in the farmers’ movement and we can trust them to resist any infiltration by Khalistani elements.
Having said this, there is a general principle that all genuine movements based on unity of people should guard against sectarian elements, and this principle must apply to this movement as well.
On the other hand the union government should realize that its highly adamant and unhelpful attitude towards farmers’ movement helps the anti-India propaganda of the Khalistani elements outside India and the government must also live up to its responsibility of not encouraging sectarian elements by its anti-people and anti-farmer attitudes.
Secondly the ruling regime has promoted the spread of majoritarian communalism in many ways in recent years, badly harming the sacred cause of unity and fraternity, and so its moral strength to check sectarianism of all kinds has been badly eroded. The ruling regime must seek to recover this lost strength, instead of wasting its time in making false or exaggerated allegations against others.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent publications include Protecting Earth for Children and biographies of Shahid Bhagat Singh, Shahid Sridev Suman and Shahid Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi as well as other freedom fighters.