The name Khalistan can be defined in four different ways. This, I believe, is dearth of imagination, dearth of language or paucity of theorizing about what events that led to the idea of Khalistan because we have been looking at this name as a pest on the Indian nation state. However, the history of Khalistan goes back to before the formation of the Indian nation state. What is the history of Khalistan?
To know this, we have to understand four different definitions to the concept of Khalistan. First, Sikhistan or the Azad Punjab movement which was pre-1947. Second, the Punjabi Suba Movement or the trifurcation of Punjab. Third, the period of militancy over genuine rights of the citizens being ignored and finally human rights and the present or recent definition of Khalistan.
In 1929 pre-independent India along with Jinnah and Ambedkar, the Sikhs also fought for their rights as they too were a minority. On 29th December, in 1929, when Motilal Nehru presented the Poorna Swaraj at the Lahore convention of the congress there were three groups of people in India who opposed it. One was Mohammed Ali Jinnah from the Muslim League who was fighting for the rights of the Muslims who were a minority at the time of partition, second was Babasaheb Ambedkar who was fighting for the rights of another minority community known as the Bahujan, and third group was that of the Akalis under Master Tara Singh. The protest against the Poorna Swaraj also led to the communal award of 1932 and even that was opposed. The Sikhs opposed it because they were 13% of the population in Greater Punjab and they were a miniscule minority in every district of that Greater Punjab. The thread which M.A. Jinnah unfurled at that point led to the formation of Pakistan and the work of Babasaheb Ambedkar led to the Poona pact but what did the Sikhs get? Where is the Sikh story? We cannot just forget it. This was the first definition of Khalistan, though at that time it was not known as Khalistan but as Sikhstan. Even Jinnah had offered the Sikhs a semi-autonomous region in Pakistan which they had rejected because they chose to stay with India. All of this was the first articulation of the Sikh need for a homeland or the start of alienation of community so loyal to this country.
Between 1950 and 1970 Sant Fateh Singh led the Punjabi Suba movement for a separate Punjabi state. In 1966, Punjab was divided into three different states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh but Punjabi aspirations remained unfulfilled. Post the partition or independence of India two language commissions had been suggested. One was the Sachar commission in 1948 and the other one was the region commission in 1956. The issue was that when language commission of India sat down and defined the languages of the states of India suddenly Punjabi was not recognized as an independent language. And when Punjabis sought a land named Punjab, for because the language being spoken there was Punjabi, it was, sorry to say, the Hindus who came from Lahore and set up printing presses in Jalandhar who were torpedoing this effort of Punjab being called that. And also, Punjabi Akali leadership, they were asking “what do we have to do with Faridabad?” or “why do we need Gurgaon in it?”. The thinking of the Akalis was “let the Hindus take their place and let us Sikhs get our place and we will then get a majority in a state and will rule it forever”. So, this created the Punjabi Suba Movement which led on till 1966, the trifurcation of the India Punjab into Haryana, Punjab state of which some parts were merged with Himachal and the Sikhs had their own Punjab which was just 1/7th of the size of the original Greater Punjab.
The 1980s were a bloody time in Punjab with Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale. He was leading the demand for Khalistan or an Independent Punjab. Bhindrawale and his armed followers occupied the Golden Temple in 1982. Then on 6th June 1984 the Golden Temple was stormed in ‘operation Bluestar’. We however, need to start understanding this from 1970s. In 1971 when the Jan Sangh pulled out its support from the Badal-led Akali Dal government, the Akalis came up with the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in 1973. If you look at that resolution neutrally or with empathy you would see that the first preface of the resolution is very Sikh dominated. But let us keep it aside. What was the resolution really asking for? For better Centre-State relations. The green revolution had already set in in Punjab and was now asking for the diversification of the crops. It was not a bad document; it was not a bad proposal. But then emergency comes and the Akalis are the most vehement opposers of emergency. Indira Gandhi was not happy. And when in 1978, the Anandpur Sahib Resolution came up again, it was dissed. That led to the Dharam-Yudh Morcha in 1982 which then moved to the Golden Temple. Bhindrawale became the spearhead of the movement and that led to the next events that happened in Punjab, very sad events; very bad events like the operation Bluestar, Mrs Gandhi’s assassination and the anti-Sikh pogrom and then the spiraling of militancy in the state. And a quest for a Khalistan. Sikh militancy in name of Khalistan and counter insurgency operations saw hundreds killed in Punjab in the 1980s and early 90s.
In the present time Khalistan makes headlines with ‘referendum 2020’ But today, For the millennial generation and for those children of Punjab who have gone abroad and built the diaspora voice of Punjab, Khalistan is a completely different concept. It is an inquiry into the human rights violations committed when the Sikh militancy was at its peak in Punjab. The Khalistan concept is also asking the Indian State ‘ what is your might judicial system that which has not given us justice for the Sikh riots of 1984’.