Formed in the year 2007, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), a group of secessionists, demanding a separate State for Sikhs that they call “Khalistan” is again in focus for allegedly fueling and hijacking the protest by a section of farmers in India, which has been going on for more than two months now. The organisation with its headquarters in the US was founded by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. It carries on its activities mainly from bases in countries like Pakistan, Canada, the US and the UK. It was banned on 10 July 2019 by the Government of India under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for anti-India activities.
An application was uploaded by the SFJ in an attempt to spread its propaganda on Google Play. The application was uploaded for people to register for Referendum 2020, which was reported and taken down in November 2019. Pannun was declared a terrorist under the UAPA for promoting secessionism and allegedly inciting and encouraging the Sikh youths of Punjab to take up arms.
‘Referendum 2020’ claimed it wanted to “liberate Punjab from Indian occupation”. In Pannun’s words, “(The) SFJ in its London Declaration (in August 2018) had announced to hold the first-ever non-binding referendum among the global Sikh community on the question of secession from India and re-establishing Punjab as an independent country.”
Recently, the NIA (National Investigation Agency) registered an FIR against the SFJ and summoned over 40 people in connection with the case. The case was registered on 15 December 2020 under Sections 120B, 124A, 153A, 153B of the IPC and other sections of the UAPA. According to the FIR registered by the NIA, “Sikhs for Justice, an unlawful association under the UAPA Act and other Khalistani terrorist outfits including but not limited to Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Tiger Force and Khalistan Zindabad Force along with their frontal organisations, have entered into a conspiracy to create an atmosphere of fear and lawlessness and to cause disaffection in people and to incite them towards rising in rebellion against the government of India. In furtherance of the above conspiracy, huge funds are being collected abroad for on-ground campaign and propaganda against missions in countries like the US, UK, Canada, Germany and so forth.”
It has further been stated in the FIR that “campaigns are being spearheaded by designated terrorists — Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Paramjit Singh Pamma, Hardeep Singh Nijjar and others”. Adding on, the FIR states “It has also been learnt that large amounts of funds so collected are being sent through NGOs to pro-Khalistani elements based in India, to undertake terrorist acts and to strike terror in the people of India. SFJ leadership has planned large scale disruptive activities intended to damage government and private property and also disrupt supplies and services essential to the life of the community in India. SFJ and other pro-Khalistani elements involved in this conspiracy, through their incessant social media campaign and otherwise, are radicalising and recruiting impressionable youth to agitate and undertake terrorist acts for creation of separate nation of Khalistan after secession from Indian territory,”
It is no surprise that several countries including but not limited to Pakistan, Canada, US, UK and Germany are pro-SFJ, allowing them to carry on their illegal activities from their soils. Pakistani spy agency ISI happens to be one of the major sources of funding for the SFJ for anti-India activities.
In the given backdrop, the question that comes to the prudent mind is whether the secessionist ambition of the SFJ will be restricted to India or this country is just the stepping stone for the outfit and the other favourite destination countries of Indian Punjabis, dominated by Sikhs, like Canada, Australia, the US, the UK and other countries — that are now aiding the SFJ in their anti-India activities — will be their next target?
The Canadian Sikhs account for almost 1.5% of the population of that country and it is said that the Sikhs owe the credit of paving the path for the south Asian immigrants. The Legislative Assembly of Ontario celebrates April as the “Sikh Heritage Month”. So far so good, but the disturbing factor is that Canada, as a nation-state, has turned pro-Khalistan. Only a few days after India blocked a Russian portal used by the SFJ to further its anti-India agenda, the group launched a Canadian website to register “Referendum 2020” votes. Banking on Canada’s freedom of speech for Khalistan campaigns, the SFJ launched the Canadian portal for voter registration for Referendum 2020. Furthermore, the Canadian authorities did not feel the need to object to the display of the Canadian flag on the top of the homepage of the site.
In 2016, Canada denied India’s demand to arrest and extradite Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a lead campaigner of SFJ, who has been condemned as a terrorist under the UAPA, on the basis of alleged lack of evidence. This shows the hold and command of the SFJ on the Canadian government. Will it be too much to foresee a time when the SFJ would demand a separate state within Canada too.
A similar situation can be witnessed in Australia. Going by the data shared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in the census of 2016, Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion of the country. The data reveals further that the Sikh faith is one of the few “emerging religions” of Australia. This is the first time that over 30% of Australians have declared no religious affiliation — the highest ever in Australian history. On the other hand, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism have grown substantially, with Sikhism topping the trend with 500% growth over the last 10 years.
In the US, the year 2020 has been a landmark year for the Sikh community. As per GlobeNewsWire, “ After extensive research and demand over the past decade; the Census Bureau has made considerable updates to the race and ethnicity code list. For the first time in United States history, the US Census will include Sikh as a population group within the Asian racial category. With this opportunity to be heard, Sikhs living in the United States now have an opportunity to advocate for their own communities by simply being counted.
The group United Sikhs has researched every aspect of the census process to ensure that information shared with the 2020 US Census Bureau is protected under Title 13 of the US Code. Title 13 makes it clear that the data collected can be used only for statistical purposes and not for anything else like, say, law enforcement as stated below. The US Census Bureau cannot release identifiable information about individuals, households, or businesses, including law enforcement agencies. The law states that “the information collected may only be used for statistical purposes and no other purpose.”
The United Sikhs is a UN-affiliated, international non-profit, non-governmental, humanitarian relief, human development and advocacy organisation, with a presence in the US, the UK, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Ireland.
All the abovementioned countries have witnessed a steep rise in the population of the Sikhs over the last two decades and the Sikhs are now turning increasingly assertive in these countries. Though, there is a difference in opinion on the question of Khalistan, the Punjabi, specially the Sikh diaspora, outside India is seized of the matter and it is only a matter of time that the other countries where the Sikhs either have already gained a strong foothold or looking to have one will definitely have to cope with a situation similar to the one India faces in the name of “Khalistan”.