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SUNDAY, December 10, 2023

Unpacking the Khalistan Movement and the Hindutva Ideology: Upholding International Law

Unpacking the Khalistan Movement and the Hindutva Ideology: Upholding International Law
SUNDAY, September 24, 2023

Recent global developments have thrust the Khalistan Movement and the rise of Hindutva ideology in India into the international spotlight.

In this commentary, we embark on a comprehensive analysis of these complex issues, encompassing a historical perspective on the Khalistan Movement, an exploration of the role of upholding international law, an assessment of the contributions and concerns within Sikh diaspora communities, and an examination of the intricate interplay between the Khalistan Movement and Hindutva ideology.

It is imperative to acknowledge the varying levels of engagement and support for the Khalistan Movement and concerns about Hindutva ideology within Sikh diaspora communities across regions such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. In these areas, Sikh communities actively engage in advocacy efforts, passionately championing Sikh rights in India while simultaneously raising awareness about broader concerns related to religious freedom and minority rights. Despite the decline of the Khalistan Movement within India, pockets of support persist within the Sikh diaspora, notably in Canada, Britain, Australia, the United States, and New Zealand. Recent events have reignited international interest in the movement, including India's arrest of Amritpal Singh, a self-styled preacher and Sikh separatist, raising concerns of renewed violence in Punjab. Tensions escalated when Canada allowed a parade float depicting the assassination of Indira Gandhi, an act interpreted by India as glorification of Sikh separatist violence. Additionally, frequent demonstrations and vandalism targeting Indian diplomatic missions by Sikh separatists and their supporters in various countries have compelled India to seek enhanced security measures. These complex dynamics underscore the multifaceted nature of the Khalistan Movement and its global implications.

History, Politics, Human Rights: The Interplay Between the Khalistan and Hindutva Ideology

The Khalistan Movement traces its historical roots back to the tumultuous period surrounding India and Pakistan's independence in 1947. During the negotiations for the partition of the Punjab region, the concept of Khalistan, a separate Sikh state, emerged as a response to regional and religious identity. However, it was during the 1970s and 1980s that the movement gained significant prominence, characterized by a violent insurgency. A pivotal and tragic moment occurred when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered the military to enter the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, leading to global Sikh outrage and her assassination by Sikh bodyguards. Subsequent military operations in 1986 and 1988 aimed to suppress Sikh militants but resulted in a substantial loss of life. 

Conversely, the rise of Hindutva ideology in India has garnered international attention, driven by its treatment of religious minorities, including Sikhs, Muslims, and Christians. This has elicited international condemnation due to reports of religious intolerance, hate crimes, and the marginalization of these communities. Hindutva proponents advocate for an India firmly rooted in Hindu identity and culture, a position that resonates with some segments of the population but is seen as exclusionary by religious and ethnic minorities. The emphasis on a singular national identity has raised concerns about the erosion of India's long-standing secular principles. Human rights organizations and foreign governments have stressed the importance of preserving democratic principles and safeguarding the rights of religious minorities.

In comparison, to these two complex issues, it is evident that the Khalistan Movement and Hindutva ideology have distinct origins and objectives. The Khalistan Movement emerged as a response to regional and religious identity, culminating in violence during the late 20th century. In contrast, Hindutva ideology primarily seeks to shape India's national identity around Hindu culture and has drawn international scrutiny due to its perceived impact on religious minorities and democratic values. These differences underscore the multifaceted nature of religious and identity-based movements in India and their interactions on the global stage.

The Khalistan Movement and Hindutva ideology, though distinct, intersect in Indian politics and the Sikh diaspora. One significant intersection lies in religious identity. Sikhism and Hinduism are separate religious traditions, each with its unique cultural and spiritual identity. The rise of Hindutva ideology, emphasizing Hindu identity, has created tensions within the Sikh community in India and abroad, challenging Sikh culture and belief.

Another point of intersection is the shared concern for minority rights. Sikhs, along with other religious minorities targeted by Hindutva ideology, worry about the protection of their rights in India. Sikh diaspora communities in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom actively advocate for minority rights in India, engaging international organizations and raising awareness of the challenges faced by these communities.

Sikh diaspora communities, deeply involved in the Khalistan Movement, have played a pivotal role in raising global awareness about the rise of Hindutva ideology and its implications for religious pluralism in India. Their activism extends beyond their immediate concerns, addressing broader issues related to religious freedom and minority rights. Through protests and engagement with international organizations, they shed light on the challenges posed by Hindutva ideology to Sikhs and other religious minority groups in India.

International Law in the Face of Complexity

In the midst of the intricate dynamics surrounding the Khalistan Movement, Hindutva ideology, and their interaction, the role of international law becomes paramount. International law provides a structured framework to navigate these multifaceted challenges and address the complex issues at hand.

One of the fundamental principles of international law is the concept of state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. In the context of the Khalistan Movement and allegations of foreign involvement, such as the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, respecting state sovereignty is crucial. Violations of this principle can have profound implications for international relations, emphasizing the importance of upholding this cornerstone of peaceful international diplomacy. Whilst it is important to address human rights concerns and allegations of extrajudicial operations, doing so within the framework of international law and diplomatic engagement is crucial to maintain international stability and uphold principles of sovereignty. The decision to exert pressure on the Narendra Modi government should be guided by a careful assessment of the evidence and a commitment to peaceful conflict resolution.

Another significant facet of international law relevant to these issues is the prohibition of extrajudicial operations conducted by one state on the territory of another without the host state's consent. The allegations of links between the Government of India and the Khalistan Movement necessitate thorough investigations to ensure compliance with these international norms. This prohibition serves as a safeguard against unilateral actions that could escalate conflicts and disrupt international relations.

International law also underscores the importance of diplomacy and cooperation as essential tools for conflict resolution and addressing security concerns. Diplomatic channels offer the preferred avenue for nations to engage in dialogue and seek peaceful solutions to international issues. In the context of the Khalistan Movement and Hindutva ideology, diplomatic approaches become particularly significant, given the sensitivity and complexity of these challenges.

Furthermore, disputes with international dimensions, such as those arising from the Khalistan Movement and Hindutva ideology, can have substantial economic and trade implications. Economic consequences can influence a nation's standing in the global economic landscape and its ability to secure international trade agreements. The interplay between these socio-political issues and economic considerations highlights the far-reaching impact of these challenges on international relations.

In essence, upholding international law offers a structured and principled approach to address the multifaceted challenges posed by the Khalistan Movement, Hindutva ideology, and their complex interaction. It emphasizes the importance of respecting state sovereignty, engaging in diplomatic dialogue, and adhering to established norms to ensure peaceful conflict resolution and the preservation of international stability. International law serves as a guiding framework in navigating these intricate dynamics on the global stage.

Overall, the exploration of the Khalistan Movement and the burgeoning influence of Hindutva ideology in India offers critical insights into their historical roots, distinctive objectives, and the intricate dynamics at their intersection. Notably, it emphasizes the indispensable role played by Sikh diaspora communities in championing Sikh rights in India, while also drawing attention to wider concerns pertaining to religious freedom and minority rights. A central theme within the commentary is the paramount importance of adhering to international law when addressing these intricate challenges. The discussion highlights fundamental principles like state sovereignty, non-interference, the need for diplomatic solutions, and the prohibition of extrajudicial operations.

Furthermore, the analysis underscore how these issues transcend India's domestic landscape, cascading into the realm of international politics, trade, and diplomacy. It underscores the necessity of adopting a principled and structured approach in tackling these multifaceted problems, with an emphasis on respecting established international norms and fostering diplomatic engagement. Thus, the significance of nurturing an informed and balanced discourse is sought to yield better commitment to upholding human rights, safeguarding minority rights, and anchoring actions in the principles of international law.

Prem Singh Gill is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University and Thammasat University.