British Sikh Activists Lead Call For A Homeland In India Amid Tension With Police

They are angry at police raids linking the community to "terrorist" activity.
Pro-Khalistan Sikh demonstrators protest on Parliament Square against the genocide of minorities in their country.
Pro-Khalistan Sikh demonstrators protest on Parliament Square against the genocide of minorities in their country.
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It is the nerve centre of a separatist movement which for more than 30 years has campaigned to destabilise the world’s biggest democracy.

Because here in the West Midlands, champions of an independent Sikh homeland are campaigning for a new home – thousands of miles away in northern India.

Indeed, decisions made behind closed doors in Birmingham have the potential to affect the future of millions of Sikhs worldwide. But they have also sparked tensions with the police. Recently, local officers conducted raids on homes around Birmingham they say have links to “terrorist activity”, and now hundreds of Sikhs are expected to protest today outside the Tory party conference which takes place in the city this week.

Calls for an independent Sikh homeland, Khalistan (Land of the Pure), stretch back to the days of partition in 1947, when the Punjab was divided between India and the then newly created Pakistan.

“The Muslims got Pakistan including half of Punjab and the Hindus were given all of India but Sikhs were left homeless despite having ruled the region for decades before the British invaded,” explains Raj Mann of the Leicester Sikh Alliance.

The armed struggle for Khalistan began in earnest in 1984 when the Indian army launched an assault on the Sikhs’ holiest shrine the Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab, India, in an attempt to flush out disaffected Sikhs who accused India of persecution.

Months later, the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards, sparking riots across the country which saw thousands of Sikhs killed.

British Sikhs in the West Midlands formed the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), dubbed the “Sikh Sinn Fein”, and Babbar Khalsa International soon after, but both groups were banned under anti-terror laws in 2001.

Home Office officials cited several examples of “Sikh terrorist activity” including Warwickshire hitman Patrick Timlin who was jailed in 1987 after being paid to murder three moderate Sikhs.

Two years earlier, Coventry Sikh Inderjit Reyat was jailed for a bomb blast in Tokyo and later linked to an Air India jumbo bombing over Ireland which killed 329 people.

The spiralling violence in the 1980s and 90s led the then West Midlands Chief Constable Geoffrey Dear to declare that some 2,000 Sikhs in the Birmingham region were supporting terrorist activities in the Punjab.

In more recent years three British Sikhs were jailed for attempting to slit the throat of a retired Indian army general in London in 2012.

However in an unprecedented move, the ban on the ISYF was overturned in 2016 after years of campaigning by groups led by the pro-Sikh independence Sikh Federation.

A spokesman said: “The ban was politically motivated and not backed by any real evidence.

“Overnight we had been labelled terrorists when all we do is peacefully campaign for the UN-given right to self determination and a proper investigation into the killing of thousands of Sikhs across India.”

The Indian authorities brutally crushed the armed uprising in Punjab by the mid 1990s when many Sikh insurgents sought political asylum abroad in the UK and Canada.

Now their children and a new generation of British Sikhs have taken upon the cause using the internet and social media to call for a referendum on Khalistan in 2020.

They include Scottish Sikh Jagtar Johal, currently held in a Punjab jail without trial for nearly a year charged with funding the murders of prominent Hindu politicians in India.

Some Sikhs believe his confessions under torture led to UK anti-terror police investigating “extremist activity in India” and money laundering offences, raiding five addresses linked to Sikh activists last week.

Shamsher Singh, of the National Sikh Youth Federation, whose home was targeted, said: “The raids were at the request of the Indian government and British police are being used to intimidate and harass us.

“The UK is just pandering to India for trade favours.”