UPDATED 15 August, 2023
Australia has been home to Khalistan sympathizers for decades but they have never been a challenge for the local authorities.
The idea of Khalistan represents a demand for the state of Punjab to break away from India to be an Independent Sikh nation state. Strangely, the demand is openly supported by the neighbouring Pakistan which itself holds half of the undivided, pre-partition Punjab under its rule.
Khalistan is a political demand and thus its pursuit or opposition – is a purely political issue and one for India to deal with. But the issue has continuously manifested itself overseas including Australia from time to time.
Despite that both the Hindu and the Sikh communities have been amicably living together in every state in Australia. Many families have both Hindu and Sikh followers within the same household.
It was never surprising thus, to see both Hindus and Sikhs meeting at social occasions and religious festivals and sharing their places of worship – the temples and gurudwaras, and offering prayers together. Even today, it is not uncommon to witness many Hindu-Sikh marriages even outside India.
I am a practising Hindu, but organized a ‘prayer langar’ at the Keysborough gurudwara in Melbourne when my father passed away.
But things have changed.
Some attribute the change to the Modi government’s 2020 introduction and ultimately withdrawal of the farm laws after a prolonged and protracted farmers’ protests which made headlines worldwide.
Some observers believe the militant element of the Khalistan cause, namely Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) group banned in India, allegedly funded by the ISI of Pakistan, and operating from US and Canada; found the farmers’ protests as an opportunity to mobilize its supporters worldwide including Australia.
Sensing this, the Indian government, reportedly informed the federal government and warned of potential conflicts in Australia within the local Indian communities.
In the tradition of Hindu & Sikh culture of Prabhat Pheri or Nagar Kirtan, the visuals of the first Victorian Nagar Kirtan of 2019 – funded with $40,000 from the Victorian government and organised by the Victorian Sikh gurudwara council, is poles apart from the one in 2022.
While the 2019 procession, bore messages of preserving Indian family traditions; the 2022 images painted the Nagar Kirtan, the harmony walk in a rather political colour; Khalistan flags seemed to shroud the whole procession although it was also reportedly funded from a Victorian grant of $25,000.
This change, perhaps, explains the growing support for the Sikhs for Justice group and its Khalistan referendum that was held in Melbourne on January 29, 2023.
In an article on December 6, 2022 a couple of weeks after the Nagar Kirtan, The Australian reported that the Indian government had expressed concern “over the growth of Sikh separatism in Australia and its links to terrorist groups in India, and warned the Albanese government of the movement’s propensity for violence”.
Majority of the Australian Sikh community who are peace-loving, law-abiding citizens and are not necessarily members or followers of the Sikhs for Justice group – did not like that perception being thrown at them.
Letters were sent to the publication by various groups and some politicians, asking it to take the article down and apologize. The publication, however stood by its report.
In fact, Ben Packham, one of the two authors of the article, squarely put the question to the Minister of Home Affairs Clare O’Neil, who only seemed to confirm the tenor of the article.
SBS Punjabi, also carried the news of The AUS article being “unacceptable.” It went on to suggest that such presence – of Khalistan sympathizers – was commonplace in other jurisdictions.
While the news platforms carried the ‘objections’ of some Sikh organizations and politicians like David Shoebridge: they failed to question – the use of government funding by the organisers, to allow a political cause – Khalistan to be promoted. Whether the guidelines of such grants allowed sponsoring of political activities, let alone sponsoring the calls for breaking another country into pieces; remains to be examined.
These are serious questions that Victorian government needs to seek answers for.
Within five weeks of The Australian’s article, the warnings of the Indian government came true. Between 12 and 23 January, three temples – Swami Narayan Temple in Mill Park, Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Carrum Downs and the ISKCON temple in Albert Park were vandalised.
Entrances of these temples were defaced with words in graffiti saying:
Hindustan Murdabad” or ‘death to’ India – and “Modi Hitler”
Khalistan Zindabad (Long Live the Sikh homeland)”,
“Sant Bhindrawale is martyred”.
“26th January – Delhi D Day and target Modi”
Many state and federal politicians expressed their shock and disappointment on social media. Hindus lodged complaints with the police and arranged re-painting of the temple entrances.
The Khalistan referendum which followed on January 29, witnessed Khalistan supporters attacking un-armed people carrying Indian flags, in the presence of the Victoria police.
The visuals showed the police guiding a group of Tiranga (Indian flag) carrying Indians to turn onto St Kilda road away from the Federation Square, but only to be chased and openly assaulted with flag rods by people carrying Khalistan flags.
At least two persons were injured with one carrying injury to the head and the other having broken hand, both requiring hospital attention. Several others also sustained injuries.
Two attackers were arrested and issued penalty notices on the day.
On March 20, police released a statement with a collage of photos from the footage of six men they wanted to identify and speak to.
Since then, three men have been identified and 2 have been charged with affray and violent behaviour. The third has been charged with affray and unlawful assault.
The visuals were beamed all over the world. One could argue the alarm raised by the Indian government was proven to have been well founded.
BT understands many locals Indians lamented for lack of support on the day from their local government. Their grievance is that the police was totally unprepared despite the warnings from the Indian government.
The community has been damaged and divided – there has been vile abuse of Hindus, their Gods and Goddesses on social media without any fear of legal or criminal implications. On the other hand, WhatsApp lists have surfaced of businesses supporting Khalistan.
The threat of further trouble is imminent.
The Sikhs for Justice group has asked its followers to target Indian diplomats in Australia in a ‘Besiege Indian Missions – the terror houses’ call on 15 August.
It is a challenge for the state and Federal governments to preserve the peace and harmony in our community.
The state government, we believe, has been made aware of the violence and crime plaguing the Indian communities in the US and Canada, and clearly has no appetite to let Australia descend into a similar situation.
We asked for a statement from Premier Daniel Andrews on the issue. He agreed to speak on camera and did not mince words condemning the targeting of Hindu temples.
“Earlier this year we saw a string of attacks on the ISKCON Hari Krishna temple and Albert Park, the BAPS Temple in Mill Park and the Shri Shiva Vishnu temple in Carrum downs.
“On behalf of the Victorian Government, I want to condemn those attacks in the strongest possible terms…
“I wish it didn’t have to be said but clearly it does. While people have the right to peaceful protests, if it’s not peaceful, it’s not protest. We’re being clear in Victoria that violence of any kind is unacceptable”…
The hurt and anger of the Hindu community can be visibly felt through the Premier’s voice and Hindus should take comfort that the government is committed to the safety and religious freedom of all Victorians.
The Premier said: “Together. We will not be divided by fear.
“We will stand tall, and we will stand together”.
The Sikhs for Justice group will be served better if they adopt peaceful means to work on their political agenda.
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