Khalistan supporters brandish sword, shout anti-India hate outside San Francisco consulate

Ritu Jha (reporting from San Francisco)–

Anti-India protestors held away at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on July 8 when pro-Khalistan groups shouted ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ (Hail Khalistan), some held Khalistan flags, others held placards proclaiming “Liberty or Death”, “Sikhs declare Independence from Lawless India,” etc, while some stood on the Indian National flag, and even brandished a large sword.

The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing an ethno‐religious sovereign state called Khalistan in the Punjab region. Literally, Khalistan means Land of the Khalsa or the Sikh community. To be sure, this is not a movement supported by all Sikhs.

indica has reached out to the Indian consulate in San Francisco for an official comment. This story will be updated when it responds.

Pro-Khalistan supporters outside the Indian consulate in San Francisco. Photo by: Ritu Jha

The protestors shouted for hours alleging ‘inhuman treatment’ towards them by the Indian government and protesting the killing of Canada-based British Columbia Sikh temple president and chief of the so-called Khalistan Tiger Force Hardeep Singh Nijjar, “We Sikhs will not give up, even if it takes a 100 years to get Khalistan.”

“We don’t die, we multiply,” said Gurpreet Singh, a University of California, Davis student who was protesting along with over 50 people. “We want our country back,” he told indica.

The protest was organized by Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a separatist movement founded by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun based in New York. 

Similar protests were held in the Canadian city of Toronto and in London, United Kingdom.

Members of the Indian community holding the Tricolour gathered outside the Toronto consulate to protect their diplomats and the consulate office, and unitedly countered a pro-Khalistan protest in Canada’s Toronto. Indian diaspora members were seen raising slogans like “Bharat Mata ki jai”, “Vande Mataram”, “Long Live India” and “Khalistan Murdabad”, and carried placards stating “Khalistanis are not Sikhs”, and “Canada, stop supporting Khalistani Canadian terrorists”. Pro-Khalistani protesters, in a purported video, could be seen disrespecting the Tricolour.

Watch video of the protest:

SFJ member Jagjeet Singh told indica, “It is obvious that Indian agencies were involved in the murder of Nijjar. This is something totally unconstitutional and this to protest is to make our voices heard.”

In Toronto, Sunil Arora, said, “We are standing here in front of the Consulate to face the Khalistanis. We are trying to stop Khalistani nonsense here and we are here for Ind0-Canadian solidarity. Another member of the Indian diaspora, Anil Shiringi said that they are there to support the Indian Consulate and stand up against the Khalistani’s threat, which was given to Indian diplomats.

In June this year, the SFJ issued the call for the July 8 protest, and had placed images of senior Indian diplomats in their posters, including India’s ambassador to the US, India’s high commissioner to Canada, and India’s consuls-general for San Francisco and  Toronto.

Several American and Canadian authorities had condemned the posters. A bipartisan duo of US lawmakers — Democrat Ro Khanna and Republican Michael Waltz — had called upon the US State Department to ensure the safety of Indian diplomats and diplomatic missions in the aftermath of the second attack on the Indian mission in San Francisco on July 2.

The foreign minister of Canada, Melanie Joly had said that her country is in close contact with Indian officials in light of “unacceptable” posters that appeared in Canada, regarding the pro-Khalistan protest on July 8, which bore the names and photos of top Indian diplomats.

The US condemned the vandalism and attempted arson by alleged pro-Khalistan supporters at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on July 2. “The US strongly condemns the reported vandalism and attempted arson against the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on Saturday. Vandalism or violence against diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats in the US is a criminal offense,” US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a tweet last Monday.

Last week, indica reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), and the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) have joined hands to investigate the July 2 arson incident at the Indian Consulate in San Francisco.

Protester Gurpreet Singh holding a sword at the protest. Photo by Ritu Jha

SFJ member and San Jose resident Jagjeet Singh said “It doesn’t matter whether they listen to our demand, it is our duty as the people in Punjab to raise our voice against the high-handedness of police and army. We want a referendum done, and everybody should vote freely whether they want to stay with India or become a separate nation. We are peace-loving people. Punjab will be a separate state sooner or later.”

The so-called Khalistan Referendum is an SFJ-organized unofficial vote across countries to garner support for the creation of an independent Khalistan from within the territory of India. India had banned SFJ in 2019 for its separatist activities. There are numerous police complaints registered in India against the SFJ and Pannun.

Another SFJ member Azaad Singh, 31, was seen distributing flyers with the headline, “India is a nation of violence.” He said, “The Indian regime is very violent. I’m here to remind the world about our cause for sovereignty. Our cause for freedom is not violent, it is a cause of common sense, we want our religion, our identity, our beliefs, our language to be protected, and within Khalistan every religion will be allowed to exist in peace.” Azaad Singh was born in Redwood, California, and is a US citizen, but claims that the US is not his country. “Our country is Punjab,” he said. “We don’t call ourselves Indian, but our state Punjab is occupied by India.”

In Toronto, Vidya Bhushan Dhar, another member of the Indian community, who stood in the counter-protest outside the consulate, said, “Canada is a peaceful country. We want to remain peaceful. We want to tell the government of Canada to take cognizance of this (pro-Khalistan protest), and that this is not freedom of expression. You are promoting treason and separatism.”

Kuljit Singh, a former councilmember at Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont, California, said on the recent killing of Nijjar in Canada, “I see history repeating itself. Till 1992, I was witness of the goings-on in Punjab and the Indian government should understand that Sikhs will not give up, even if they are in the minority. We will continue till we die.” Singh migrated to the US in 1992 from his native Punjab.

He added, “We are ready to talk with the Modi government and resolve the issue (the July 2 arson), but Prime Minister Modi’s administration, without investigation, blamed Sikhs and Khalistan.” Condemning, the July 2 vandalism and arson, Kuljit Singh said it was not them [Khalistani supporters], and “Khalistan will not benefit from this.”

Jasbeer Singh, whose mother-in-law was raped and her son killed in the aftermath of the Indira Gandhi assassination in October 1984. Photo by Ritu Jha.

Jasbeer Singh, another protester, said the Indian government punished the entire Sikh community when Indra Gandhi was assassinated by Beant Singh and Satwant Singh on October 31, 1984. He said, “They burnt people alive. Tilak Vihar in Delhi has a widow colony where 30,000 people were burnt alive. My mother-in-law was gangraped in front of her son. After the assault, they burnt the son alive. What kind of democracy is this,” Jasbeer Singh told indica.

He said, “Advani[Lal Krishna Advani of the BJP] instead of punishing these people, withdrew the cases. Modi talks about democracy in India, he just wants to build Hindu Rastra and minorities, whether Sikh, Muslim, or Christian, no one will have justice there. Look at Manipur. We are appealing to the US government to ascertain who started the fire at the consulate. It’s not us.”

Pritam Singh, from Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) California, told indica, “Under Modi, the situation has gone from bad to worse. We had no expectations from Congress and we don’t have expectations from the Modi government. The only solution is a worldwide referendum for Sikhs.” Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar) is a splinter group of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a Punjab-based political party in India.

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