San Francisco swamped with “voters” taking part in Sikh “referendum” organized by outlawed Khalistani group

Ritu Jha–

On January 28, the Civic Center Plaza across the City Hall in San Francisco turned into a little Punjab, where thousands of Khalistan supporting Sikhs converged with their families to vote for a “referendum” demanding a new country to be carved out of India. The vote seeks to gather Sikhs’ opinions on whether Punjab should break away from India to form an independent nation called Khalistan.

The so-called Khalistan Referendum was organized by Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which is outlawed in India, and the Punjab Referendum Commission. Only Punjab-origin Sikhs were allowed to vote. Sikhs born in the US participated as well. Some travelled from Canada, the UK, and India.

Though the referendum is non-binding and does not in any way guarantee a new nation, to many Sikhs residing in the US the vote represented “a hope for freedom, equal rights, and democracy.” Khalistani supporters had participated in similar votes in London, Geneva, Rome, Toronto, and Vancouver.

A designated terrorist in India, SFJ founder and chief legal counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun spoke from a stage with a poster backdrop showing, “Wanted: Modi, Amit Shah, Ajit Doval, and Jaishankar”. The background was a purported map of Khalistan.

Pannun spoke in Punjabi. “Nijjar is not dead,” he told the crowd, who cheered in response. “Kill India politically, and destroy India economically is our slogan,” he said. “We will shut down the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 12.” He was referring to the serial bomb blasts of March 12, 1993 in then Bombay, which killed several hundred people.

Hundreds of Khalistan supporters stood in line to “vote” in the “referendum” organized by Sikhs For Justice, which is outlawed in India.

indica spoke to several attendees, trying to gauge their political motivation for the vote. “This is a historic moment,” said Dr. Amarjeet Singh of Khalistan Affairs Center, Washington DC. In a chat with indica, he said, “Over 100,000 of the 250,000 Sikhs in California have gathered here. This is the same place where, on December 10, 1948, representatives of 50 nations gathered and issued the Charter of Human Rights. That day is celebrated as International Human Rights Day.”

He said Sikhs were the third party to the negotiation of the transfer of power when India became independent in 1947 and Sikh leadership had joined India on the condition that no constitution in India would be accepted unless agreeable to the Sikhs. What we got instead was a full-scale army attack not only on the Golden Temple in 1984 but also on 37 other Sikh historical shrines. Sikhs were left with no choice and they said, no more with India.”

Jaspal Singh, another attendee, had flown from India to participate in the vote. “The Indian government had attacked Sikh shrines in June 1984. Then, in October 1984, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated, a genocide was orchestrated against Sikhs. Now we want our own country, Khalistan.”

SFJ volunteer Satpal Singh, who had flown from the UK, said, “People from Los Angeles, California and other US states came to the venue and between 150,000 to 200,000 voted. We have been fighting for our rights since 1947. The Modi government will have to listen to us and accept our demands.”

“Seeing the huge turnout, I’m glad our community is aware of the issues,” said Baljit Singh from Fresno, California. “Our goal is to ensure that present and future generations are aware of Punjab. They got to know our background, and where we’re from to keep the link alive, otherwise it only takes one generation to forget our roots as America is a melting pot. How do you look back to your roots? That’s a concern for us as Punjabis and Sikhs.”

He said his family migrated to the US after the 1984 Sikh riots. A civil engineer working for a US firm that designs freeways, Singh feels that Khalistan is the only option left for Sikhs. “If the Indian government treated the Sikhs fairly, India would progress more. They should treat other states fairly and grant them freedom, then India will be a better country,” he added.

Jagdeep Singh from Stockton, California said, “We came here seeking our rights. So many Sikh activists have been imprisoned, and they have not been released even though they have served their sentences.” Kirandeep Kaur said, “If Sikh people talk about their rights, the Indian government arrests them. They are not released. The recent-most example of this is Amritpal Singh who has been arrested and booked under the National Security Act. His mother told us that Indian authorities are torturing him.”

Sukhwinder Singh, another Sikh who voted, said, “Article 14 in the Indian Constitution is about everybody being equal in the eyes of the law. But Sikhs are not treated as equals. We are part of India but they are not giving us our rights or the freedom to express ourselves. We wrote several letters to the President and Prime Minister of India asking for the release of Sikh prisoners but they haven’t responded. The Modi government is harsher than previous governments. Now, they promoting just one religion – Hinduism.”

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