Sikh Extremism: Wikis


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Sikh extremism refers to threats or acts of violence against civilians, or material support for the acts of violence. Some extremists have been separatists[1] pursuing the formation of a Sikh state, often referred to as Khalistan.[2] Some extremists took part in the Indian independence movement.[3] Some extremists took part in sectarian or other religious violence.[4][5][6]

Religious terrorism has been used in the struggle for Indian independence from British rule,[7] and the Khalistan movement from Indian rule.[8][9] It has been suggested that addressing extremism requires both political and religious action.[10]


Sikh extremism and the Indian independence movement

Sikh extremist [11] activity in the independence movement seems to have started in the late mid-19th century, with agitation against British rule, by the extremist Sikh sect[12] of Kuka (Namdhari).

In the early 20th century, other Sikhs who employed extremist tactics emerged whose goals were Indian independence and the British leaving India. Such extremists included Kartar Singh Sarabha (Ghadar conspiracy),[13] Bhagat Singh,[14][15] Ajmere Singh,[16] and Udham Singh.[17]

Ajit Singh, Kishan Singh were Kartar Singh Sarabha's co-conspirators, and were also alleged by the British to be Extremists . Sikhs participated in Indian independence movement with such a zeal that Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya advised Hindus to raise at least one of their family members as Sikh. Sikhs also raised several rebel units in Japan, Italy and Germany. Sikhs also engineered the Marine Revolt in Bombay and the Signal Regimental mutiny in Jubblepur, India.[18]

History of Sikh separatism

Sikh separatism began in colonial times,[19] or soon after India gained independence in 1947.[20] By the 1970s, some felt the government of India had not responded adequately to Sikh grievances.[21]

A demand for a separate Sikh homeland was made by Jagjit Singh Chauhan, who at the time was Secretary General of the Akali Dal party. In 1971, Jagjit Singh was expelled from the party for his "anti-nationalistic" activities. [22] He later returned to India, denouncing terrorism and pursuing Khalistan through democratic means.[23]

In October, 1991, The New York Times reported that "many"[21] Sikhs claimed they were being discriminated against, and that the Punjab region was not treated equally with other regions of India. "[21] By February 1997, a UN report appears to have found that Sikhs had religious freedom, but that there were reports[24] of discriminatory practices in public administration.[24] Zail Singh was the 7th President of India and Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India in 2009, is the 1st Sikh to hold that office.[25]

Some[26][27] argue that individuals[28] or organisations[29] have committed acts of terrorism[30] in support of the Khalistan movement.[31]

Allegations of human rights violations during Punjab insurgency

Amnesty International reported that, from 1983 to 1994, armed groups struggling to form an independent Sikh state were responsible for "widespread" human rights violations, killing "thousands" of civilians and taking hostages. It further reported that the police responded with a "crackdown", illegally detaining, torturing and killing "hundreds of young men".[32]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that from the 1980s Sikh separatists were guilty of serious human rights violations through "...massacre of civilians, attacks upon Hindu minorities in the state, and indiscriminate bomb attacks in crowded places...". HRW also reported that the government response resulted in further serious human rights violations against "tens of thousands". HRW noted that one case currently under investigation by India's National Human Rights Commission focused on allegations that "thousands" had been killed and cremated by security forces throughout Punjab.[33]

Abatement of extremism

In 1999, Kuldip Nayar, writing for, stated in his article "It is fundamentalism again", that the Sikh "masses" had rejected terrorists.[34] By 2001, Sikh extremism and the demand for Khalistan had all but abated.[35] Simrat Dhillon, writing in 2007 for the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, noted that while a few groups continued to fight, "the movement has lost its popular support both in India and within the Diaspora community".[36] Mark Juergensmeyer, Director, Orfalea Centre for Global & International Studies, UCSB, reported in his paper "From Bhindranwale to Bin Laden: Understanding Religious Violence", “The movement is over,” as many militants had been killed, imprisoned, or driven into hiding, and because public support was gone.[37]

Extremist activity


1947 and before

In 1872 Kuka Sikhs were described as an "extremist Sikh sect".[3] As part of the Indian Independence Movement,[38] they committed a number of acts such as attacking and killing butchers.[39]

In 1937, Rattan Singh and other Sikhs, while being transported from Indian island Andamans, assassinated several British soldiers.[40]

Udham Singh, of Sikh background, was described variously as a freedom fighter,[41] an "extremist revolutionary",[14][15][42][43] and a terrorist.[43] While Udham Singh was living in the UK, he shot and killed Michael O'Dwyer in London on April 1, 1940. O'Dwyer had been the Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab at the time of Jallianwala Bagh massacre.[44] Udham Singh was hanged in UK on June 25, 1940, and his ashes were returned to India in 1974.[42]

Bhagat Singh, a Sikh by religion, was active in the Indian independence struggle.[45][46][47][48] He was called an extremist by Mahatama Gandhi.[49] He murdered a Lahore Police officer and his mercy plea was rejected by British Viceroy of India Lord Irwin.[50]


2007 press reports indicated that Sikh extremism spread quickly in Canada in the 1980s, [51] [52] including fundraising to support militants, threats of kidnapping, death threats, beatings, and assassinations.

The 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 off Ireland, the deadliest aircraft terror attack until the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the attempted bombing of Air India Flight 301, were allegedly carried out by Sikh extremists. Inderjit Singh Reyat, a member of the ISYF, was found guilty of manslaughter for making the bombs, and is the only individual convicted in these attacks as of 9 Feb 2009. [53] [54] [55]

Canadian Member of Parliament Ujjal Dosanjh stated that he and others who spoke out against Sikh extremism in the 1980s faced a "reign of terror".[56]

1990s reported that, in the early 1990s, journalists who did not conform to militant-approved behavior were targeted for death. It also reports that there were indiscriminate attacks designed to cause extensive civilian casualties: derailing trains, exploding bombs in markets, restaurants, and other civilian areas between Delhi and Punjab. It further reported that militants assassinated many of those moderate Sikh leaders who opposed them and sometimes killed rivals within the militant group. It also stated that many civilians who had been kidnapped by extremists were murdered if the militants' demands were not met. Finally, it reports that Hindus left Punjab by the thousands. [24]

In August 1991, Julio Ribeiro, then Indian Ambassador to Romania[57] was attacked and wounded in a Bucharest assassination attempt by gunmen[58] identified as Punjabi Sikhs.[21]

Sikh groups claimed responsibility for the 1991 kidnapping of the Romanian chargé d'affaires in New Delhi, Liviu Radu. This appeared to be retaliation for Romanian arrests of KLF members suspected of the attempted assassination of Julio Ribeiro, then 62, the Indian ambassador to Romania, in Bucharest.[21][59] Radu was released unharmed after Sikh politicians criticized the action.[60]

In October, 1991, The New York Times reported that violence had increased sharply in the months leading up to the kidnapping, with Indian security forces or Sikh militants killing 20 or more people per day, and that the militants had been "gunning down" family members of police officers.[21]

On January 24, 1995,[61] Tarsem Singh Purewal, editor of Britain's Punjabi-language weekly "Des Pardes", was killed as he was closing his office in Southall. There is speculation that the murder was related to Sikh extremism, which Purewal may have been investigating. Another theory is that he was killed in retaliation for revealing the identity of a young rape victim. [62] [63]

On August 31, 1995, Chief minister Beant Singh was killed by a suicide bomber. Babbar Khalsa claimed responsibility for the assassination, but "security authorities" were reported to be doubtful of the truth of that claim. [64] A 2006 press release by the Embassy of the United States in New Delhi indicated that the responsible organization was the Khalistan Commando Force.[65]

On November 18, 1998, Journalist Tara Singh Hayer, was gunned down. The publisher of the "Indo-Canadian Times," a Canadian Sikh and once-vocal advocate of the armed struggle for Khalistan, he had criticized the bombing of Air India flight 182, and was to testify about a conversation he overheard concerning the bombing. Because of his murder, his October 15, 1998, statement to police was not admissible at the trial of Ajaib Singh Bagri. [61] [66][67][68]

Although extremist violence had continued throughout the decade, the United States Department of State found that Sikh extremism had decreased significantly from 1992 to 1997, although the 1997 report noted that "Sikh militant cells are active internationally and extremists gather funds from overseas Sikh communities."[69]


In 2004, violence erupted at a protest against a play, "Behzti" (Dishonour), that was to have been performed at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The protest organizer, Sewa Singh Mandla, chairman of the Birmingham council of Sikh Gurdwaras, blamed the violence on extremist members of The Sikh Federation. Amrik Singh Gill, chairman of the Federation, said his members had taken part in the opposition to the play from the start, and denied that its members played any part in the violence. Another member of the Sikh Federation, Kulwinder Singh Johal, expressed happiness that the play had been canceled, confirmed that Sikh Federation members had taken part in the protest against the play, and denied that there had been any violence on the part of the protesters.[70] The Sunday Herald reported that when it appeared the play might be presented despite the protest, death threats increased, and the playwright went into hiding.[71] The play was canceled.[70]

In 2006, a Brooklyn, New York, jury convicted Khalid Awan of providing money and financial services to the Khalistan Commando Force, a terrorist organization responsible for thousands of deaths in India since its founding in 1986. The investigation began in 2003, when Awan, jailed at the time for credit card fraud, bragged of his relationship with Paramjeet Singh Panjwar, leader of the KCF. [65]

The Indian Express reported in its online edition on 19 June 2006 that "Police claimed" that the KZF was behind bomb blasts in Jalandhar, India, at the Inter-State Bus Terminus that left three people killed and injured 12. A police spokesman said the attack was planned by a pair of KZF leaders, one based in Pakistan and one in Canada, and executed by a "local criminal".[72]

Terry Milewski reported in a 2006 documentary for the CBC [68] that a minority within Canada's Sikh community was gaining political influence even while publicly supporting terrorist acts in the struggle for an independent Sikh state. In response, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) sued the CBC for "defamation, slander and libel", alleging that Milewski linked it to terrorism and damaged the reputation of the WSO within the Sikh community.[73]

Canadian journalist Kim Bolan has written extensively on Sikh extremism. Speaking at the Fraser Institute in 2007, she reported that she still received death threats over her coverage of the 1985 Air India bombing.[74]

In February 2008, BBC Radio 4 reported that the Chief of the Punjab Police, NPS Aulakh, alleged that militant groups were receiving money from the British Sikh community. [75] The same report included statements that although the Sikh militant groups were poorly equipped and staffed, intelligence reports and interrogations indicated that Babbar Khalsa was sending its recruits to the same terrorist training camps in Pakistan used by Al Qaeda. [76]

A June 2008 article by Vicky Nanjappa, writing for, stated that a report by India's Intelligence Bureau indicated that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization was "desperately trying to revive Sikh" militant activity in India. [77]

In 2008, a CBC report stated that "a disturbing brand of extremist politics has surfaced" at some of the Vaisakhi parades in Canada,[68] and The Trumpet agreed with the CBC assessment.[78] Two leading Canadian Sikh politicians refused to attend the parade in Surrey, saying it was a glorification of terrorism.[68]

In 2008, Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India, expressed his concern that there might be a resurgence of Sikh extremism. [20] [79]

On Sunday, May 24, 2009, armed Sikh men attacked the Gurdwara Nanaksar, the Ravidas temple in Rudolfsheim Vienna. [4][5][6] They left 16 injured, including visiting Dera Sach Khand head Nirajnan Das,[80] 68, and another leader, Rama Nand,[80] 57, dead. The attack triggered protests and rioting across northern India resulting in at least one death.[81][82][83][84] There were claims and denials of responsibility in the name of the Khalistan Zindabad Force,[85][86][87][88] and suspicions that the attack might have been made by members of a rival sect.[89] [90]

On September 24, 2009, carried a report attributed to United News of India that police arrested two Babbar Khalsa "militants" earlier in the day. The article described the arrests as a "major breakthrough in the assassination case of Rulda Singh, president of the Punjab Rashtriya Sikh Sangat who was shot at and seriously injured by two unidentified persons at his residence near New Grain market on July 29."[91]

September 29, 2009, Rajinder Soomel was murdered on Cambie Street in Vancouver, British Columbia.[92] The murder renewed fears of gang violence.[93] Soomel had been released on parole shortly before his murder. In March, 2008, Soomel had been sentenced to 4 years in prison after confessing he had tried to hire an undercover police officer to kill Hardip Uppal. Uppal had identified Ravinder Soomel, younger brother of the victim, as one of 2 assassins who killed Tara Singh Hayer in 1998.[94][95][96]

Militant Organizations


Sikh involvement in militant organisations have existed Pre-1947 (before Indian Independence), and after 1947. The goal of some pre-1947 organisations being to gain Indian Independence from the British

Ghadar Party

A militant extremist organisation[13] set up overseas to drive the British out of India. Its members were mostly from the Sikh community and were dubbed "Sikh extremists".[97 ] by the British authorities at that time.[97 ]

Indian National Army

The Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army[98 ][99]) was formed by Mohan Singh Deb (who ws described as an extremist)[100] to free India from British rule, and fought in Southeast Asia, with support from Japan, during WWII.


A 2007 Australian research report[101] cited difficulties in researching both violent and non-violent activities of the various (perhaps 22, in 1987) Sikh separatist groups. Names of groups are used interchangeably in reports, intentionally or through error. Bias and sensationalism in government and media reports reduce their reliability.[101] The illegal nature of the organizations also presents challenges.[101] Institute for Conflict Management, on its South Asia Terrorism Portal, alleged that Pakistan's ISI was making "serious attempts" to reinvigorate terrorism in India, and that "terror groups" were working together to accomplish that goal.[102]

Babbar Khalsa

Babbar Khalsa has been listed as a terrorist organization in the European Union,[103 ] Canada,[104] India,[68] UK,[105] and the United States.[68] A Canadian Sikh, Ajaib Singh Bagri, co-founder of Babbar Khalsa, said in a 1984 speech, after Hindu Mobs had murdered thousands of Sikhs in Delhi [106] that "Until we kill 50,000 Hindus, we will not rest."[68]

The United States has designated the Babbar Khalsa responsible for the bombing of Air India Flight 182 on 27 June 2002. [107] According to Terry Milewski, CBC News, Canadian courts have further established that Talwinder Singh Parmar, a founder of Babbar Khalsa, was the mastermind of the Air India bombings. Milewski further reported that some parade floats portray Parmar as a "shaheed" (martyr).[68]

Babbar Khalsa was listed in 1995 one of the 4 "major militant groups" in the Khalistan movement.[108]

Bhindranwale Tigers Force of Khalistan

Also known variously as Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan and Bhindranwale Tiger Force, this group appears to have been formed in 1984 by Gurbachan Singh Manochahal. After the founder's death, the BTF (or BTFK) seems to have disbanded or integrated into other organizations.[109] The BTF was listed in 1995 one of the 4 "major militant groups" in the Khalistan movement.[108]

International Sikh Youth Federation

Lord Bassam of Brighton, then Home Office minister, stated that ISYF members working from the UK had committed "assassinations, bombings and kidnappings" and were a "threat to national security."[53] The ISYF is listed in the UK as a "Proscribed Terrorist Group".[105] It was also added to the US Treasury Department terrorism list on June 27, 2002.[110] There are allegations that the ISYF has long been supported by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence organization.[102]

Andrew Gilligan, reporting for The London Evening Standard, stated that the Sikh Federation (UK) is the "successor" of the ISYF, and that its executive committee, objectives, and senior members... are largely the same.[53] [111] The Vancouver Sun reported in February 2008 that Dabinderjit Singh was campaigning to have both the Babbar Khalsa and International Sikh Youth Federation de-listed as terrorist organizations.[112]

It also stated of Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day that "he has not been approached by anyone lobbying to delist the banned groups". Day is also quoted as saying "The decision to list organizations such as Babbar Khalsa, Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation as terrorist entities under the Criminal Code is intended to protect Canada and Canadians from terrorism"[112]

Khalistan Commando Force

The KCF was formed in 1986.[113] According to the US State Department,[65] and the Assistant Inspector General of the Punjab Police Intelligence Division,[114] the KCF was responsible for the deaths of thousands in India, including the 1995 assassination of Chief Minister Beant Singh.[65] The KCF was listed in 1995 one of the 4 "major militant groups" in the Khalistan movement.[108]

Khalistan Liberation Force

The KLF was formed in 1986, and was believed responsible for several bombings of civilian targets in India during the 1980s and 1990s, sometimes in conjunction with Islamist Kashmir separatists. [115] [116] [117] The Khalistan Liberation Army (KLA) is reputed to have been a wing of, or possibly associated with, or possibly a breakaway group from, the KLF.[101] The KLF was listed in 1995 one of the 4 "major militant groups" in the Khalistan movement.[108]

Khalistan Zindabad Force

The KZF is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU.[103 ]

See also


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