The Sikhs form a majority in the Indian state of Punjab. During the 1970s, a section of Sikh leaders cited various political, social, and cultural issues to allege that the Sikhs were being cornered and ignored in Indian Society, and Sikhism was being absorbed into the Hindu fold. This gradually led to an armed movement in the Punjab, led by some key figures demanding a separate state for Sikhs.
The insurgency intensified during the 1980s, when the movement turned violent and the name Khalistan resurfaced and sought independence from the Indian Union. Led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who, though not in favour in the creation of Khalistan, was also not against it, they began using militancy to stress the movement’s demands. Soon things turned extreme with India alleging that neighbouring Pakistan supported these militants, who, by 1983-84, had begun to enjoy widespread support among Sikhs.
In 1984, Operation Blue Star was conducted by the Indian government to stem out the movement. It involved an assault on the Golden Temple complex, which Sant Bhindranwale had fortified in preparation of an army assault. Indira Gandhi, India’s then prime minister, ordered the military to storm the temple, who eventually had to use tanks. After a 74 hour firefight, the army successfully took control of the temple. In doing so, it damaged some portions of the Akal Takht, theSikh Reference Library, and the Golden Temple itself. According to Indian government sources, 83 army personnel were killed and 249 were injured. Militant casualties were 493 killed and 86 injured.
During the same year, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two Sikh bodyguards, believed to be driven by the Golden Temple affair, resulted in widespread anti-Sikh riots, especially in New Delhi. Following Operation Black Thunder in 1988, Punjab Police, first under Julio Ribeiro and then under KPS Gill, together with theIndian Army, eventually succeeded in pushing the movement underground.
In 1985, Sikh terrorists bombed an Air India flight from Canada to India, killing all 329 people on board Air India Flight 182. It was the worst terrorist act in Canada’s history.
The ending of Sikh militancy and the desire for a Khalistan catalyzed when the then-Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, handed all intelligence material concerning Punjab militancy to the Indian government, as a goodwill gesture. The Indian government used that intelligence to put an end to those who were behind attacks in India and militancy.
The ending of overt Sikh militancy in 1993 led to a period of relative calm, punctuated by militant acts (for example, the assassination of Punjab CM, Beant Singh, in 1995) attributed to half a dozen or so operating Sikh militant organisations. These organisations include Babbar Khalsa International, Khalistan Commando Force, Khalistan Liberation Force, and Khalistan Zindabad Force.