Laying Foundations: Preparing for the Struggle Ahead
a new generation of naujawan remain committed to exercising their Guru-granted patshahi by resisting state violence and remaining resolute in their explicit commitment to the struggle for Khalistan
In the midst of widespread panthic mobilization around the world, there has been a wave of motivation amongst panthic naujawan to organize and participate directly in the sangarsh in some form. “Laying Foundations: Preparing for the Struggle Ahead” is a resource to help naujawan effectively understand our current moment, the challenges that lay ahead, and what panthic naujawan–as the future of the panth–can do. This is only intended to be an introductory guide to understand the context of Indian state repression, and the trajectory of the Khalsa’s ongoing struggle for the establishment of Khalistan today. We are reproducing an excerpt for our readers below. The full document can be read here.
Developments over the past ten years make it abundantly clear that a renewed Sikh mobilization has been simmering organically in Punjab (and around the world); the formation and leadership of which is currently developing in the crucible of political struggle and state repression. This process was most clearly witnessed during the Kisaan sangarsh where naujawan across the world mobilized, clashed with security forces, and sustained a morcha which eventually brought Delhi to its knees with the repeal of the so-called farm reform bills in 2021.
Considering the grave implications of explicit advocacy for Khalistan and the restrictive conditions of Indian electoral politics however, it is imperative to assess the broader field of political engagement from the grassroots to determine the strength of Sikh naujawan today. Even during agitations that do not explicitly make secessionist demands, it is clear that the Sikh sangarsh for Khalistan remains the animating focal point of every Sikh agitation in Punjab.
Recent examples include the uprisings against the pending execution of Sikh political prisoners and in support of their immediate release in 2012 and 2014, as well as the ongoing morcha for their release today. These respective movements heavily feature themes of Sikh sovereignty at the centre of political discourse outside of the Indian electoral system and brought Punjab to a complete halt through general strikes on several occasions. These mobilizations revolved around Sikh guerrillas, incarcerated for their unapologetic participation in the armed struggle for Khalistan, and received widespread support from all segments of Punjab’s society.
With the rejection of discredited Sikh leadership in the form of the Akali Dal, the momentum of these uprisings was channelized into attempts to reconvene a collective assembly of the Khalsa panth, to re-establish traditional institutions of Sikh self-governance. This represented a strategic manoeuvre to establish sound leadership—while rejecting Indian political institutions—under the leadership of revered guerrilla commander, Bhai Jagtar Singh Hawara. This gathering ratified and reiterated the gurmattay (Guru-Panth’s resolutions) of the 1986 Sarbat Khalsa which dismantled and replaced the SGPC (a creation of Indian legislation) and ultimately set the panth on its current course towards Khalistan.
In response to a renewed increase in Sikh political activity in Punjab since then, Indian security forces have been clamping down on activists in Punjab and the diaspora. Since 2017, nearly 300 naujawan have been arrested under draconian measures of the Indian penal code. Those arrested are predominantly young Sikh men, active in democratically organizing their communities to advocate for an independent Khalistan outside of the electoral system.
Using the backdrop of a spike in insurgent strikes in Punjab between 2015-2017 and the proliferation of widespread grassroots advocacy for Khalistan and Sikh self-governance, state security forces manipulated the context to debilitate Sikh political activism by criminalizing Sikh dissent as sedition and terrorism. In a set pattern, Indian security forces alleged foreign conspiracies were destabilizing the country and swooped in to neutralize activists across the region— with reverberations abroad.
As a result of this, naujawan engaged in a diverse range of activism from social media advocacy, to political organizing, and Sikh parchar (education) have faced arrest and torture, prolonged incarceration, and ongoing surveillance and harassment after their release. Such “crimes” include “liking” pro-Khalistan social media posts, possessing Sikh literature and participating in WhatsApp groups.
These incidents clearly illustrate the modus operandi of Indian security forces: maintain a close watch on young activists and inflict extrajudicial violence on them through the use of arbitrary anti-terror legislation. Once youth are inducted into the Indian penal system, they can face several years of incarceration without bail due to their alleged “terror” affiliations and the nature of the legislation. This prolonged incarceration takes place before activists are even tried or convicted of any crime. In other words, Indian security forces have been using anti-terror legislation to arbitrarily detain and incarcerate Sikh activists—removing them from their communities—as a political tool to restrict activism rather than ensuring “law and order” as it is claimed.
Despite these challenges, a new generation of Sikh naujawan remain committed to exercising their Guru-granted patshahi by resisting state violence and remaining resolute in their explicit commitment to the struggle for Khalistan.
Alongside the state’s repressive apparatus and the political mobilization of Sikh naujawan around the world, another important factor to be examined is the global dimension of our sangarsh today.
As the global order shifts towards a multipolar system where the US is no longer the unchallenged hegemon, NATO-aligned countries increasingly seek to develop stronger ties and relations with the Indian establishment in order to contain the strategic influence of China while simultaneously accessing India’s massive market.
While some shifts towards India are tied to policy imperatives to counter China’s rising influence in the region and beyond, there are also other important economic considerations. With the recognized significance of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the broader “Belt and Road Initiative” which would reroute the global trade system and fulcrums of global power—in competition with Western-backed visions of the “Indo-Pacific”—the Panth and Punjab are now centre stage as key stakeholders in global politics. This simultaneously presents us with opportunities as well as various threats.
As we have seen in recent months, Indian officials have embarked on an aggressive campaign to villainize and isolate Sikhs across the subcontinent and around the world. This includes sensationalist headlines seeking to undermine the legitimacy of Sikh political mobilization as well as the use of diplomatic channels to encourage international partners to similarly crackdown on Sikh activists for advocating for Khalistan. These countries, including Canada, UK, and Australia, have gone to considerable lengths to criminalize and repress Sikh activists in the past which suggests they may commit to continuing down this trajectory under Indian pressure.
Within all of these calculations, it is clear that the fate of Sikhs is not even an afterthought for global powers. Despite the rhetoric of human rights in NATO-aligned countries, their consistent pandering to India makes it abundantly clear that for many influential political actors, their “national interest” does not always include protecting the integrity of human rights in their local contexts or promoting human rights in the global community.
The precarious position of Sikhs around the world is once again laid bare in the absence of political sovereignty, despite every attempt to ingratiate ourselves to our host societies. It is imperative that we take stock of the current geopolitical realities and chart our own autonomous policy initiatives in order to implement our own strategic objectives and achieve our collective political vision. While this includes sophisticated approaches to policy debates and initiatives within NATO-aligned countries, it also requires a serious analysis of the geopolitical terrain to map out our strengths, vulnerabilities, and opportunities as a collective panth.