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History of India

Separatism in Punjab

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A section of the spoken commentary from this animated map.

… In 1966, Haryana, with Hindi as its major language, was separated from Punjab which now had a majority of Sikhs. Both states shared the same capital Chandigarh, a factor that added to the discontent of the Sikhs.

Economic prosperity generated by the Green Revolution from 1965 onwards did not put an end to Sikh demands. These became more radical under the leadership of the religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale whilst terrorist attacks and riots between Hindus and Sikhs multiplied in the 1980s.

The call for an independent state of Khalistan was launched in 1981 by a Sikh businessman and American citizen. Khalistan, “land of the pure” adopted its own flag and currency, and claimed its independent status in the United Nations. The Indian government suspected Pakistan of encouraging this separatist and terrorist movement.

On 5 June 1984, the Indian army attacked the Sikhs’ sacred Golden temple at Amritsar, which had become Bhindranwale’s armed headquarters. “Operation Bluestar”, as it was named, provoked strong indignation in India and amongst Sikhs abroad. Sikh soldiers mutinied, others Sikhs resigned from their posts in the administration or returned their state honours. In October 1984, prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. This led to massacres of Sikhs in Delhi which, in turn, bred new religious tensions between Hindus and Sikhs…

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