Truth about Sikh Alienation in Punjab

  • This is a response to S Gupta National Interest column on Khalistan and Sikhs. It is easy to blame others but difficult to look within and change.
  • What is the actual problem in Punjab. 

For years I have read and admired Shekhar Gupta’s (SG) National Interest columns. There is so much to learn.


As always, the column of September 23 on Sikhs and Khalistan was insightful but the jarring note was blaming Hindus, BJP, Sangh Parivar for Sikh sorrows and anger. Here is a rejoinder to put matters in perspective. 


At the outset must state that am born Punjabi with Nankas in Abohar. Our home temple had a picture of Guru Nanak Dev (Ma’s Nani and Dadi were Sikhs) till Sikh terrorists started killing innocent Hindus. 


I worked in Punjab for nearly three years i.e. 1988-1990. In 2016 I wrote a mini book How the British sowed the seeds for the Khalistan Movement before Indians took over. Since then been writing on Punjab.

My great grand-father in centre. 1948. 

Here is a response to some points made by SG along with background. It is followed by what is actually the problem in Punjab.


1. Sikhs have ruled Punjab ever since the state was formed in 1966.

Like any state government, Sikhs had the power to decide the future of resident Punjabis. If they are in a bad state today, are not the Sikhs responsible?


Sikhs were declared a minority sometime post 1980 but the word minority is undefined.


2. Are Sikhs a majority or minority in the state of Punjab? 

A 2007 judgement of the Punjab and Haryana High Court held Sikhs not be a minority when by population they are in majority and been ruling the state since inception. The matter is in the Supreme Court since 2016, according to this report.


Thus, educational institutions in Punjab run by the SGPC (Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee) continue to avail benefits under Articles 30 and Right to Education Act .  


However, Sikhs are considered Hindus under the Income-Tax Act but minority for government schemes. Thus, Sikhs claim benefits available to a HUF (Hindu Undivided Family). For an example read this 2016 Business Standard report 


Also Read   How are minorities allowed tax benefits under HUF?


Tax benefits can only increase happiness.


3. Here is what this BJP government has done for the Sikh pant since 2014.

a.  Opening of Kartarpur Corridor in 2019

Kartarpur in Pakistan is where Guru Nanak Dev spent the last eighteen years of his life. It is a visa free corridor meaning Indians can cross over into Pakistan through a dedicated corridor, do darshan and return.


b.  Declaration of December 26 as Veer Bal Diwas   

On this day we pay homage to the courage and martyrdom of the sons of Guru Govind Singhji, the last Sikh Guru.


c.  Golden Temple given approval to receive foreign contributions under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.


d. The government brought back the swaroop of Guru Granth Sahib from war-torn Afghanistan.


e. On 1984 Congress violence, a SIT was set up and after 33 years culprits were given life imprisonment. Outlook


In an interview with ANI, J S Thekedar (founder of Dal Khalsa and pro-Khalistan leader) said, “Our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has done a lot for Sikhs and Sikhism. He loves our community. He has done a lot -- ended the blacklists etc.).” Business Standard


If Sikhs are still angry, is the central government to blame?


Sacrilege is a law and order issue that comes within the domain of the state government, always headed by a Sikh!

Durgiana Mandir Amritsar was made around 1925 & is a replica of Hari Mandir.

4. Has the Sikh pant apologised to the Hindu community for the killings of innocent Hindus by Sikh terrorists all through the 1980s-early 1990s.

Internal security expert Ajai Sahni wrote in The Tribune, “A total of 21,532 persons were killed between 1981 and 1995 in connection with Khalistani terror. About 65 per cent of all civilians killed by the Khalistanis were Sikhs, the community the terrorists claimed to be fighting for.”


The balance 35% is app 7,500 Hindus killed! What wrong had the Hindus done for them to be killed in such large numbers?


If my home state is facing an economic decline today, here are three main reasons. One, the Law of Karma is at work. Two, senseless exploitation of ground water by farmers! If Jaat Sikh farmers in Yuba City, USA can use micro-irrigation why cannot their counterparts in Punjab do so in large numbers? Three, resident Punjabis have lost the risk-taking and entrepreneurial spirit. This is the same community that re-built their lives post partition.

Micro-irrigation on a farm owned by Dildar Singh Bains in Yuba City. Pic 2015.  

5. If Sikhs see themselves as marginalised, especially after the BJP-Akali breakup, who is responsible?

It is the Akali Dal that broke relations with the BJP when the farm laws were introduced. It is not as if Sikhs are not represented in Delhi.


Hardeep Singh Puri, a Khatri Sikh, is doing a fine job as Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Housing and Urban Affairs. Hope most including the SGPC consider respected Puriji a Sikh.


It is a myth that the Akali Dal represents all Sikhs.


6. Caste amongst Sikhs pants is rampant. Sadly, one has not seen social reform movements like in Maharashtra.

Dalit activist and advocate Dr S.L. Virdi wrote in ThePrint, “Dalit Sikhs and Jat Sikhs have separate gurdwaras. The discrimination might not be as visible as in UP, Bihar or Haryana in that Jaats may allow Dalits to enter gurdwaras but they won’t allow them to make prasad,” he said. Source


For various reasons the Ravidassias, followers of Sant Ravidas whose student was Rajput Queen Mirabai, do not consider them as Sikhs. Deccan Herald According to, “They have also released a separate religious granth 'Amrit Bani Guru Ravidass' which will replace Guru Granth Sahib in all Ravidass temples.” 

Read   Caste in Sikhs

It is due to domination of Sikh affairs, by mainly Jaat Sikhs, that backward classes in North India have flocked to Deras who made the poor feel secure, cared for, loved and provided a support system with no caste bias. It is for the same reason that the Bahujan Samaj Party founder Kanshi Ram, a Ramdasia Sikh, chose to pursue a social revolution in Uttar Pradesh.


Read   Why Dera Sacha Sauda draws followers   

Surely Sikhs might be angry with this.


They should reform and become inclusive to prevent conversions to Christianity, instead of blaming others for their woes. 

Plaque at Siachen War Memorial. Guru Govind Singhji prayer to Shivji. 2016. 

7. Over the last 120 odd years Sikhs are more concerned in stating they are not Hindus.

Whilst the decision on whether a Punjabi is a Sikh or not is personal Sikhs forget what Khushwant Singh wrote in the 29/3/1999 issue of Outlook, “While the Adi (first) Granth is essentially a distillation of the Vedanta in Punjabi, the Dasam (10th) is a compilation of tales of valour of Hindu goddesses.  There is a new breed of Sikh scholars who bend backwards to prove Sikhism has taken little or nothing from Hinduism. All they need to be told is that of the 15,028 names of God that appear in the Adi Granth, Hari occurs over 8,000 times, Ram 2,533 times, followed by Prabhu, Gopal Govind, Parbrahm and other Hindu nomenclature for the Divine. The purely Sikh coinage 'Wahe Guru' appears only 16 times.”


Read     Is Modern day Sikhism a Colonial Construct      


Sikhs forget that Maharaja Ranjit Singh donated gold to three temples namely Hari Mandir (now Golden Temple), Kashi Vishwanath and Jwalamukhi in Himachal Pradesh. “The Lion of Punjab wished to donate the Koh-i-noor diamond to the Jagannath temple, Puri.” Source 


Note that one of the founders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1964 was Master Tara Singh, a leading Sikh leader of the Independence Movement. Source


The Hindu community is repeatedly criticized in the media esp. by people who do not understand Sanatan Dharma? Do Hindus get angry and alienated? Sikhs need not be so touchy.


No Bharatiya would ask them for a certificate of patriotism. However, if Sikhs say they saved Hinduism it is wrong. Read  Did Sikhs Save Hindus

Param Pujya Shri Sant Narayan Hari ji Maharaj founded Dera at Manikaran, Himachal. 2016.

8. SG wrote that, “If people can talk of a Hindu Rashtra, why get so upset if others talk of a Sikh Nation.”

The words Hindu Rashtra are used often. Translated into English it means Hindu Nation. It sounds as if its proponents are suggesting some monolith, theocratic nation like what exists in Europe and the Middle East. The concept of nation comes from the Westphalian model of nationhood i.e. a European construct and alien to India.

We are a Dharmic nation with each aspect of our governance already codified. Actually, Dharmic Culture is at the root of Indian nationhood. No wonder the Supreme Court Logo is Yata Dharmastato Jayah - Where there is righteousness and moral duty (dharma), there is victory (jayah). Read  Mottos in logos of government institutions

Senior journalist Sandhya Jain reiterated this in a Dailypioneer article, “Former President Pranab Mukherji asserted that India was a state long before the European Nation State rose after 1648, based on the notion of a defined territory, single language, shared religion and a common enemy. Indian nationhood rests on the universal philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (world is family) and Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah, Sarve Santu Niramayah (may all be healthy and happy). The Hindu meaning is that which is applicable or can be adopted voluntarily by all (e.g. Yoga, mutual coexistence etc.). The monotheist concept is that which should be imposed upon all (religion, culture, thinking, et al).” Read   What is Hindu Rastra


And there is a consistent attempt to deny the importance of Sanatana Dharma in Bharat which is like saying origin of Yoga is Greece. 

Sri Aurobindo said in 1909, “When it is said that India shall be great, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall be great. When it is said that India shall expand and extend herself, it is the Sanatan Dharma that shall expand and extend itself over the world. It is for the Dharma and by the Dharma that India exists….” 

Guru Govind Singhji founded Khalsa to counter Mughal oppression. 2015 San Jose Gurudwara, California. 

9. Unlike Congress governments in the past, this BJP government has not used force against the Sikh community inspite of provocation.

Conversely, the Haryana Police killed 30 followers of Dera Sacha Sauda during the violence that broke out post his conviction in 2017. Hindustan Times


Perhaps Sikhs are angry why BJP did not follow the Congress policy and give them a chance to make a memorial of Farmer Protest Shaheeds!


10. SG wrote, “Punjab is caught in an agrarian trap while many other big ones have broken out with growing industry and services, particularly IT-enabled services.”

More about the self-made agrarian trap later.


It is not necessary for every state to excel in all areas. Gujarat has capitalized on being a port state and not focused on IT-enabled services. Every region and its people have competencies. Focus on what you are good at and prosper.  


11. SG wrote, “Remittances from Canada from the nearly 10 lakh Punjabis (8 lakh of them Sikh) to their homeland ranked at number 12, behind Hong Kong.”

How is the BJP/RSS or government to blame? Remittances are a function of income which depends on skill-sets possessed. None have stopped the Sikhs from pursuing higher education. Being a minority, they get government scholarships. Look at the cause, more than the effect.


Read   Foreign Remittances into India from the Gulf are falling and U.S. rising


When remittances from the Gulf were the highest, did it affect the self-esteem or morale of Hindus?

Baba Deep Singh, head cut off in fight with Jamal Khan. Holding head in hand he reached Hari Mandir.

12. SG wrote, “What Sikhs see as victimisation of the Muslim minority have had a deep influence on the mood in Punjab.”

This Sikh Muslim affection is of recent origin. The move is political. The SGPC is trying hard to portray Sikh Pant as a one book faith like Abrahamic religions when in reality modern day Sikhism is a colonial construct. SGPC is trying to become a Sikh Vatican.


The alleged victimization of Indian Muslims would require a separate article. One hopes SG compares their state with Muslims elsewhere including Pakistan. Read  Rights of Minorities in India – Thank you Barrack Obama


The Sikhs are respected everywhere hence JI is added to the word Sardar i.e. Sardar ji.


So what is the problem in Punjab? Why is there no peace dividend?


One, is the intertwining of religion with politics. Two, falling ground water levels, due to increasing paddy production, threaten Punjab’s prosperity.


The intertwining of religion and politics concerns Jaat Sikhs. They got prominence with the advent of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule and victories against the Afghans. Further, the British were grateful to the Sikh princes for assistance received during the mutiny of 1857 and seeing the bravery of Sikh armies realised, that they could be an effective buffer between Afghanistan and India. 

Thereafter, British wooed Sikhs, made caste the basis of land ownership and tacitly supported the division of Punjab into Sikh and Hindu. Also read  How the British Divided Punjab into Hindu and Sikh


The Akalis entered into a dispute with the British for the control of Sikh gurudwaras. In 1925, the Sikh Gurudwaras Act was passed which gave Sikhs (primarily Jaat Sikhs) control over all the Gurudwaras in undivided Punjab. By virtue of its control over gurdwara affairs and revenue, SGPC became an important body.  The Akalis are yet to relinquish control since 1925. 


Thereafter, control of Sikh religious affairs is the key to political power in Punjab.


Until religion and politics are delinked, Punjabi society and politics will not be at peace.


Since farmers are predominantly Jaat Sikh and the community powerful the state government has wooed them for e.g. Akali-BJP government declared free power to farmers in 1997-98. In FY20-21, free power is expected to cost Rs 8,275 crore leaving fewer resources for needy programs in an agrarian state.

India must focus on Traditional Varieties of Rice. Cr Bio-Basics.

Free power has hurt Punjab’s agriculture, depleted water resources by encouraging paddy cultivation, added to farmers’ production cost by forcing the installation of submersible pumps and curtailed industrial activity during the paddy season.


Free power and guaranteed procurement of paddy by the Food Corporation of India at MSP have promoted paddy cultivation in Punjab and discouraged cross diversification.


As a result, the area under paddy grew by 30% between 1990-91 and 2000-01, and 51% between 1990-91 and 2016-17 (E).


We Punjabis are not rice eaters. Rajma and Kadhi Chawal are two favourites, period.

But, was Punjab always a rice producer?

Area under Paddy in Punjab - Source



Area‘000 hectare

1. 1960-61


2. 1970-71


3. 1980-81


4. 1990-91


5. 2000-01

2611 Free Power

6. 2010-11


7. 2016-17 (E)



In 1961, the area under paddy was only 2.27 lakh hectares against 30.46 in 2016-17. Earlier farmers cultivated bajra, sugarcane, jowar etc. Actually till “about hundred years ago, rice was grown largely in eastern and southern India, where rainfall was high and water plentiful.” The Green Revolution changed that.  Jaat Sikh farmers showed great resolve, willingness to change and entrepreneurship in adopting new technology and increased production of rice and wheat significantly. But that was in the 1960’s.

Drip-irrigation in Kutch. 

The cause of Punjab problems are over-exploitation of groundwater, over-use of pesticides, intensive farming and a damaged ecosystem. Fifty plus years of MSP have created vested interests that want status-quo.

Punjab needs a leader who thinks beyond vote-bank politics and stops farmer appeasement whilst addressing genuine concerns. If Punjab fails, it would be a sad day for Punjabis worldwide, a community that successfully rebuilt its life post Partition.

It is easy to blame others but difficult to look within, reflect and change.

Charan Paduka Khadavas, wooden footwear of Guru Nanak & son Baba Srichand at Lakhpat Gurdwara, Kutch. Pranams. 2018.  

All pictures by author. This article was first published in Swarajyamag and Here

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