Separatists or Farmers?
If you are living in a small house, at first it might feel like a home but when the needs increase, it would feel like a prison – this is what one would call ‘separatist sentiments’. Similarly, the Khalistan movement is a separatist movement that seeks to create an independent sovereign state for Sikhs called “Khālistān'', meaning the land of the Khalsa, in the Punjab region. The separatist movement gathered forces in the 1980s though the first explicit call for Khalistan was made in the 1940s. Separatist sentiments can arise from fear of oppression by the majority. While the farmers’ protests, which have been going on for the past several months, might have stemmed from the same fear of oppression, it doesn't mean the two are linked. These protests are being compared with the Khalistan movement because soon after the Indian Agriculture Acts of 2020 were introduced, farmer union protests broke out in the North Indian Sikh majority state of Punjab alongside its neighbouring states, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. This soon became the largest civilian protest in history with more than 250 million farmers protesting the newly introduced laws across the country, proving to be a major hindrance for the Indian Government.
The ongoing farmers’ protest has caused a great deal of uncertainty towards the Indian Government’s loyalty towards the welfare of the public. The issue raises questions about the future of the farmers’ sustenance. The farmers are protesting to express their concern regarding the three farm acts passed in September 2020 by the Indian Parliament. They fear that the laws would pave the way for eventually eliminating the safety cushion of MSP, leaving them at the mercy of the corporates. MSP is a minimum price guarantee of their opportunity costs of having produced the crop that is supposed to act as insurance for farmers when they sell particular crops. Although it has been clarified by the Government that the MSP will continue, there is a possibility of the erosion of the system, which the act does not seem to take into consideration. It is thus imperative that we do not allow for this issue to get politicized under the garb of being a Khalistan separatist movement.
Another separatist movement that has occured in India is the Gorkhaland movement. Gorkhaland is a region comprising of Nepali speaking people of Darjeeling and other hilly districts of West Bengal. The first demand of a separate state was made in 1907. The demand for a separate administrative region arised due to differences in ethnicity, culture and language. The people of Nepali-Indian Gorkha origin want a state on the basis of their cultural identity. There are also problems with poverty and the lack of development in the region. This goes on to corroborate that separatists sentiments and the farmers’ protest share nothing more than one commonality: the fear of oppression.
In case of separatists movements, fear of oppression arises due to differences in ethnicity or culture, hence, many of the separatists are usually a minority in a particular nation. But the ways by which the fear is expressed, and the ultimate goal to eliminate the fear of oppression by feeling equal differs between the protesting farmers and separatists. In 1980, the most violent agitation of the Gorkhaland movement took place. Post Independence 1986-88, Darjeeling experienced a lot of violence under the banner of GNLF (Gorkha National Liberation Front), led by Subash Ghising, the leader of the Party And the chairman of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council. It is the political party that demanded a separate state of Gorkhaland within India. In the violent outlash, it was estimated that more than 1200 people lost their lives.
I assume now that you are well versed with separatism, I ask all of you, do you see the difference between the protesting farmers and separatists? The farmers have only been exercising their constitutional right by assembling and protesting for hope, hope for a more secure future. These farmers have stood united irrespective of their religion as for them agriculture is no less than religion.
If peaceful protests can still be considered a constitutional right, why should the Government have a problem with the farmers? The BJP is India’s largest rightwing political party. In the Indian context, rightwing politics give importance to economic growth over social welfare, along with supporting Hindu nationalism. Do keep in mind that the BJP is the majority in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha (the two houses of the Indian Parliament) because of which the party has been able to pass the three farmers bills without much opposition from other parties. There are, afterall, certain members of the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, along with their gigantic support base and allies, who are branding farmers as ‘Khalistanis’ to curb the protest, by hook or by crook. In India, religion and politics are as inseparable as water from the ocean. Since the BJP holds strong sentiments for Hindu nationalism, it was convenient for some of us to think they are labelling the determined farmers as Khalistanis to quell the protest.
The Khalistan angle to the farmers’ protest is considered worthy of little traction by India’s literate community. Sarpanch Saurabh Minhas has said that his village is predominantly a Hindu Rajput one and that the residing population is against the farm bills. But, there are also protesting farmers from other states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh which have nothing to do with Khalistan. Jagtar Singh, a senior journalist at The Wire, has also refuted the idea of providing a Khalistan angle to the issue and described the farmers’ protest as one of the biggest “secular mass mobilization against the Modi Government”.
Like in every other country, the political stances are contrary to each other. Dushyant Kumar Gautum, National General Secretary of the BJP and a member of the Rajya Sabha, has questioned the hand behind the farmer protests in Dehradun. He stated that slogans such as “Khalistan Zindabad” and “Pakistan Zindabad” were being raised in favour of ‘anti-national’ forces. When looking at the peaceful march of the farmers, I am truly perplexed as to how and what evidence has suggested for them to be identified collectively as ‘Khalistanis’, ‘anti-national’, 'terrorists', etc.
You would want to question my stance on the topic after hearing about the so-called ‘Khalistan flag’ hoisted atop Red Fort. It has come to light that on Republic Day the protesting farmers entered the red fort and hoisted the ‘Nishan Sahib’, a Sikh religious flag, not a Khalistan flag. Nor was the Indian Flag dethroned. This could probably correlate with one of the theories of Karl Marx, a German
socialist revolutionary who viewed religion as “the opium of people” and saw it as a form of protest by the oppressed classes. On Twitter, some have said that on Republic Day, the republic failed and Khalistan won. Shashi Tharoor, a famous Congress (the largest opposition) leader has condemned this act and called it “lawlessness”, in spite of supporting the farmers.
It is important to separate the farmer issues from that of the Khalistan movement. There is a huge difference between a farmer, who is relying on the Government for a secure future with food to provide the nation with, and a ‘Khalistani’ wanting to part ways with the country. It is imperative to understand what the farmers want and find a middle ground where they feel protected. Rather than fanning the flames of fury and uncertainty, the Government, the ruling party and their supporters must understand different perspectives and resolve the issue at the earliest.
Anyone with opinions to share would feel confident if our elected government would lend a ear to the farmers. The protesting farmers and separatists might share a single commonality of fear of oppression but do not make any secessionist demands unlike separatists. What they do to feel safe, economically and otherwise, is a right protected by the Constitution. Different political viewpoints, presentation of facts and information, propaganda and our perception impact the way we compare the farmers’ protests with the Khalistan movement. If intent shifts from care to commerce, attitude goes down from bad to worse, when we strive just to fatten the purse, our blessings reduce; we get the curse.
Written by Ahana Kashyap
Edited & Co-written by Thenthamizh SS and Adi Roy
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