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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood
Darshan Singh Tatla

(London: University College London Press, 1999)
327pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 1-85728-300-7. Pb.: 14.95; ISBN 1-85728-301-5.

Operation Bluestar was the central government's belated response to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers' strategy of violence which aimed both to drive Hindus from Punjab and to provoke a backlash forcing Sikhs living elsewhere in India to seek the safety of their 'home' state. Thus would be created 'Khalistan', an independent homeland for Sikhs. With the violence spiralling out of control, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent the army into Punjab on 2 June 1984. From 5-6 June, the army and the militants fought a ferocious battle over the Golden Temple complex where Bhindranwale and a large number of his followers were sheltering. While the Golden Temple (Hari Mandir) itself sustained limited damage, the Akal Takht (Eternal Throne) was almost destroyed and the precious Golden Temple reference library set on fire.

For Darshan Singh Tatla, Operation Bluestar was the 'crucial' (p 210) event that transformed Sikhs' understanding of their identity: 'From a self-confident religious community, the Sikhs rapidly acquired many characteristics of a persecuted minority' (p 1). In particular, argues Tatla, the threat of an overly centralised and overtly Hindu India practising 'ethnocracy' (p 36) rather than democracy led the one million-strong Sikh diaspora to take up the role of popularisers - and chief fund-raisers - for Khalistan. Furthermore, their reaction to Operation Bluestar 'enabled them to redraw a strict definition of Sikh identity, highlighting the religious tradition and collective symbols of the community instead of the geography, language and cultural traits' (p 210). Tatla also describes how support for Khalistan fed on the alienation which many Sikhs living abroad had long felt but rarely articulated.

Tatla's excellent work underscores the 'situational' (p 210) nature of ethnic consciousness. Why then does he only grudgingly admit that, for the Sikh diaspora, 'a broader loyalty towards India probably still exists' (p210)? While viewing the recent cricket World Cup clash between Pakistan and India with a mixed crowd of University of Bradford students, raucous cries of 'Pakistan Zindabad!' were met with equally heartfelt shouts of 'India! India! India!' from Sikh as well as other Indian supporters. Only once - when Robin Singh was batting - did several Sikh students raise a short-lived chant of 'Khalistan!' With the return of peace to Punjab and the entrance of the Akali Dal (the main Sikh political party) into the recent national coalition government of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, support for Khalistan has become a slogan rather than a belief.

Apurba Kundu
University of Bradford

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