Australian Defence Force officers’ participation alongside Khalistani separatists in Griffith Sikh Games leaves Indian Australians dismayed

"Do you understand what it does to people like me who have lost their loved ones to Khalistani terrorism?"

By Jai Bharadwaj, Pallavi Jain and Amit Sarwal

Members of the Indian Australian community were left disturbed and upset to see the Australian Defence Force Marquee at the recently held Griffith Sikh Games where Khalistani banners, posters and flags were displayed.

Gurusharn Singh* who lives in Melbourne with his wife and two kids is one of them.

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He booked accommodation two months earlier for the Griffith Sikh Games which returned after two years during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (11-12 June 2022) at the Ted Scobie Oval in Griffith, a small town in New South Wales (NSW).

But within a few hours of attending the games venue, upset and frustrated Mr Singh returned back to Melbourne.

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

Gurusharn Singh told The Australia Today, “I was shocked seeing the Khalistani posters, banners and flags.”

“Do you understand what it does to people like me who have lost their loved ones to Khalistani terrorism,”

questioned Mr Singh.
Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

He adds: “I went to the people who were managing the administration at Griffith games, and asked them it is upsetting for us to participate alongside hundreds of Khalistani flags and banners.”

“When nothing was done about removing these banners and hoardings, I left with my family because it was very traumatising to be around those horrifying memories,”

said Mr Singh.
Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

Mr Singh told The Australia Today, “Most of my family has served in India in the uniform, and both my daughters are also preparing to join Australian Defence Force.”

“I was shocked to see an Australian Defence Force marquee and uniformed officers at the Griffith Sikh Games where Khalistani propaganda was spread on posters, banners, hoardings and on loudspeakers,”

said Mr Singh.

Doesn’t the Australian Defence Force understand the seriousness of such participation alongside Khalistani propagandists,” questioned Mr Singh.

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A Defence spokesperson told The Australia Today:

“A small group of Australian Defence Force members attended the Sikh Games in Griffith, NSW, over the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend. Attendance was not in any official capacity and there was no formal invitation to Defence to participate.”

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

“The Australian Defence Force is an apolitical organisation and Defence members are expected to remain impartial. The Defence members had no prior awareness of other organisations attending this important community event which promotes traditional Indian culture and sport.”

Gurusharn Singh told The Australia Today, “I also didn’t have any prior information about the presence of Khalistani propagandists presence in the Griffith Sikh games, but I left after seeing what is not acceptable to me.”

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

“Why didn’t Australian Defence Force officers leave when they noticed the Khalistani banners, posters and hoardings,”

questioned Mr Singh.

On further inquiry, a Defence spokesperson added,

“The ADF personnel who attended the Sikh Games in Griffith did so with good intentions. The ADF personnel are proud of both their service and their culture and saw an opportunity to engage positively with the Sikh community.” 

“They had no prior knowledge of other groups attending the event, including political or separatist movements. The attendance of ADF personnel at this event in no way endorses any other group or organisation who may have also been in attendance.”

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

The Australia Today would like to categorically state that we in no manner suggest that the ADF personnel who attended the Sikh Games in Griffith support or endorse in any way matters associated with the ‘Khalistan’ separatist movement.

Mahadevan Shankar is a Queensland-based Defence expert and committee member of The Current and Strategic Affairs Forum.

Mr Shankar told The Australia Today, “This is a serious issue for serving ADF personnel in uniform, having a stall with ADF merchandise, and being seen at the same place with the Khalistani separatist sympathisers movement.”

“It is common knowledge that the Khalistani separatist movement has been declared a militant & terrorist organisation by the Government of India, Canadian & other global institutions,”

said Mr Shankar.
Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

Australian Defence Force spokesperson in a statement conceded that they have identified an internal process issue and are working to address it.

“While the attendance of the ADF personnel at this event was well-intentioned, it has identified some internal process issues around attendance at community events and a requirement for further awareness training, both of which are being addressed.”  

Australia and India both are members of QUAD which is keen to enhance defence and security ties between both countries.

Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles was recently in India to boost ties between the defence industries of the two countries. While on his visit, Minister Marles observed in an op-ed for a local newspaper:

“Australia’s interests don’t just align with India’s, they are inextricably entwined. Expect this relationship to grow & prosper, our cooperation to deepen.”

India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Australian Deputy Prime Minister & Minister for Defence Richard Marles (Twitter)

Mahadevan Shankar further added, “Important for ADF to disassociate itself urgently from such organisations, especially with new Defence Minister Richards Marles visiting India to strengthen Defence cooperation between both countries, against such terrorism and common global threats.”

Defence spokesperson further said,

“Defence regrets any distress that accidental associations might have caused the Indian diaspora in Australia.”

The Indian government has previously raised its concerns with Australia about the Khalistani militant groups active in recruiting Australian citizens for radical activities.

In a Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on Counter-Terrorism, the Indian authorities informed their Australian counterparts that they should keep a close watch on certain social and religious organisations active in their country.

According to intelligence reports, some Australia-based organisations are providing support to the Khalistan Liberation Force, which has its presence both in India and a few other countries in the world, an Indian Ministry of Home Affairs official told The Tribune.

The Australia Today has contacted Griffith City Council which had provided permission for this event.

A council spokesperson said they were not aware that Khalistan posters were going to be put up at the venue. “No permission was sought, granted or denied” for putting Khalistani posters, banners, hoardings and flags.

Ironically Griffith City councillor Manjit Lally is one of the organisers of the Griffith Sikh games. The Australia Today has reached out to Mr Lally. He has not yet responded.

The Australia Today has also reached out to the main organisers of Griffith Sikh games 2022, Griffith Singh Sabha Society, they had also not responded till the time of the publication of this report.

In case we receive any response we will update the story.

Khalistan Terrorism Background:

India was rocked by Khalistan terrorism through the 1980s. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were killed in the Indian state of Punjab by terrorists who were allegedly supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency the ISI.

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

The Khalistani terrorists wanted a separate state for the Sikhs carved out only from Indian Punjab leaving no one in doubt about who was pulling the strings (the posters in the event also show the same).

When India was partitioned based on the communal agenda of leaders like Mohammed Ali Jinnah who believed that Muslims can’t live with Hindus, Punjab was partitioned too. Given the communal nature of the new state carved out of India, not just the Hindus but all other minorities in these areas suffered a huge blow.

Before the partition of India, it is estimated that over 2 million Sikhs lived in what is now the territory of Pakistan, especially in Pakistan’s Punjab region. Today that figure ranges between 10,000 to 50,000 approximately around 0.01% of Pakistan’s population. On the other hand, in India during this time the Sikh population has grown from an estimated 700,000 to over 20 million. Sikhs are involved in every sphere of activity in India with two of the past ten Army Chiefs in India belonging to the Sikh faith.

The birthplace of the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak Devji, is located in Nankana Sahib, Pakistan. The Pakistani city of Lahore was the capital of the Sikh King Ranjit Singh (popularly known as Sher-e-Punjab or the ‘Lion of Punjab’) who ruled in the early half of the 19th century. Given the near ethnic cleansing of the Sikhs from Pakistan in spite of the rich Sikh history of the region, the agenda of the Khalistani separatists is a matter of grave concern for Sikhs in India and around the world.

Griffith Sikh Games 2022; Image Source: Facebook

While Khalistan terrorism was brought to an end by India within its territory almost thirty years ago, some groups of Khalistani separatists and their supporters have remained active in some western countries allegedly with support from Pakistan’s spy agency ISI.

Given the asymmetry between India and Pakistan in terms of defence capabilities, Pakistan has had a doctrine of bleed India by a thousand cuts. The doctrine involves using non-state actors like terrorists against India as it cannot win against India in a conventional war. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan is not only responsible for terror attacks in India but has its footprints in many other terror attacks around the world. The world’s most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden was found in a Pakistani Army cantonment.

In one of the deadliest terror attacks in aviation history before 9/11, 329 people were killed by Khalistani terrorists on Air India flight 182 which was flying from Montreal to Mumbai via London and New Delhi on this very day 37 years ago.

Newspaper clippings related to the bombing of Air India flight 182: Supplied

The terrorists planted a bomb on the flight which blew up mid-air while flying from Montreal to London killing everyone on board. Among those killed were 268 Canadian citizens, 27 British citizens and 24 Indian citizens.

Terry Milewski, a well-known Canadian journalist, was the senior correspondent for CBC News at the time of the Air India bombing and has dedicated significant time to researching Khalistan terror links with ISI.
On the 37th anniversary of the terror attack Mr Milewski tweeted:

In the foreword to a report authored by Mr Milewski, titled “Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan”, Ujjal Dossanjh, former British Columbia Premier, and Shuvaloy Majumdar, MLI Program Director, observed that “It should be essential reading for any who wish to understand Pakistan’s influence in guiding the Khalistan proposition, its perversion of the Sikh faith, and its ongoing campaign of extremism and terrorism in two of the world’s important democracies.”

Mr Dossanjh, who is a Sikh himself, was attacked and viciously beaten for his opposition to the Khalistani extremism in 1985 in the parking lot of his office in Vancouver, Canada. He was targeted again in 1999, while he was a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in Canada when his constituency office was attacked. Mr Dossanjh tweeted in 2018: “Indian Sikhs have a country: They call it India. Punjab has been India for untold centuries until it was cut into two to make Pakistan.”

Countries like the US and Canada have deemed Khalistani separatist groups like the Babbar Khalsa International and International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) as terrorist organisations.

In recent years there have been reports of violent intra-Sikh fightings among members of Gurudwaras in countries like Canada and Australia over alleged ‘power struggles’.

The question really is what will the security and intelligence establishment in Australia choose to do given the seriousness of this issue not just for its strategic ally India but also for security considerations at home.