By Jitarth Jai Bharadwaj, Pallavi Jain and Amit Sarwal
Members of the Indian-Australian community in Victoria were left shocked and deeply disturbed to see Khalistani flags, booklets and T-shirts distributed and displayed at the Nagar Kirtan/Humanity Walk organised by the Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council (VSGC) on 19 November 2022.
71-year-old Sukhjeet Kaur a practising Sikh has been living in Melbourne for 27 years.
Sukhjeet Kaur told The Australia Today, “Just when I thought it is the best time to be in Melbourne with flourishing Gurdwara and Nagar Kirtan at the centre of the city, these Khalistan supporters are destroying it.”
She says, “I thought we have left the dark memories of Khalistani terrorism behind us but on Saturday I felt like I am back to those ugly days.”
“I froze when my five-year-old granddaughter was handed over the Khalistan flag at the Humanity walk.”
“A little child whose grandfather was killed by Khalistani terrorists is given the Khalistan flag, it is the biggest torture of my life,” Ms Kaur added.
Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council or VSGC is an organisation that represents seven Sikh Gurduaras in Victoria.
For the 550th Prakash Parv (Birthday) of Guru Nanak Dev (First Sikh Guru), VSGC organised a Nagar Kirtan and Humanity Walk in 2019 to showcase the Sikh cultural value and bring together Australian multifaith communities.
After the pandemic disruption, this was the first big event for VSGC and in an election year Dan Andrews’ Victorian government came out to support the Sikh community by giving a generous grant.
However, this program didn’t bring Victorian multicultural communities together but left them fearing Khalistani terrorism knocking on their doors.
Amritvir Singh from Melbourne’s southeast told The Australia Today that he is an executive committee member (independent) of the Victorian Sikh Gurduaras Council. He claims that he advises VSGC on youth affairs and government relations plans as he has good connections with the Victorian Labor government.
He has also worked as an electoral staff in the Labor party’s Federal Member of Parliament for Bruce Jullian Hill’s office till the middle of 2020, a position paid for by the taxpayers.
Amritvir Singh was at the forefront of the Nagar Kirtan holding a Khalistan flag with a number of supporters from Melbourne and a few who have come from Canada and the USA.
“I support Khalistan, I support Sikh brothers asking for self determinations that’s why I support ‘Sikh for Justice’s process for referendum.”Amritvir Singh told The Australia Today.
However, this week he is donning another avatar of Labor party’s booth manager for Victorian MP Pauline Richards who is in a tough electoral battle with a Sikh-man Jagdeep Singh contesting from the Liberal Party.
Amritvir is trying to pursue a large number of Punjabi-speaking residents to keep faith in Dan Andrews’s policies despite it means no Sikh representation in the Victorian parliament.
A highly placed person who is in a decision-making position with VSGC but doesn’t want to be named (Let’s call him ‘Singh Saheb’) told The Australia Today, “Amritvir Singh was the reason Khalistan supporters could come and distribute their booklets, T-shirts and flags in the Nagar Kirtan.”
How did it start
‘Singh Saheb’ told The Australia Today, “VSGC management committee was notified by Amritvir Singh that a ‘group’ with which he works closely wants to come to Nagar Kirtan/Humanity walk to garner support for Khalistan amongst Australian Sikhs.”
“Amritvir also said this Khalistan supporter group want to have some time at main stage of Nagar Kirtan to make a call for donations and volunteer registration towards proposed Khalistan referendum in Melbourne.”
‘Singh Saheb’ says the committee categorically rejected this proposal by Amritvir Singh and told him to keep divisive agendas away from VSGC’s program”
While talking to The Australia Today Amritvir Singh agreed that he did propose Khalistan supporters be included in the Humanity walk, he claims that this was done on the request of Khalistani supporters.
“I have a working relationship with Miri Piri Gurudwara in Melbourne’s west. I received a call from them that they want to talk about the situation in Punjab (India) on the stage.”
“I had put all details in VSGC’s WhatsApp group for the committee to decide,” Amritvir added
Foreign influence from USA and Canada has also arrived on Australian shores
The people Amritvir was advocating to be included in Nagar Kirtan were not only random local supporters of Khalistan but also members of an American organisation ‘Sikhs for Justice’ which calls for armed struggle against India (One of the closest security partners of Australia in the Indo-pacific and fellow member of QUAD).
Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) is a US-based secessionist group that supports the secession of Punjab from India as Khalistan. It is a banned terror organisation in India since the year 2019.
The above photograph was provided to The Australia Today by ‘Singh Saheb’ describing a person in a yellow turban as Inderjit Singh from Canada and a person in a blue turban as Mohinder Singh from the USA with mike in his hand.
Besides them, there are several other people who have flown into Australia to control and run the Khalistan referendum program.
It is important to know that Australian Border force’s entry conditions do not allow a foreigner to run any such campaign on Australian soil.
‘Singh Saheb’ told The Australia Today, Despite VSGC saying no to these elements they still tried to take over our program.
“When we saw Amritvir and his group standing in front of ‘Panch Pyare’ with Khalistan flags we asked them to take their protest at the end of the Nagar Kirtan.”
On the other hand, Amritvir Singh claims that VSGC had a clear understanding that his group will be protesting at Nagar Kirtan.
He mentions that VSGC management committee member said, “As discussed with you and your group we can only allow protest at the back of Nagar Kirtan.”
But ‘Singh Saheb’ says that he told Amritvir Singh and his group of Khalistan supporters that;
“If you want to do this Khalistan business then organise your own don’t come and spoil our function.”
“These people need to understand if they want to attend Nagar Kirtan they have to behave like ‘sangat’ not like devisive agenda driven propaganda.”
Sarah L. Gates, an Australian researcher and activist, tweeted:
“Sikhs for Justice is banned in India. Despite the denials about SFJ operating in Australia, these handles are now taking ownership.”
The Australia Today understands that Victorian Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt attended the Nagar Kirtan while SFJ’s Khalistan terror agenda was spread.
Victorian Emergency Management Commissioner, Andrew Crisp and Federal department of Home Affairs regional Director for Comunity engagement was also present at the function.
It is Victorian government’s responsibility to ensure any taxpayer funder program/event is not used to spread disharmony in the community.
The Australia Today reached out to the Victorian Multicultural Commission to seek their response on this serious incident.
The Victorian Commission told The Australia Today
“The VMC certainly don’t support or allow the promotion of terrorism, and we would advocate against any organisation that does”.
The Commission has let us know that as this event was funded by the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing they have passed on our email to them and they have advised that they will respond.
The Australia Today reached Victoria’s Department of Families, Fairness and Housing with a detailed questionnaire as the grant for Nagar Kirtan were provided by them.
However, a spokesperson replied:
“The Department is committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, ensuring Victorians can participate in and enjoy the benefits of our multicultural society.”
The Australia Today also contacted Premier of Victoria, Dan Andrews, Multicultural Minister Ros Spence and Minister for Police and Crime Prevention, Anthony Carbines, to seek their response on this serious incident. Their replies are as follows,
The Indian authorities in a Joint Working Group (JWG) meeting on Counter-Terrorism in 2015, had informed their Australian counterparts that they should keep a close watch on certain social and religious organisations active in their country reported The Tribune.
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.
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.
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.
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 22nd June 1985.
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 this year 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, a Sikh himself, was attacked and viciously beaten for his opposition to 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.