Little India: Overseas Indian, NRI, Asian Indian, Indian American

Indian Diaspora Community Holds Rally to Counter Sikh Separatist Event in London

India supporters protest against Sikh separatists on Aug. 12 in London.

A pro-India rally was held at Trafalgar Square, London, on Aug. 12 to counter a march organized by Sikh groups campaigning for a Khalistan referendum.

The pro-Khalistan rally was attended by over 2,000 Sikhs who waved yellow flags and chanted slogans like “Khalistan Zindabad,” the Hindu reported.

The Indian supporters displayed placards that said “India Jai Ho,” “Vande Mataram” or “Sikhs for a United India,” and played drums to celebrate the country’s Independence Day.

The motto of the gathering was “to show the unity of India, it is a country for all religions and in our diversity we are stronger,” the publication quoted Bharathi, who attended the rally, as saying.

Both the rallies were held at Trafalgar Square under the watch of a large police contingent. Tension arose when a few Khalistan supporters started walking towards participants of the pro-India rally around afternoon, the Times of India reported. But the police intervened and they were asked to go back to their allotted space.

A “handful of un-elected and self-appointed Sikhs,” were behind the pro-Khalistan rally, Dr Rami Ranger, Chairman of the British Sikh Association, told PTI. “If they have any merit in their argument, then they should go to Punjab and fight election on the agenda of Khalistan. There is no point embarrassing Sikhs at large along with their Gurus by behaving in an undemocratically manner in a foreign country with a demand of a referendum which is not binding on any one,” he said.

The pro-Khalistan rally, called the “London Declaration,” was organized by the United States-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) group to initiate a campaign for a non-binding referendum for an independent Sikh nation by 2020.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, a non-affiliated member of the House of Lords, expressed his faith in Khalistan for his “Sikh brothers and sisters.” Ahmed, who had organized an anti-India rally outside the Indian High Commission on Republic Day this year, addressed the crowd from the podium, the Hindu reported.

Sikh separatist leader Jaswant Singh Thekedar, however, condemned the rally, calling it Pakistan-backed propaganda, ANI reported. He also accused Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a legal adviser to Sikhs for Justice, of being a Pakistani stooge.

The campaign had earlier received support from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who expressed solidarity with those joining the event, and for those “fighting discrimination and campaigning for a referendum around the world… Sikh people have a right to determine for themselves whether they want to establish an independent Punjabi state,” according to an earlier report by the Hindu.

Labour Party legislator Matt Western expressed his concern over alleged religious persecution in India. But, he said in an email to Little India: “The replies I sent to constituents expressed my concern regarding religious persecution in India and did not outline any support or otherwise for an independent Sikh state.”

The Indian government had earlier expressed its concern over the Sikh separatists’ event in the United Kingdom, requesting the UK government to ban the rally. However, the UK government rejected India’s request, with a spokesperson saying, “In the UK, people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law.”

The call for referendum was a “mischief making by people who have no connections with Punjab,” according to Jasbir Singh Parmar, the Chairman of British Asian Chamber of Commerce UK.

Editor’s Note: The article was edited on Aug. 14 to reflect an email statement from Labour Party legislator Matt Western, clarifying in which he clarified, “I have not expressed my support for the aims of the protest and that your article gives the impression that I support the aims of the protest.”