New Delhi: In the ongoing Supreme Court hearing on the farmers protest at the national capital borders seeking a repeal of new farm laws, advocate Harish Salve alleged that Sikhs For Justice, a banned secessionist US-based group, is involved in the protests.
Representing one of the petitioners, Salve on 11 January reportedly said, “There must be an assurance that peace is being threatened by a large group of people. Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a Vancouver based organization has put up posters that (Rs) 10,000 will be paid to anyone who joins the protest.”
P.S. Narasimha, appearing for one of the intervenors supporting the farm laws, voiced the same concern, alleging that the SFJ is involved in the movement. While Attorney General of India, K.K. Venugopal did not mention the organisation by name, he also noted a Khalistani presence in the movement.
The farmers’ protest at Singhu and Tikri borders, which will soon complete two months, has been facing several such allegations but has denied them all.
Also read: Pakistan ‘fanning farmer protests via noisy minority’ of Sikhs in Canada with Khalistan links
What is Sikhs for Justice?
The SFJ is a self-avowed pro-Khalistan US-based group that has been attempting to “build a campaign for secession of Punjab” since its inception in 2007.
It first came into notice in August 2018 at a large pro-Khalistan rally — which came to be known as the London Declaration — organised at Trafalgar Square in London announcing the “Referendum 2020”. New York-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the founder of SFJ and its legal advisor, also found limelight at the rally.
The declaration “proclaimed that in November 2020, the SFJ would organise a non-binding referendum of Sikhs from across the world about the secession of Punjab from India, and the constitution of a sovereign Sikh state of Khalistan”.
In a letter to the US ambassador to India in 2018, Pannun wrote, “There is strong and growing apprehension that India’s unfounded negative propaganda against Referendum 2020 campaign based on concocted factual predicates; illegal detention and torture of Referendum activists and charging them with sedition/terrorism is a prelude to India’s preparation for violently crushing the peaceful and democratic movement for independence of Indian occupied Punjab”.
However, it has been reported that the organisation, Pannun, and even the movement have no following in Punjab.
Pannun, a graduate from Panjab University and an attorney in the US, has also been involved in a campaign of filing cases against Indian politicians including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his predecessor Manmohan Singh, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal and Congress president Sonia Gandhi while they travelled to the US.
When and why was it banned?
The group was banned by the Indian government in July 2019 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Home Ministry had then notified 13 individuals as terrorists. It added nine more to the list last year. Pannun is among these names.
Most recently in December last year, the National Investigation Agency filed a charge sheet against 10 people — all residents of Punjab — for allegedly supporting the group. Before this, the NIA had filed a charge sheet against Pannun as well.
While banning the organisation, the home ministry noted, “In the garb of the so-called referendum for Sikhs, SFJ is actually espousing secessionism and militant ideology in Punjab, while operating from safe havens on foreign soils and actively supported by inimical forces in other countries.”
Moreover, the organisation and its London Declaration are believed to have links to Islamabad, with Pannu even calling for Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s support for ‘Referendum 2020’.
Intelligence officials reportedly said the websites of SFJ share their domain with and source content from a Karachi-based website. In a Punjab Police dossier, the organisation has also been approved of sharing secessionist posts on social media “backing Kashmiri separatist” after the Pulwama attack in 2019.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had hailed the ban on the group, calling it the “first step towards protecting the nation from the anti-India / secessionist designs of the ISI-backed organisation”.
Also read: Why the farmers’ protest is led by Sikhs of Punjab