The partition of the Indian Subcontinent in August 1947 and how it transpired created many fault lines of conflict between the new neighboring states. A complete lack of caution and wisdom in drawing the boundaries coupled with a lack of interest in the execution of the partition plans – both on the part of the British – ensured that conflict and hostility would prevail amongst the new neighbor states in and around many vulnerable territories. Fast-forward to 2022 and many of these territories have still not found lasting peace. Of course, after partition, the freedom movements that occurred in many of these regions also owe their existence to the discriminatory, anti-secular and usually tyrannical nature of the Indian government. This would especially be true for the current BJP government, which is perhaps the most radical Hindu-nationalist and Hindu-supremacist government in India’s history.
The aforementioned lack of interest in the implementation of the partition plan is especially relevant to the pre-partition princely state of Junagadh. Geographically, the princely state lay to the Southeast of present-day Sindh in Pakistan. In accordance with the laws of accession, the Nawab of the princely state of Junagadh acceded to Pakistan on 15th August, 1947. The Government of Pakistan accepted the accession in September 1947. However, the Indian army was sent in whilst the Nawab was in Sindh, Pakistan. This was an action commonly employed by India when forcibly annexing princely states which were unwilling to join India.
When the at the time Prime Minister of India, Nehru, contacted Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, informing him about the annexation, the Pakistani premier told Nehru that Indian actions violated both Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and international law. From a legal perspective, since the Instrument of Accession was signed, the act of sending in armed forces to claim Junagadh equated to an attack on the State of Pakistan. It should have come as no surprise to India, then, that the new political map of Pakistan – announced in August 2020 – includes the state of Junagadh. This move should make it clear to both India and the international community that the occupation of Junagadh by India in 1947 was illegal, and that Pakistan has the right to stake a claim on a state which had acceded to it.
The Khalistan movement is perhaps unique in the plethora of freedom movements that have existed in India’s brutal history. This is because it involves the Sikhs. Khalistan is the long-standing dream of the Sikh community to have a separate homeland for the Sikhs. In India’s history, the Khalistan freedom movement was suppressed by force, and thousands of Sikhs were killed in the process.
In recent news, Prime Minister Modi’s convoy got held up due to protestors and an apparent lack of competence by the security protocol. In any case, the BJP-led government aimed to turn this into its political benefit by scapegoating the Sikhs and labelling them as the conspirators behind this event. Perhaps this was a counter-productive move for the Indians because it drew more attention to the continued disenchantment of the Sikhs under India’s rule. It has also further alienated the Sikh community of India.
Even though the active struggle for a separate homeland by the Sikhs has not been successful, the struggle nevertheless continues. The Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) movement, which is based in the US, engaged in a legal battle against the Indian government in 2011 against its atrocities in the 1984 operation against the Sikhs. In more recent news, the SFJ released its own map of its perceived state of Khalistan, independent from India (shown in Figure 1). The proposed Khalistan comprises a sizeable chunk of India’s Northwestern territories.
The map was released ahead of the Khalistan referendum for the secession of Punjab from India, which organized by the SFJ. The referendum massively garnered the interest of the Sikh diaspora, and thousands turned out to participate. In response, the Modi government went with its orthodox reaction: it tried to suppress it and criminalize it. It reiterated its claims of SFJ being a terrorist organization – another ruse of the BJP government. However, it has not managed to convince countries like the USA and UK, where a significant percentage of Sikh diaspora resides. The US, for instance, refused to tow India’s line in labelling the SFJ, a peaceful human rights advocacy group, as a terrorist entity.
In relation to the SFJ, the issue of farmers’ protests was linked to the group. The Indian government has made claims of the SFJ being behind the farmer’s protests. Whether or not the SFJ had a part behind them is an issue separate from the obvious fact that much of the population of India’s Punjab province is highly dissatisfied with the policies and actions of the BJP government. The fact that India repealed its farms laws in response to the successes of the Khalistan referendum reflects this. It seems that the Indian government felt pressured and wanted to avoid a mass movement from threatening its supposed stability. One thing is clear, though: the movement of Khalistan is far from over.
Any mention of freedom movements in India would be incomplete without considering the Indian provinces in the Northeast. Many of these provinces have either historically or currently been host to numerous secessionist movements which were aimed at independence from India. These operate at varying levels of intensity.
The Naxalite movement is one of the most prominent secessionist movements among these provinces. It has been active since 1967. The movement has an armed wing operating to carry out the movement’s aims. There are reportedly several factions of the movement which are still active in many provinces, including Chattisgarh, Odisha, Jharkand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh. There are often attacks on Indian forces by the Naxal separatists struggling to achieve independence from India. The Indian government, on the other hand, deploys its typical cruel tactics. The example of Bastar division in Chattisgarh province will help illustrate this: there are more than 100,000 security forces on duty in the division, and they regularly carry out “search and destroy” operations, killing or arresting innocents. In rural areas influenced by the Naxals, however, the Indian government’s presence cannot be felt.
Another prominent struggle for independence in India exists the province of Assam, where anti-Muslim violence and discrimination has become a norm, especially under the BJP government. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) introduced in 2019 excluded 2 million people from the population of Assam, with the majority of being Muslims, rendering them stateless. Those who cannot prove their citizenship will be sent to detention camps made specifically for them. The link between cruel governance and freedom movements is well-established, and Assam is no exception. The Assamese struggle for independence is an armed struggle going on since 1979, in which 20,000 people have died. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), the main body behind the resistance, demands only independence from India.
Yet another freedom struggle is present in the Nagaland state, which was also forced to accede to India at the time of partition. So, the freedom struggle of the Nagas is more than 70 years old. They have exhausted all avenues, political and military, to achieve their independence, from a declaration of independence based on an impartial plebiscite in 1951, to an armed struggle which has left more than 25000 dead. In any case, the freedom struggle and unrest has not ended. In this very week, Nagaland witnessed protests against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which is enacted in the province. In December of last year, 14 Naga civilians were killed by the Indian army, and under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and there is no retribution of the armed forces for anything, including killing civilians. Entire generations of Nagas and Indians overall are being made to live in fear, suppression and above all hatred of their government.
There are a few things all of these freedom movements of India have in common, including historical grievances relating to discrimination, human rights abuse and just cruelty as a whole. One aspect which is more recent and which has fueled a surge in activity among freedom struggles is their sheer hatred of BJP government’s radical, extremist and Hindu-supremacist policies and disposition towards citizens of their own country. This BJP government serves as a reminder to all that India cannot be considered a secular country where its non-Hindu population will be treated the same as its Hindu populace. Therefore, it is only logical for India to stop calling itself a secular state, and should instead call itself a Hindu-nationalist state. The most accurate term for India would be a “Hindu-nationalist fake union of states”. In any case, India’s tyranny and repressive governance continue to make sure that the various freedom movements stay alive, even when presumed dead.