Radicals advocating for an independent Sikh state are a growing threat in Italy.
by Massimo Introvigne
Last week, a monument to Gandhi in Milan was vandalized by “Khalistani” activists, who wrote on the platform their motto “Khalistan Zindabad” and “Racist” and “Rapist” on the Mahatma’s sculpture. It is not the first time that this happens in Italy.
The Khalistan Movement, whose story was told in Bitter Winter last month, advocates the creation of an independent state for the Sikh community, including large portions of what are now the Punjab state in India and the Punjab province in Pakistan. While the Khalistan idea was originally proposed by Sikh intellectuals who pursued their (unrealistic) dream through peaceful means, since the 1980s the movement has included a terrorist wing that has killed both non-Sikh Indian politicians and moderate Sikh who opposed its position. The Khalistan Movement became internationally notorious in 1985 when it blew out with a bomb the Air India flight 182 en route from Montreal to London, and all the 329 passengers and crew members died.
While only a minority of Sikhs support the Khalistan Movement in India, the dream of independence lives in the Sikh diaspora in the West. Between March and July 2022 a “referendum” was organized among Sikhs living in Italy, where allegedly 62,000 Sikhs voted with an overwhelming majority for an independent Khalistan. The figures were released by an activist Sikh organization and could not be independently confirmed, despite the alleged control of “international observers.”
In 2021, Italian intelligence sources expressed their concern about a possible cooperation in Italy between Khalistani activists and jihadist Muslim terrorist groups from Pakistan.
Gandhi has long been a target of the Khalistani Movement, as he opposed the idea of an independent Sikh state and criticized anti-British Sikh activists for resorting to violence rather than following his non-violent Satyagraha principle. However, in 1919, anti-British violence by Sikh militants was blamed on Gandhi’s strong speeches, creating serious problems for the Mahatma. Even Annie Besant, the third President of the Theosophical Society and the President of India’s Home Rule League (HRL), criticized Gandhi, which eventually led to her leaving the HRL presidency that year.
Calling Gandhi “racist” and “rapist” refers to accusations that when he was in South Africa he fought for the rights of the Indians neglecting those of the African majority, and to his practice as an old man of sleeping with naked women in the same bed without having any sexual contact with them. This practice was part of his approach to asceticism and describing it as “rape” ignores both its roots in Indian Tantric and other traditions, and the fact that it did not involve sexual relations.
Some in the Black Lives Matter movement have adopted this largely unfair and anachronistic criticism of Gandhi, which has also been exploited by Pakistani anti-Indian propaganda—and now by the Khalistan Movement, including in Italy.