Thursday, 7 June 2007

A Display of Cause and Unity

by Edwin Hesselthwite

London's Finest lead a stylishly coloured demonstration along Piccadilly

Charles Pooter and I were walking down Piccadilly this Sunday when we came upon the above scene. This was the orange-turbaned leading edge of a Sikh demonstration, a demo whose placards and leaflets brought attention to the 4 days of anti-Sikh rioting (the word massacre is often used) that occurred in October 1984 after the assassination of Indira Gandhi at the hands of her Sikh bodyguards, and to the related Free Khalistan movement. We estimated the demonstration to number between 2000 and 4000 people.

I've written previously about separatism in Northern India, focusing on the politics of the region of Ladakh and its relation to the Sino-Indian war and the Kashmir conflict, but it's an illustration of the ethnic problems of that enormous country that Punjab, a state bordering Kashmir, has a third entirely separate ethnic divide.

Partition was particularly traumatic for India's Sikhs, because their main religious sites and largest communities were in the Punjab, a state that was split by the new border. So, while witnessing the loss of life on both sides, they were subjected to their community being severed between the new secular (but richly Hindu) and Muslim societies. Khalistan is their proposed Sikh – but secular – state encompassing parts of both countries.

The demonstration was impressive for its size and passion, Anti-War demonstrations have passed Piccadilly with less zeal, and the presence of religious weapons and formal turbans made the protesters particularly imposing. It is a pity that in fifteen minutes of searching, no web pages discussing this demonstration could be found to support this article.

Politics is nothing without publicity.

Photos are copyleft Charles Pooter, 2007. Click them to enlarge.

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