Sunday Jan 29, 2023
MELBOURNE: More than 55,000 Sikhs voted for Khalistan Referendum in a strong show of defiance to the Indian government’s attempts to stop the local Sikhs from taking part in the democratic voting system to raise demand for the creation of Khalistan in Indian Punjab.
The organising group Sikhs For Justice and independent observers said the total number of Sikhs who cast their votes stood between 55,000 to 60,000 by the time the doors were closed by the centre's management as well as the Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC). While a large queue was still in place outside stretching from the voting centre all the way to the Flinders Street station.
While over 55,000 Sikh men and women — over the age of 18 — were eligible to cast their votes, an estimated 15,000 voters were unable to cast their votes due to time limitations.
There was a stampede when those standing in the queue crashed the entrance gate and made their way to the voting hall to cast their votes in the last 10 minutes. Thousands more stood outside in queues waiting to get in, but were stopped by the PRC members as a time to extend voting was not allowed.
Addressing those waiting outside, a local Sikh leader Gurminder Singh said that they will be able to participate in the voting for their homeland of Khalistan on a separate voting date, which will be announced in due course. He regretted that thousands waited in queues and had to be turned back, as voting ended at 5pm.
The Khalistan Referendum campaign is being run across the world by the pro-Khalistan group, SFJ, whose counsel general Gurpatwant Singh Pannun welcomed the turnout at Melbourne’s Federation Square.
“The first phase of Khalistan Referendum voting in Melbourne has established the fact that Sikhs are for Khalistan and will continue the peaceful and democratic process under the United Nations Charter to liberate Punjab from Indian occupation.
Khalistan is the only solution as successive Indian regimes from Indira Gandhi to Narendra Modi have committed the genocide of Sikhs with impunity," Pannun stated.
He added: “After seeing Sikh people’s support for Khalistan, the liberation of Punjab from Indian occupation is inevitable and we do agree with Modi that India should be only Hindu country and [Bharatiya Janata Party-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] BJP-RSS also should continue with Hindutva agenda.”
The Melbourne Khalistan Referendum voting centre was dedicated to Shaheed Bhai Satwant Singh and Shaheed Bhai Kehar Singh — the assassins of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The voting started at 8am local time but thousands started arriving at the centre from around 7am. Thousands of Sikhs formed queues in Melbourne’s Federation Square to cast their votes for Khalistan Referendum voting at the sprawling local arts centre.
Within an hour, the queue stretched to around two kilometres going past the Flinders Train Station to the deep town. Sikh youth, men, women and elderly formed queues carrying banners and flags of Khalistan. They chanted slogans of Khalistan Zindabad (Long Live Khalistan), Ban Kay Rehay Ga Khalistan (Khalistan will be formed at any cost) and Hindutva Namanzoor (Hindutva Unacceptable).
At the entrance of the centre, large banners hung reading “Khalistan Referendum, Punjab, Shimla Capital” and “Khalistan Referendum, Secession of Punjab from India’.
Sikh men arrived in jeeps, cars and coaches to take part in voting. Outside the venue, a group of dholists played traditional Punjabi dhol, Sangat songs and chanted slogans for the martyrs of 1984 Operation Blue Star and for the freedom of Punjab.
Voting in the referendum, which started in October 2021 in seven cities of the United Kingdom, has so far been held also in Switzerland, Italy and two Canadian centres.
Inside the voting centre on Sunday, over three dozen members of the Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC), the independent body which is supervising the voting in the global Khalistan Referendum, are supervising the voting process and guiding Sikh voters on how to cast their votes on the question of “Should Indian-governed Punjab be an independent country?” with two options — Yes and No.
According to the 2021 census, around 210,000 Sikhs live in Australia but local Sikhs say the real number is close to 300,000. The number of Sikhs in Australia was 130,000 in 2016. According to the 2021 census, the number of Hindus in Australia stood at around 700,000.