Khalistan Referendum: Jathedar Kaunke, 'extra-judicially' killed in India, honoured in California

Over 200,000 Sikhs voted in Khalistan Referendum in California during phase I and II

Murtaza Ali Shah
Over 60,000 American Sikhs voted in Khalistan Referendum on March 31, 2024. — Reporter
Over 60,000 American Sikhs voted in Khalistan Referendum on March 31, 2024. — Reporter

LONDON/SACRAMENTO: Over 60,000 American Sikhs took part in Khalistan Referendum second phase voting on Sunday in a historic event organised by secessionist group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) at the California State Capitol in Sacramento, under the protection of US snipers and police.

Earlier, over 127,000 US Sikhs had voted for the referendum in the first phase for the first time on the US soil on January 28, just weeks after the US government announced it had prevented the Indian state from assassinating on US soil the prominent pro-Khalistan leader and India’s most wanted man, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Several thousand Sikhs were unable to cast their votes in the first phase. The Sunday 31st March voting was organised by the SFJ to accommodate those Sikhs who were unable to vote at the end of the first voting phase, overseen by the independent Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC). The voting was held amid tight security, as US police and snipers kept a close watch.

At the break of dawn on the voting day, nearly 20,000 men and women queued to cast their votes. Throughout the day, thousands of Sikhs stayed at the centre, chanting devotional Sikhism lyrics, calling for the establishment of Khalistan, and condemning the assassination plots of Sikhs by PM Narendra Modi’s Hindutva regime.

The voting was held months after Khalistan Referendum’s Canada lead Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed by the "Indian agents" inside Canada’s biggest Gurdwara and the US secret services foiled a plot by the Indian government to assassinate Pannun, who is leading the worldwide Khalistan Referendum campaign.

The voting took place on Sunday (March 31) but the grand activity started two days earlier with Akhand Path Sahib to honour and declare Sikh religious head Jathedar Gurdev Singh Kaunke, who was extra-judicially killed by the Indian government, as “Quami Shaheed” (martyr of Sikh nation). While a team of Sikh priests recite the holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, from beginning to end, Sikh families and individuals from around Sacramento and surrounding areas attended the prayer in thousands and paid their respects to Jathedar Kaunke.

The March 31st Khalistan Referendum Voting Center at the California State Capitol is also named after and dedicated to Shaheed Kaunke.

In the weeks prior to the Akhand Path Sahib at California State Capitol, thousands of Sikhs from around the world sent emails to Giani Raghbir Singh, the current head of Sri Akal Takht Sahib and to the President of Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) to formally declare Jathedar Kaunke as “Quami Shaheed”.

Gurdev Singh Kaunke was unanimously declared as head of Sri Akal Takht Sahib in 1986 by the grand assembly of Sikh people (Sarbat Khalsa). He was extra-judicially killed by Indian police on January 01, 1993 for his active role in leading the Sikh people’s movement for their religious and political rights. Recently, in December 2023, Punjab Human Rights Commission acknowledged that Kaunke was extra-judicially killed by the Indian security officials.

Pannun, Attorney at Law and General Counsel to SFJ paid tribute to “Shaheed Kaunke who worked tirelessly for the cause of right to self-determination of Sikhs”.

Pannun added that Gurdev Singh Kaunke was martyred because he was devoted to the cause of Khalistan and wanted Sikhs to have their own homeland. Pannun said Sikhs have followed the path of Kaunke and gave their lives for rights of Sikhs, including noted UK-based Sikh leader Paramjeet Singh Pamma who has spent time in jail in Europe on Indian extradition warrant.

Pannun told the crowd: “The issue of Sikhs started in 1947 when they should have been liberated but instead they went under Indian occupation. From 1950 Hindutva started suppressing Sikhs to end and dilute their identity and that effort continues. In 1984, the Hindutva Congress regime assaulted the holiest Sikh place, the Golden Temple, in Operation Blue Star and committed genocide of thousands of Sikhs. The genocide that started under Congress continues under BJP and Modi.

“We are calling for the 'political death' of Modi, through democratic means. The Indian state is involved in the genocide of Sikhs. Sikhs will do everything in their power to end Indian hegemony and establish their own homeland.”

The Punjab Referendum Commission announced a new date for the Khalistan Referendum, which is scheduled to take place on July 28, 2024 in Calgary, Canada.