By Gurpatwant Singh Pannun | OPINION |
What do New Caledonia, Catalonia, Bougainville and Scotland all have in common?
You’ll be forgiven for not immediately guessing that citizens in these disparate and very different parts of the world have all recently held, or are attempting to secure, a referendum on their national independence and future statehood.
Across the world, dozens and potentially even hundreds of different peoples believe that they have a fundamental right to determine for themselves how they wish to be governed, and that instead of continuing to be ruled by a distant regime that fails to understand their history and culture, they would be better off governing themselves.
This yearning for independence and for the right to self-determination is especially true today and of increasing relevance in the modern world, but it is not a new concept.
There have been hundreds of different examples throughout history including the American War of Independence, the Dissolution of Czechoslovakia and the decolinisation of the former British Empire, most notably in India.
Whilst the partition of 1947 led to the creation of Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan, the Sikhs of Punjab are too often forgotten in this story.
Punjab existed as a sovereign state until it was taken over by the British Raj in 1849. Sovereignty of the region existed long before India was given independence when Sikh majority areas were forced under Indian control without seeking the consent of the people.
We believe it is now time to right historic wrongs and let Punjab determine how it wants to be governed.
The right to self-determination is ingrained in international law, including under Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations.
If we truly believe in a free and open society that respects fundamental and universal concepts like democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, respect for the rule of law and the rights of the individual, then surely we must also believe in the right of different peoples to determine for themselves how they wish to be governed and by whom?
We want to demonstrate the quantifiable desire of the indigenous people of all faiths living in Indian governed Punjab, as well as Sikhs in the UK and around the world, for an independent Punjab state.
The most clear, convenient, peaceful and democratic forum for expressing this right to self-determination is via a referendum, as was used here in the UK in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. We want the same thing for Punjab: a democratic independence referendum.
The 2014 Scottish independence referendum was legally binding and publicly acknowledged by the British government.
Our ultimate objective is the same, but in the meantime, we want to demonstrate the quantifiable desire of the indigenous people of all faiths living in Indian governed Punjab, as well as Sikhs in the UK and around the world, for an independent Punjab state.
That’s why we’re delighted that the Punjab Referendum Commission, a panel of independent experts on direct democracy, yesterday announced the kick-off date for voting in the first ever global non-governmental referendum on establishing Punjab as a sovereign country – Khalistan.
The voting in the Punjab Referendum is due to begin in the UK on August 15th, 2021, coinciding with the 75th anniversary of Britain handing over the Sikh majority areas of Punjab to India without seeking the consent of the people of the region.
We’re calling on UK politicians, the UN and the international community to support the holding of this non-governmental referendum, even if they don’t necessarily support our ultimate objective of establishing an independent Punjab state, so that Sikhs worldwide and Punjab citizens can exercise their basic human right to determine for themselves whether or not they want to see a free and independent Khalistan.
The right to self-determination might be an abstract concept to some, but for the citizens of Punjab and for Sikhs around the world it is fundamental to them as a people.
This right has been shamefully ignored in the past but it is not too late to ensure it is respected in the future.
From South Africa to South Sudan, the experience has shown that no people can forever be denied the right to self-rule and from the examples of Quebec, Scotland and Bougainville we learn that referendums and ballots are the best means to resolve the issue of self-determination.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is the General Counsel of Sikhs for Justice. The article was first published at The House (19 Nov 2020), an extension of the weekly print magazine aiming to provide impartial source of Westminster news and insight. Click here.
How can we achieve Panjab liberation? (Asia Samachar, 16 Nov 2020)