Khalistan and the Militant Movements in Punjab and Beyond: A Chronological Account

In Punjab and other regions of Northern India, extreme Khalistani separatists led a murderous campaign that began in the early 1980s to carve out an independent, theocratic Sikh state known as Khalistan (Land of the Pure).

Khalistan and the Militant Movements in Punjab and Beyond
Khalistan and the Militant Movements in Punjab and Beyond

The British colonial practices of the late 1800s and early 1900s, which tried to split Sikhs and Hindus, are the origins of Khalistan. To use against Hindu tyrants who rebelled against the British Raj, a considerable number of Sikhs were enlisted into the British army.  Following Indian independence in 1947, tensions between the state of Punjab and the national government emerged, giving rise to complaints from a large number of Sikhs against the government.

The Khalistan separatist movement is regarded as having started in April 1978 with violent battles between radicalised pro-Khalistan organisations led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and the Nirankari sect (which was viewed as heretical by the former). In 1980, Bhindranwale and his allies began murdering Hindus and Sikhs, including Lala Jagat Narain, the editor of the dialect weekly Punjab Kesri and a strident opponent of Bhindranwale. Large-scale violence against people spread throughout the state soon after this.

The violent campaign of the Khalistan separatist movement, which reached its height in the 1980s and 1990s, featured bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and massacres of people.  Nearly 22,000 people, both Sikhs and Hindus, including about 12,000 civilians, died as a result of the movement. When Canadian-based Khalistani separatists (terrorists) detonated a bomb on an Air India flight travelling from Toronto to New Delhi in 1985, all 329 passengers on board—including 82 children under the age of 13—were killed. This act gave the violence an international scope. The terrorist attack that killed the most people in Canadian history was that one.

Human Rights Watch states that during the bloody separatist struggle for an independent Khalistan, “Militants were responsible for numerous human rights abuses, including the killing of Hindu and Sikh civilians, the assassination of political leaders, and the indiscriminate use of bombs leading to a large number of civilian deaths in Punjab and other parts of India.” Criminals started to intimidate businesspeople and landowners while posing as militants and demanding protection money.

Most of the Sikhs who died as a result of the militant violence were killed by separatists for opposing the Khalistan movement. For instance, almost 70% of the casualties of militant attacks in 1990–1991 were Sikh civilians. Furthermore, militant attacks regularly targeted Mazhabi Sikhs, who are considered to be members of a lower caste in Punjab.

In order to stir up racial tensions and drive Hindus from Punjab out of fear, Hindus were also targeted in large numbers. Along with widespread violence, terrorists frequently posted posters in villages warning Hindus to leave and threatening Sikhs who tried to assist Hindus. As a result, hundreds of Hindus in Punjab were forced to leave their homes and seek sanctuary in nearby states and New Delhi.

During that time, reports of explosives and grenades being dropped on Hindu religious celebrations and movie theatres, terrorists opening fire indiscriminately into packed markets, and Hindus being taken from buses and trains and killed were frequent occurrences.

Here are a few illustrations of attacks on civilians that received notice from around the world:

1. The list of tragic incidents

1.0  April 1978 – Amritsar

The tension between Sikh organisations and the Sant Nirankari Mandal, a sect with multi-religious followers, escalated, centring on the sect’s annual meeting in Amritsar on April 13, 1978. The clash unfolded against the backdrop of the sacred Baisakhi day, marking the birth of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh. Sikh groups, including Damdami Taksal, opposed the sect for allegedly distorting Sikh theology. The procession by Nirankaris triggered growing unrest. Amid deliberations, Sant Bhindranwale demanded action against the Nirankaris for anti-Sikh activities, sparking confrontation. The situation spiralled when Nirankaris attacked Sikh protesters, leaving 13 dead. Curiously, the Nirankari function continued unaffected. The police response raised questions, as did the choice of Baisakhi and Amritsar for the event. The Akal Takht issued an edict to boycott Nirankaris. The incident’s political and religious reverberations persisted, underscoring complex communal dynamics.

1.1 Khalistani separatists hijack Indian jetliner to Pakistan

A Lahore report revealed hijackers’ refusal to negotiate with India’s government, devoid of demands. Simultaneously, a Khalistani separatist group in Amritsar claimed responsibility, demanding Khalistani militants’ release from Indian jails. The hijackers, led by Gajender Singh of Dal Khalsa, wielded kirpans (knives) to commandeer the plane to Lahore. Amid tense India-Pakistan relations, Pakistan cooperated, securing the plane. The hijacking aimed to spotlight Khalistani demands, linked to recent militant arrests, including Jarnail Singh. This event underscores the complex interplay of religion, politics, and regional strife.

1.2 October 1982 – Amritsar 

Khalistani extremists threw a grenade at a Hindu Dusshera procession near the Golden Temple, killing 1 and injuring 60. This incident was triggered by the death of a Nihang Sikh who was shot after he attacked a police officer.,+wounds+60%22.+Record-Journal&pg=PA12&article_id=2456,3762913&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Sikh%20bomb%20kills%201%2C%20wounds%2060%22.%20Record-Journal&f=false

1.3 April 1983 – Amritsar 

Punjab police DIG A. S. Atwal was murdered outside Harmandir Sahib, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, and his body was left to rot. He came in with his Punjab Police uniform and his gun when he was killed.

1.4 December 1992 Jagraon Punjab 

Buses carrying civilians are a common target. On 1 December 1992, a bus travelling between Jagraon and Ludhiana was hijacked allegedly by members of the Khalistan Liberation Force. Sixteen Hindus out of 56 people travelling on the bus were separated and shot dead.

1.5 September 1983 Jagraon, Punjab 

Khalistani militants fire indiscriminately at people walking. Operation Blue Star and White Paper on Punjab Agitation (Think India Journal) p.7.

1.6 October 1983 Kapurthala 

During the Dhilwan Bus massacre of 1983, Khalistani militants killed a group of Hindu passengers travelling from Dhilwan in Kapurthala District to Jalandhar. Additionally, another tragic incident involved the killing of a police sub-inspector and a tax inspector on a train. The toll amounted to 20 fatalities and 18 injuries, all occurring within a span of two weeks. These events added to the grim toll, as by then, the militants had taken the lives of over 175 individuals in various incidents.

1.7 October 1983 Chandigarh

At least three people were killed today and 25 others were injured in a bomb blast during a Hindu festival in Chandigarh, the capital of Punjab. Much of the violence has recently been directed at Hindus by Khalistanis.

1.8 October 1983 Gobingarh 

In the Gobingarh District of Punjab Massacre of 58 Hindu passengers by Khalistani militants. The unofficial number is more than 100 Hindus.

1.9 Nov 1983 Kapurthala 

The brutal slaying of four Hindu bus travellers once again took tension in that troubled state to a new high. Despite the massive deployment of security forces in the state and the recent crackdown on extremists, naked fear walks the streets of Punjab. With attitudes remaining adamant on both sides in the confrontation, Punjab by last week looked set for a long and bloody journey, leading nobody knows where.

1.20  Feb 1984 – Amritsar 

Two Hindu brothers were killed by militants and six people were injured by a bomb thrown into a Hindu wedding procession.

1.21 Feb 1984  Punjab 

Violence erupted again in the northern state of Punjab as gunmen identified as Khalistani terrorists attacked Hindus.

Reports from the state quoted authorities there as saying that at least 11 more Hindus were killed and 27 wounded today by Khalistani militants. The deaths raised to nearly 50 the number of people killed in clashes among Sikhs, Hindus and the police since a general strike was held last week. Khalistanis have been campaigning for political and religious concessions from the central Government in New Delhi.

1.22 21 May 1984 Moga, Panjab 

Khalistani terrorists in the northern Indian state of Punjab killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 late Monday night.

The worst incident involved four Hindu travellers who were killed near Moga, about 175 miles northwest of New Delhi after six gunmen hijacked a bus and fired at its Hindu occupants. At least 10 others were wounded in the incident, several of them seriously.

1.22 June 1984 Amritsar

The Trust that runs the Durgiana Temple, one of the biggest temples in Amritsar, is planning a ‘Hindu’ memorial to the military operation that had over 500 dead and hundreds injured. This would be the second such memorial to those fallen in the Golden Temple complex three decades ago in a botched military operation to flush out Khalistani militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale inside the temple complex.

1.23 September 1984 Batala 

On June 13, 1984, the government accused Pakistan of training Khalistani extremists in the state of Punjab. Eight Hindu passengers were killed by Khalistani militants in Batala on September 12, 1984

1.24 May 1985 

Over 85 Hindu people were killed and 150 injured in the serial blasts as Khalistan terrorists exploded transistor-like contraptions in buses and public places in the city on May 10 and 11, 1985.

1.25 March 28 1986 Ludhiana

Khalistani extremists dressed as police sprayed automatic weapons fire at Hindus in the city of Ludhiana today, killing at least 13 people and wounding 18 others in three separate attacks.

1.26 27 March 1986 

On the 27 of March 1986, Khalistani militants killed Arjan Singh Mastana a Punjab MLA for the Communist Party of India. Mastana had raised armed squads to oppose Khalistani militants. Khalistani militants pretending to be cops who were beating fake peasants. This lured Mastana out. He was then killed by the militants.

1.27 March 1986 Jalandhar 

Khalistani militants killed 20 Hindu labourers in Mallian in Jalandhar District on March 29, 1986

1.28 June 1986  Amritser 

Gunmen suspected of being Khalistani militants were reported to have killed nine Hindu people. The attacks came at the end of a weeklong protest marking the second anniversary of the Indian Army assault on the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine.

1.29 July 1986 Mukatsar

Again 15 Hindu bus passengers were Killed by Khalistani militants.

1.30 Aug 1986 Pune 

A retired army Chief of Staff who was India’s most decorated soldier was shot and killed in his car today in the western city of Pune, a few days after receiving a death threat from Khalistani militants. Four young assailants escaped on two motor scooters after the shooting of the general, Arun S. Vaidya, the Pune police said. The general’s wife, who was sitting next to him, was wounded in the thigh and shoulder.

1.31 September 1986 Phillur 

Khalistani extremists killed a leader of a militant Hindu organisation today, ending a brief lull in separatist violence in the northern Punjab State.

1.32 October 1986 Chandigarh 

Khalistani extremists opened fire with submachine guns at a busy Hindu market in the northern state of Punjab Saturday, killing at least eight people.

1.33 October 1986 Hoshiarpur 

Khalistani militants robbed a bank, and killed 5 Hindus and the unofficial number of Hindus killed was 23.

1.34 October 1986 Ludhiana

8 migrant and local Hindu industrial workers were gunned down in indiscriminate firing on Daba road, Ludhiana. The unofficial number was around 22 Hindus dead.

1.35 November 1986 Khudda 

Four Khalistani extremists hijacked a bus in a rural area of Punjab, ordered Hindu passengers off the bus and then shot them with submachine guns and revolvers. At least 23 men and women were reported killed and several others were wounded, Unofficial number of death of more than 50 Hindu people.

1.36 January 1987 

Khalistani liberation force killed Congress Sikh MLA Sant Singh Liddar openly. May 1987 

Sukhdev Singh, the son of the moderate Akali leader Jiwan Singh Umranangal, was murdered by the militants. In 1986, Jiwan Singh undertook a door-to-door campaign in the Majha region, meeting the families of the militants and asking for their help in convincing the militants to give up the violence

1.37 June 1987 New Delhi 

Khalistani militants in New Delhi killed 12 Hindus celebrating a baby’s birthday party.,1697287&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=sikh%20militants%2012%20killed&f=false

1.38 July 1987 Lalru 

Khalistani terrorists attacked a passenger bus and killed 38 innocent civilians and injured another 33 others on July 6, 1987, near Lalru village in Mohali District of Punjab. Around a half dozen terrorists belonging to Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) forcefully stopped a passenger bus – Haryana Roadways bus HYE 1735 – near Lalru village (between Jamalpur and Hasanpur villages) and opened fire on passengers, killing 38 passengers including women and children. Most of those victims were from the Hindu community who were on their way to Rishikesh, a major Hindu pilgrimage site. The terrorists had followed the passenger bus in a white car and a truck from Chandigarh, before getting control of it.

1.39 July 1987 Fatehabad 

Thirty-four Hindu persons aboard two Haryana Roadways buses were killed in attacks close to the Punjab border tonight, bringing to at least 71 the number of Hindus slain in two consecutive nights by gunmen believed to be Khalistani extremists.

1.40 Aug 1987 Jagdev Kalan 

12 people were gunned down. Before shooting them, the victims were forced to chant “Long Live Khalistan”.

1.41 Feb 1988 Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur and Patiala

Terrorist bombs went off in or near four district courts across Punjab today, reportedly killing 13 persons and injuring nearly 50 as the violence in the predominantly Sikh state (Khalistan) took an ominous turn.

The shooting deaths of three other persons brought the toll to 16 over 24 hours and to more than 230, by a conservative count, since the first of January. If it continues, it is a pace that would clearly surpass the official toll of 1,230 deaths in that past year. The official toll for 1986 was 640, a demonstration of the escalating level of violence in the strategic north Indian state.

News agencies said police in the state capital, Chandigarh, blamed the Khalistan Commando Force, a group that demands that Punjab be made an independent Sikh state, to be called Khalistan.

1.42 March 1988 Kahri sahri

At least 32 Hindu people were killed and 25 wounded when gunmen attacked a village crowd celebrating a Hindu festival in the Punjab Thursday night, the state government said today. Another 12 people were killed in separate incidents Wednesday night.

1.43 March 1988 Harike

18 members of a Hindu Rajput family were shot dead in the village of Rajbah under the police station (Patti) Harike, Sub-division Patti in Amritsar district.

1.44 April 1988 Amritsar

Khalistani militants shot and killed 37 Hindus and an opposition leader in Amritsar, the holy Sikh city in the northern state of Punjab, and crowds of Hindus attacked buses and stores in retaliation.

Witnesses said the gunmen opened fire on Mr. Khanna, the president of the Amritsar branch of the Bharatiya Janata Party, killing him, his bodyguard and another person before escaping in a waiting jeep.

1.45 May 1988

40 Hindus were brutally killed, and 100 others were injured in different incidents at Samana, Patiala, Jalandhar and Mukerian.

1.46 May 1988 Kharar

35 Hindu labourers were killed in Kharar.

1.47 May 24, 1988 

6 members of a family massacred by Khalistani militants including children (Nakodar).

1.48 June 1988 Punjab and Haryana

73 people had died as terrorists detonated bombs in crowded markets – two in the heart of Amritsar city and one each at Kurukshetra in Haryana and Tilak Nagar in west Delhi. Another 175 people were injured, many seriously. The Kurukshetra and Delhi explosions and the second Amritsar blast took place on three consecutive days, from June 19 to June 21.

1.49 January 1988 Panjab

Khalistani militants shot to death 14 Hindus today in two attacks in the northern Indian state of Punjab, apparently seeking to avenge the hanging of two Khalistanis convicted in the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

1.50 June 1989 Moga

Khalistani terrorists opened fire at RSS workers who were participating in the daily shakha conducted at Jawahar Lal Nehru Park in Punjab’s Moga district, killing 25 Swayamsevaks and leaving 35 members of RSS injured. A short while later, a powerful bomb, apparently planted by the Khalistani terrorists exploded in the park, which killed a couple and two policemen.

1.51 Nov 1989 Patiala 

Khalistani extremists stormed an engineering college before dawn today, killing 19 students sleeping in a dormitory, the police said.

The militants, armed with Chinese-made AK-47 rifles, entered Thapar Engineering College and knocked on the door of the dormitory, said a police spokesman. When a student opened the door, the gunmen opened fire.

1.52 March 1990 Abohar 

32 people were shot dead in indiscriminate firing in a crowded market of Abohar by Khalistani militants.

1.53 May 1990 Amritsar 

Khalistani extremists wearing police uniforms and travelling in a jeep opened fire on a crowded market in Talwandi Bhai village Wednesday, killing 10 people and wounding 14 others.

1.54 June 1991 Ludhiana 

Khalistani extremists shot dead as many as 125 people aboard two passenger trains in northwestern Punjab state Saturday night in the worst series of attacks by militants since the start of the region’s secessionist movement eight years ago.

A dozen Khalistani militants halted the first train at about 9:45 p.m. by hot-wiring a signal box. Then they boarded the railway cars and opened fire with automatic weapons, killing men, women and children, Punjab government sources said/

1.55 March 1992 

Harkishanpura, India – Khalistani separatists killed 16 Hindu employees of a factory.

1.56 March 1992 Ludhiana

18 people were killed by Khalistani militants.

1.57 Aug 1992 Barnala 

31 people were killed by Khalistani militants.,_India#cite_note-60

1.58 Aug 1995 Chandigarh

A bomb killed the chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab today as he stepped into his car outside the state government offices, and Khalistani separatists claimed responsibility, the United News of India reported.

Beant Singh, 73, a Sikh from India’s ruling Congress Party, had been chief minister since 1992. Twelve others also died in the blast, which occurred shortly after 5 p.m.

Police said five Indian army commandos in Singh’s security detail, his driver and two of his aides were killed in the explosion. Some 18 people were injured.

2. Assassinations of Political and Religious Leaders

2.1 Political and religious leaders, including village sarpanches and leading members of rival Sikh organisations, have also been killed. July 10, 1990, Balwant Singh, 61, a former finance minister who had helped broker the Gandhi-Longowal accord, was travelling by car in Chandigarh. Gunmen, who followed in another vehicle, forced Balwant Singh’s car to swerve off the road and then opened fire with automatic weapons. Balwant Singh was killed, along with two bodyguards and the driver.  July 12, the militant groups aligned with the Sohan Singh Panthic Committee claimed responsibility for the murders.

2.2 On September 4, 1990, Khalistani militants entered the home of SGPC member Sant Swaran Singh in the village of Thua in Patiala district and shot him dead. Sant Swaran Singh was an aide to the SGPC leader G.S. Tohra 248 and the tenth SGPC member to be killed 249.

2.3 On October 21, 1990, Shishpal Singh, a leading Akali Dal (Badal) member and a former minister of public health and animal husbandry in the Punjab government during the Barnala administration was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in his farmhouse near the Rajasansi airport in Amritsar.

2.4 Also on October 21, Barket Masih, a sarpanch of the village of Motle in Majitha district and the president of Ajnala Tahsil Agricultural Worker’s Union aligned with the CPI (M), was shot dead by unidentified gunmen outside his home.

2.5 On November 17 1990, three unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot dead Balwant Singh — a preacher and head of the breakaway Sikh sect of Nanak Dukhbhajan Satsangh Ghar — and five of his disciples as he was delivering a sermon in a tent in Hoshiarpur district.

2.6 On December 2 1990, four gunmen shot and killed Darshan Singh, the head of the Congress (I)’s Dalit253 branch in the district, outside his home in Bimri, Ludhiana district.

2.7 On April 19, 1991, Kidar Nath Mahajan, the district president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was shot and killed in his shop in Mansa Mandi in the Bhatinda district by unidentified gunmen. Another party member, Bhagirat Lal, was injured in the attack.

2.8 On May 1 1991, Mahant Kewal Das, general secretary of the rural Ludhiana district Congress (I), was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in Raikot.

2.9 On April 27 1991, Malkiat Singh, an Akali Dal (Mann) candidate campaigning from Moga and Baghapurana, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen.

2.10 At about 1:30 a.m. on May 6 1990, Ajmeer Singh, a candidate for the Akali Dal (Panthic), was shot and killed by four gunmen who broke into his home in Lod Badhi in Sangrur district.

2.11 On May 8 1990, Darbara Singh, an Akali Dal (Badal) candidate, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen in a school in Longowal village in Sangrur district.

2.12 On May 10 1990, Sikkatar Singh Pandori, an Akali Dal (Panthic) candidate was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in his shop in Dakha in Ludhiana district.

2.13 On May 11 1990, the body of Kamaljit Singh, who had been campaigning as an independent candidate, was found on the outskirts of Jalandhar. He had been reported missing earlier that day.

2.14 On May 15 1990, Baljinder Singh, who had been campaigning as an independent candidate from Adampur, Jalandhar, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen.

2.15 On May 16 1990, Balwinder Singh, who had been campaigning as an independent candidate from Sherpur was shot dead by unidentified gunmen as he was travelling in Barnala.

2.16 On May 17 1990, Pritam Singh Cheema, an AISSF (Manjit) candidate, was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen.

2.17 On May 27 1990, Inderpal Singh Gill, who had been campaigning as an independent candidate, was shot and killed in Ludhiana. Gill had been supported by the AISSF.

2.18 On May 27 1990, Amritlal Goel, an Akali Dal (Longowal) candidate, was shot and killed by two militants at his petrol station in Malerkotla.

2.19 On May 27 1990, Jaswant Singh, an independent candidate from Muktsar, was shot dead by two armed youths on a motor-scooter.

2.20 On June 2 1990, Dalbir Singh Ranike, Akali Dal (Badal) candidate from Attari Assembly was killed by unidentified assailants.

2.21 On June 4 1990, Baldev Singh Lang, an Akali Dal (Mann) candidate from Samana was killed when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car.

2.22 On June 7 1990, Amolak Singh, a CPI candidate from Panjgrain, was killed when armed men fired automatic weapons into his car, killing him and four civilians who were in the car.

2.23 On June 8 1990, Jagga Singh, an Independent candidate from Sangrur, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen near the village of Jolian.

2.24 On June 9 1990, Birendra Kumar Gagagn, a CPI-M candidate from Nakodar, near Jalandhar, three of his security guards, and a party worker were gunned down by unidentified gunmen near the village of Litran.

2.25 On June 18 1990, Shaminder Singh, an Akali Dal (Badal) candidate from Faridkot, and Dayal Singh Sandhu, an Akali Dal (Badal) candidate from Muktsar were killed by a bomb that exploded in Sandhu’s home.