Gurmit Singh Aulakh
|Gurmit Singh Aulakh|
January 30, 1938 |
Lyallpur, British India
|Died||June 22, 2017
Washington, DC (US)
|Occupation||President of the Council of Khalistan|
Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh (born January 30, 1938) was a research scientist in the US who attained notoriety in the 1980s, 1990s and in the 2000s as the President of Council of Khalistan, an organisation that supports the Khalistan Movement.
Dr. Aulakh was born in 1938 in district Lyallpur (today known as Faislabad) in the pre-partition Punjab in the British India. His grandfather had moved the family to this region when it was master-planned and settled at the behest of the British Punjab government. His family village is Shahbazpur in District Amritsar near the town of Patti. As was often the case with the settlement of that region, most of his ancestral village established farming operations in the Lyallpur district and named their new village also Shahbazpur. It was in Chak 60, Jhang branch of the settlement.
With the partition of Punjab that occurred upon India's freedom from the British rule in 1947, the Sikh families of Lyallpur region had to leave everything they had built with their toil and move across the India-Pakistan border to their ancestral villages. Dr. Aulakh studied at the Guru Gobind Singh Khalsa High School in the nearby village Sarhali Kalan. This was followed by a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Science from Khalsa College in Amritsar in 1958. With this degree he secured a job with the Punjab Government as an agricultural inspector. In 1965 he emigrated to the U.K. Four years later he had an opportunity to come to the U.S. After acquiring an M.Sc. degree in genetics, he studied at the Howard University in Washington D.C. and obtained a Ph.D. in Genetics. Dr. Aulakh worked initially as a geneticist at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and after that as a research scientist at the Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA.
Before 1984 Dr. Aulakh had no political involvement - either in Punjab or in the United States. In June of 1984 the Indian Army attacked Sikhism's holiest shrine, the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar. The objective was to destroy the Sikh militants that were demanding more political autonomy for Punjab and the Sikhs and had turned portions of the temple complex into fortified positions in expectations of an attack. Large scale mayhem resulted and the Indian Government, led by Indira Gandhi, also attacked with the army tens of other Sikh gurdwaras throughout Punjab. All of Punjab was put under martial law and all communications were cut off. Thousands of Sikhs were killed and tens of thousands were imprisoned without due process during this campaign - named officially as Operation Bluestar by the Indian government. This inflamed the Sikhs everywhere and demand for an autonomous Sikh Homeland, a concept that had been around since the partition of Punjab in 1947, gained much greater support almost overnight.
In July of 1984 a conference of Sikh diaspora was held at the Madison Square Garden in New York. Sikhs from US, UK and Canada congregated, deliberated and then officially declared a demand for their own nation called Khalistan. An entity named World Sikh Organization (WSO) was created for this purpose. Dr. Aulakh had no role in this outfit at the outset, but joined it later in 1984 to assist its general secretary: General J. S. Bhullar. Within four months Dr. Aulakh became convinced that this organization was not in the right hands and started his own efforts under the banner of International Sikh Organization. His efforts were almost entirely focused on lobbying the U.S. government and the media to pressure the Indian government to cease paramilitary operations in Punjab. In addition, to make matters worse, over three days in early November 1984, thousands of innocent Sikh men, women and children were killed in New Delhi and across northern India in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination by the Sikhs. The Indian government characterized this as spontaneous riots by Mrs. Gandhi's supporters, but the Sikhs and non-Sikh human rights organizations claimed that these were organized acts of pogroms against the Sikhs. Regardless, months had passed and the Indian government had taken no steps to identify the guilty parties and to bring them to justice.
Lobbying in Washington D.C.
From 1985 onwards Dr. Gurmit Singh Aulakh has been an activist for the Khalistan cause and has been able to receive occasional support from some politicians in the US and UK on this controversial topic. He has had much greater success in bringing wide-ranging support to the plight of the Sikhs in India that suffered human rights abuses throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 2013 Dr. Aulakh's organization (ISO) published a two volume set that compiled all the U.S. Congress statements and other reference documents regarding the Sikhs' movement for political and human rights in India. This compilation runs 1,600 pages and covers the period of 1985-2007. A much-shortened list of US Congressmen quoted in this compilation follows:
- Rep. Dan Burton (R), Indiana.
- Rep. Vic Fazio (D), California.
- Rep. Gene Chappie (R), California.
- Sen. Jesse Helms (R), North Carolina.
- Rep. Robert Dornan (R), California.
- Rep. George Miller (D), California.
- Rep. Bernard Dwyer (D), New Jersey.
- Rep. Wally Herger (R), California.
- Rep. Norm Shumway (R), California.
- Rep. Jack Fields (R), Texas.
- Edolphus Towns, member of the U.S. House of Representatives, from New York. He has been a supporter of Khalistan and Nagalim. Towns also wanted to "declare India a terrorist state" because of "the pattern of Indian terrorism against its minorities", an allegation that was summarily dismissed by the White House.
- Jesse Helms, former five-term Republican U.S. Senator from North Carolina. About two decades ago, he had circumvented the State Department's refusal of a visa to separatist Khalistan activist Jagjit Singh Chauhan by inviting him to testify before a Senate agriculture committee he headed.
It should be noted that thousands of Sikh-Americans throughout the United States worked locally with their representatives to raise the issues affecting their kin in India. Many other organizations, including the WSO, were active as well in lobbying the politicians as well as bringing the facts to the media's attention throughout this period. However, Dr. Aulakh was the lone representative of the Sikh-Americans in Washington DC from 1985 'til the early 1990s - the peak years of the Khalistan movement in India.
Anti-India legislative attempts
Dr. Aulakh and his supporters have been active in introducing anti-India legislations and have opposed aid to India. They have had several successes in the legislative branch, while the White House generally refrained from taking any concrete steps through four presidencies.
In April 1987 the House Foreign Relations Committee reduced the monetary aid to India by $15M.
In April 1988 the House passed a Sense of Congress resolution (HR 3199) titled "Human Rights of the Sikhs in the Punjab of India).
In June 1991 Rep. Dan Burton was instrumental in having passed an amendment (the "Burton Amendment") to the International Cooperation Act (HR 4653) that forced the President to report to the Congress that the Indian government was taking steps to alleviate the human rights abuses taking place in Kashmir, Punjab and other parts of India.
In 1997, HR 182, the Human Rights in India Act, was sponsored by Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) and Rep. Gary Condit (D-CA). to cut-off U.S. development aid to India until the president certifies to Congress that India has taken "certain steps to prevent human rights abuses" in India. Another resolution, H. Con. Res. 37, sponsored by Condit and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) called for an internationally supervised plebiscite in Punjab on the question of independence for the region. The act secured the support of only 82 members while 342 voted against it. Dr. Aulakh was involved in these legislations.
In the 2000s, as the political and militant movement for Sikh independent state in India wound down, Dr. Aulakh has remained steadfast in his activism. It should be noted that several cases of rights abuses of the Sikhs that he initially highlighted and were denied by the Indian government, were later accepted broadly as being true. A notable such case is that of Jaswant Singh Khalra who was abducted by the Punjab Police in 1995. He was later summarily executed by the authorities. Though abduction and summary executions were a widespread phenomena in Punjab in the 1990s, this case was exceptional as Mr. Khalra was a notable human rights activist who had uncovered evidence of extrajudicial killings of Sikh youth. It took 16 years, but in 2011 the Indian Supreme Court upheld the convictions of the police officers and pointedly criticized the brutality of Indian authorities.
Opposition by India and Indian Groups
Starting in the late 1980s, especially after the House hearings related to HR 4653 in 1991, the Indian Embassy and the pro-India groups became much more active against the Sikhs' lobbying efforts in the US. This opposition had little effect as India, at the same time, kept stonewalling the international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It is interesting that coincidental with the U.S. Congress's legislative actions that became more assertive around this time, India finally started historic economic liberalization steps in 1991. This ultimately led to increased access to India by the human rights organizations; though the human rights abuses at the hands of police forces have continued.
Dr. Aulakh's all-too-evident zeal has often been the target of the Indian opponents. In one case, Dr. Aulakh faced accusations of obtaining signatures by deception in 2002 from US House Foreign Policy Aides when a publication on US Congress, The Hill stated that a legislative assistant to a Republican Congressman misled her office by implying to a staff member that the Congressman, John Shimkus, had agreed to sign a letter to the President calling for release of political prisoners in India.
The Senior legislative assistant stated that Dr. Aulakh had already printed the letter with the name of the Congressman leaving a staff member to assume that the office had agreed to sign it. The same publication also quoted one aide with ties to the 131-member Congressional India Caucus as saying that Dr. Aulakh had been getting away with tricking staffers into signing letters for several years.
Based on several interviews with Dr. Aulakh over 2015-2017(1984 Living History interview), he has been driven by the principle of self-determination of the Sikhs in their ancestral land of Punjab. Having seen the trauma of the 1947 partition of Punjab at the age of 10, and then having seen Punjabi Sikhs' demands for greater economic and political freedom for the Punjab state as well as other states receive no consideration from the all-powerful central government of India, he became increasingly disenchanted. The military attack on the Golden Temple in 1984 was the last straw that caused him to give up a successful research position and devote the rest of his productive life to the cause of self-determination for the Sikhs.
- SIKH PARLEY: 'WE ARE UNITED, WE ARE ANGRY', New York Times. July 29, 1984.
- Sikh Struggle for Khalistan, International Sikh Organization, 2013. ISBN 978-0-9889370-0-0
- Varsha Bhosle (2000-11-13). "Hidden Patterns". Rediff.com. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- Aziz Haniffa (2001-06-02). "Helms' exit is good news for India". Rediff.com. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- "Legislation Takes on Human Rights Abuses in India". Scoop Issue 169. The National Center for Public Policy Research. 1997-07-03. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- "Dan Burton Withdraws Anti-India Measure". Rediff.com. 1999-08-03. Retrieved 2008-03-20.
- HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN PUNJAB: USE AND ABUSE OF THE LAW, Report by Amnesty International, 1990. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/196000/asa200111991ar.pdf
- A. Balu (3 May 2002). "‘Khalistan’ lobbyist ‘tricks’ US lawmakers". Chandigarh: The Tribune. Retrieved 2008-03-20.