MELBOURNE: Several men were injured as a bloody clash broke out between pro-Khalistan activists and BJP-RSS supporters outside the Shaheed Satwant Singh-Shaheed Kehar Singh Khalistan Referendum voting centre.
The police had to deploy pepper spray on five protestors to break the scuffles in the middle of the road outside the centre, disrupting traffic and causing chaos.
During mid-day as thousands queued to vote for Khalistan Referendum, a group of Hindu men believed to be linked with the local BJP arrived outside the centre waving Indian flags to disrupt the voting process. They were carrying sticks with Indian flags and raising slogans against the Khalistan movement and Sikhs.
Several videos circulated in the media showed at least two men with injuries to their heads. One video showed a man bleeding while a police officer stood next to him. A witness said that the man with his group of three had started a fight with Sikh voters outside the centre. “The group started using abusive language and then the Sikhs repulsed the attack. In the fightback, two men were injured while the other two fled the scene,” said a witness. He shared that both men were bleeding heavily and were taken in an ambulance to the hospital.
In another incident, a video went viral showing a man with Indian Tiranga launching an attack on Sikh voters and then being repulsed. The footage shows him running on foot from the scene, leaving behind his mate in the car, and disappearing after being counter-attacked by the Sikh youth.
There are reports of a third clash near the Flinders Street station where Sikhs queued all day at the voting centre to cast their votes. According to witnesses a third group of BJP-RSS-linked men abused Sikh voters who responded and the attackers fled. There were no injuries, said local witnesses.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Sikhs For Justice Counsel General condemned the attack on Shaheed Satwant Singh-Shaheed Kehar Singh Khalistan Referendum voting centre.
“Hindu Supremacist attack to disrupt the peaceful and democratic Khalistan Referendum voting in Melbourne Is backed by Indian High Commissioner and exposes the seeds of hatred to achieve divisive political benefits,” said Pannun.
He added: “The SFJ believes in non-violence to achieve independence while the Modi regime is using violence even overseas to crush the peaceful Khalistan movement.”
Tensions within the Indian community rose in the last three weeks after a spate of graffiti attacks on pro-Khalistan banners and Sikh figures who symbolise Khalistan activism including the revered Shaheed Bhindranwale.
The SFJ reported graffiti attacks on banners and posters being used for the Khalistan Referendum and attacks on posters of Sikh figures who were hanged by the Indian authorities for supporting Khalistan.
Sikh campaigners have accused the Indian govt – through the Indian diplomatic missions – of sponsoring attacks on Khalistan Referendum posters as well as Sikh figures to incite trouble.
The Indian Hindu community said the ISKCON Hare Krishna Temple in Albert Park, Melbourne, was defaced with anti-Hindu slogans with graffiti saying “Hindustan Murdabad”, “Sant Bhindrawale is Martyr” and “Khalistan Zindabad”.
It said a similar attack occurred on the Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Carrum Downs and the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Mill Park.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said his organisation had no idea who was behind attacks on Hindu temples but he released a video showing men vandalising Shaheed Bhindranwale and Khalistan posters. Pannun said that the men linked to vandalism on holy Sikh figures were from hardline Hindutva groups, backed by India, defacing the posters and pictures.
An Australian police spokesman said it was looking into the violent clashes during the Khalistan Referendum. The SFJ said it understood that one man was arrested and taken in handcuffed from the scene.
Sikhs for Justice, the US-based group spearheading the non-binding referendum, has proposed a new state called Khalistan, which would take in the Punjab regions of northern India and Pakistan, as well as parts of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. Those voting on Sunday were asked to answer yes or no to the referendum question, “Should Indian-governed Punjab be an independent country? Yes or 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 130000 in 2016. According to the census of 2021, the number of Hindus in Australia stood at around 700000.