THE first ever non-governmental global referendum will be held from October 31. It will involve Sikhs worldwide voting on whether they want an independent Sikh homeland to be located in the Punjab in India.

The Punjab Referendum Commission, a group of experts in direct democracy, announced in London yesterday that the referendum will be held across 20 countries on four continents including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and in the region of Punjab currently governed by India.

Although a non-governmental and non-binding referendum, the result will be used as the basis for the Sikh community to request an official binding vote from the United Nations on establishing the Indian-governed region of Punjab as an independent homeland for the indigenous people of whom Sikhs are the single largest group.

READ MORE: PROFILE: Sikhs across the world to vote on Punjab independence

The main driving force for the referendum is Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which says it is “an international advocacy and human rights group set up in 2007 with the express intent of achieving self-determination for the Sikh people in their historic homeland in the region of Indian held Punjab and establishing a sovereign state, popularly known as Khalistan.”

India has been joined by the UK and Canadian Government in stating that Punjab is Indian and will stay that way, but the campaigners hope to follow the examples of Bougainville, which voted for independence in a referendum, and South Sudan which achieved independence and status of a UN member country through a referendum administered by the UN 10 years ago.

Dane Waters, chair of the Punjab Referendum Commission, said: “We want to ensure that it is possible to conduct a referendum as consistent with international norms as possible.”

Professor Matt Quortrup, member of the Punjab Referendum Commission, added: “We are neutral observers. We believe democracy must be done, justice must be done.

“Our only interest is to make sure the process is fair, just, reasonable and democratic. It is appropriate that the first of the referenda is starting in the UK because the UK is, in some ways, responsible for the situation in India.

“It therefore has symbolic importance.”

Paul Jacob, member of the Punjab Referendum Commission, added: “It’s not about changing a law or government status, it’s about people expressing themselves and speaking out. The more people can participate the better. It’s important for people to realise that there are ways to speak out and deal with issues that are difficult. The best way to do it is through a democratic referendum.”

The campaigners said in a press release: "The Indian government has tried to dismiss the movement for Khalistan as a demand by a small and fringe group and unsuccessfully lobbied the UK government to ban it from holding rallies and events. The mass participation in the referendum will show the depth and breadth of support for independence among Sikhs and other indigenous people of Indian Punjab.

“According to legal opinion an independence referendum is legally acceptable when a government “persistently refuse to grant participatory rights to a religious or racial group, grossly and systematically trample upon their fundamental rights”.

Prior to launching the Referendum 2020 campaign, SFJ worked to seek justice for the victims of the November 1984 anti-Sikh genocidal violence in which more than 30,000 Sikhs were killed throughout India in a span of a few days.

SFJ’s efforts were focused on holding the perpetrators of the 1984 genocide responsible under international law.