Who was Gajinder Singh Khalsa? Wanted Dal Khalsa leader who hijacked an Air India flight in 1981 dies aged 74

Gajinder Singh Khalsa reportedly passed away from a heart attack while undergoing treatment in a hospital in Pakistan.

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Gajinder Singh Khalsa, the founder and patron of the Dal Khalsa, reportedly passed away on Thursday in a hospital in Pakistan from a heart attack aged seventy-four. His death was announced by Pakistani seperatists however Dal Khalsa has not yet declared his passing.  He is survived by his daughter. Khalsa was an important icon for the Khalistani movement and his passing has left a lasting mark. This raises the question who was Gajinder Singh Khalsa? Here is what we know:

Who was Gajinder Singh Khalsa?

Khalsa was one of the five men from the once-banned Dal Khalsa organization who took control of Indian Airlines flight IC-423 on September 29, 1981, as it took off from Delhi's Palam airport toward Srinagar. With 111 passengers and 6 crew members on board, they hijacked an Indian Airlines flight and made it land in Lahore in order to demand the release of multiple Khalistani extremists, including Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

A Pakistani court ordered their arrest and incarceration from September 30, 1981, to October 31, 1994, as part of their life sentence. The Dal Khalsa was banned by the Centre in 1982 following the hijacking, and ten years later they were permitted to resume its overland operations. In January 2002, the Central government also requested Gajinder Singh Khalsa's extradition from Pakistan and placed his name on the list of 20 "most wanted." Two of the hijackers went back to India after their release in 1994, while the remaining three, including Gajinder chose to remain there.

Singh lived alone in Nankana Sahib, where he owned house and farmland, and under state security. After the assassination of Khalistan Commando Force chief Paramjit Singh Panjwar in May last year in Lahore, the Pakistan government shifted Singh to a state guest house to enhance his security.

The highest temporal seat of the Sikhs, the Akal Takht, awarded Gajinder Singh Khalsa the title of a "Sikh Warrior in Exile" in 2020. Akal Takht Spokesperson had claimed that while Dal Khalsa had hijacked the plane, they were not carrying any firearms, nor did they harm any of the passengers. 

Since his release from Pakistani prison in 1995, Singh was living in exile. His wife Manjit Kaur passed away many years ago while his daughter Bikramjit Kaur lives in the United Kingdom.