Why Canada is becoming the focus of India’s concerns about the Sikh separatist movement

Why Canada is becoming the focus of India’s concerns about the Sikh separatist movement

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s unprecedented and explosive allegation that the Indian authorities had a hand within the June killing of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Canada discovered itself on the centre of a geopolitical rift that has affected different worldwide gamers with ties to India. 

India has denied Trudeau’s allegations and since branded Canada a “protected haven for terrorists, extremists” and “anti-India actions.” It additionally accused Nijjar, who actively supported the push for an unbiased Sikh state within the Punjab area of India referred to as Khalistan, of main a militant separatist group. His supporters reject this declare.

In the meantime, Canada’s allies within the 5 Eyes intelligence-sharing community, together with the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, are weighing their subsequent strikes because the political fallout from Trudeau’s accusation continues. 

The historical past of tensions surrounding the Khalistan motion in India and overseas goes again a long time, however consultants say Canada is seen because the nation the place the motion is the strongest, and consequently, has drawn sharp criticisms from India, particularly within the face of Trudeau’s allegations that India was concerned in Nijjar’s killing.

WATCH | All in regards to the Khalistan motion: 

What’s Khalistan? A take a look at the motion for an unbiased Sikh state

Featured VideoSome Sikhs have traditionally been searching for an unbiased Sikh homeland in northern India referred to as Khalistan. Consultants say the historical past of the motion is advanced, emotional and evolving.

No consensus amongst Sikhs on independence

India elevating issues about what it calls “Sikh extremism” isn’t new, and neither is Canada’s response. 

In 2012, India’s overseas minister raised the problem of “the revival of anti-India rhetoric in Canada” with then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was visiting the nation. Whereas Harper stated Canada was a supporter of a united India, he refused to silence peaceable pro-Khalistan discourse. 

“We are able to’t intervene with the appropriate of political freedom of expression,” Harper stated, noting that the motion was marginal inside the Indian diaspora in Canada.  

Trudeau echoed Harper’s response when he was questioned in regards to the presence of Sikh Khalistani militants in Canada on the G20 in New Delhi final month. 

Canadian prime minister walks by India's prime minister.
Trudeau walks previous Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sept. 9 on the G20 summit in New Delhi, the place he was questioned about Sikh Khalistani militants in Canada. He stated Canada would ‘forestall violence and push again in opposition to hatred,’ however famous the actions of some don’t characterize the whole Sikh neighborhood. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“We’re at all times there to forestall violence and push again in opposition to hatred,” the prime minister stated. However he additionally famous that the actions of some don’t characterize the whole Sikh neighborhood in Canada. 

Canada has the biggest Sikh inhabitants outdoors of India, with about 770,000 folks, or about 2.1 per cent of the nation’s inhabitants. In different 5 Eyes international locations, Sikhs represent lower than one per cent of the inhabitants.

Whereas Canada could have a relatively massive Sikh inhabitants, there’s no consensus inside the neighborhood on the necessity for an unbiased Sikh state, based on Baljit Nagra, an affiliate professor of criminology specializing in race relations on the College of Ottawa.

“There’s solely a small portion of the neighborhood that helps Khalistan,” she stated. 

That assist started rising within the Eighties following lethal anti-Sikh riots in India. That helped  spur nearer connections between the Khalistan motion in India and Canada, based on Satwinder Bains, the director of the South Asian Research Institute on the College of the Fraser Valley in B.C. 

Bains says Canada’s give attention to multiculturalism somewhat than assimilation has allowed Sikhs who immigrate right here to retain their tradition and preserve shut ties to family members and political actions again dwelling, even throughout occasions of strife and unrest. 

WATCH | Canada’s connection to the Khalistan motion 

why canada is becoming the focus of indias concerns about the sikh separatist movement 2

Canada’s connection to the Khalistan motion

Featured VideoThe Nationwide breaks down Canada’s connection to the motion calling for an unbiased Sikh state often called Khalistan and the way it contributed to tensions between Canada and India even earlier than Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed. Plus, CBC’s Salimah Shivji explains how the Khalistan motion resonates in India.

Within the case of Sikh separatism, that has, at occasions, included sending a reimbursement dwelling to assist extra militant arms of the Khalistan motion, she says.

Canadian Sikhs are additionally lively in Canadian politics and have promoted their causes on the nationwide political stage. That has generally helped elevate sure causes that India would like to disregard.     

As an illustration, federal NDP Chief Jagmeet Singh, who’s Sikh, spent a lot of his early political profession as an MP in Ontario lobbying the province to acknowledge India’s 1984 anti-Sikh riots as an act of genocide. 

A movement condemning the riots as a genocide was handed in Ontario in 2017. In 2018, Singh, who had by then change into the federal NDP chief, stated the identical must be completed on the federal stage. The federal authorities has up to now not completed this. 

A group of men in turbans hold signs and stomp on a cutout of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the ground.
Khalistan supporters stomp on a cardboard cutout of Modi throughout a protest on the Consulate Common of India in Toronto final month. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

India involved about violent symbolism

Throughout a current go to to Washington, D.C., Indian Exterior Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar stated violent acts by Sikh separatists have been “normalized in Canada within the title of freedom of speech.” 

“We don’t assume freedom of speech extends to incitement of violence, that’s a misuse of freedom; it’s not a defence of freedom,” he stated.

Neilesh Bose, an affiliate professor of historical past on the College of Victoria, says India takes situation with the violent symbolism generally displayed by these within the separatist motion. For instance, India’s overseas minister criticized Canada over a float in a June parade in Brampton, Ont., that portrayed the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards. 

There have additionally been a number of protests outdoors Indian consulates in Canada this 12 months that noticed demonstrators burn Indian flags and stomp on cardboard cutouts of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

A man wearing glasses stands in a park.
Neilesh Bose, a South Asian historical past professor on the College of Victoria, says if Canada might deal with the extremism India sees as a menace, it might assist calm India’s fears. (Submitted by Neilesh Bose)

​​”I feel the menace posed to India is usually exaggerated,” Bose stated, “however India holds causes to view the motion the best way it does, particularly given the longer historical past of the Khalistani motion and occasions such because the Air India bombing of 1985.”

Makes an attempt inside the Sikh diaspora to push for independence have been made by extra official channels reminiscent of referendums.   

The professional-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which India has designated a terrorist group, has organized a number of unofficial referendums in Canada and different international locations asking if an unbiased Sikh homeland must be created in northern India. 

The group says it intends to deliver outcomes to the United Nations to garner assist for Sikh self-determination. 

Although some consultants say the referendums gained’t finally end in any significant change, Rupinder Ok. Liddar, a PhD candidate in political science at McGill College in Montreal, says they’re a technique to categorical political opinion and preserve these within the Sikh separatist motion engaged. 

Having an outlet for such opinions, even when it’s outdoors India, is seen as significantly necessary as a result of, as many consultants have famous, since Modi grew to become prime minister in 2014, his authorities has tried to silence political dissent generally.

“There’s lastly a spot during which they really feel protected to specific their political beliefs, which isn’t essentially the case in Punjab,” Liddar stated.

Reluctance to upset India 

Although Canada’s 5 Eyes allies say they’ve urged India to co-operate within the investigation into Nijjar’s loss of life, the allegations come at a delicate time on the planet, when many international locations don’t wish to threat alienating India.  

To that finish, all the different 5 Eyes international locations have been faster than Canada to make public statements about retaining anti-Indian sentiments in examine.

In July, an assault on the Indian consulate in San Francisco, together with an arson try, prompted the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Individuals to denounce it as a prison offence. 

In March, the Indian Excessive Fee in London was vandalized by pro-Khalistani demonstrators and the Indian flag was changed with a Khalistani one.

NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 09: Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India welcomes Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom to the G20 Leaders' Summit on September 9, 2023 in New Delhi, India. According to Sunak, they are working very closely with the Indian government to tackle what he calls "pro-Khalistani extremism," which Sunak says he won't tolerate.
Modi welcomes British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to the G20 summit on Sept. 9. In accordance with Sunak, his authorities is working very intently with India’s to deal with what he calls ‘pro-Khalistani extremism’ within the U.Ok. (Getty Pictures)

Throughout his go to to the G20 summit in India final month, U.Ok. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated he was working intently with the Indian authorities to deal with “pro-Khalistani extremism.”

To Liddar, such responses show that Western democracies are cautious of damaging their invaluable financial and geopolitical relationships with India.

“A part of talking for or not talking for this situation is being framed as supporting and never supporting the Indian authorities,” she stated.

The College of Victoria’s Bose says that if Canada can proceed its investigation into Nijjar’s killing whereas additionally opposing any parts of extremism India sees as a menace, “it will go a good distance” to calm India’s fears. 

“I feel India may change their perspective,” he stated. 

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