Sikhs protest outside Indian missions in Canada over leader’s murder

Published September 26, 2023
Demonstrators rally in support of Khalistan, an advocated independent Sikh homeland, in Toronto on September 25, 2023, following the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. — AFP
Demonstrators rally in support of Khalistan, an advocated independent Sikh homeland, in Toronto on September 25, 2023, following the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. — AFP

TORONTO: Canadian Sikhs staged protests outside India’s diplomatic missions on Monday, a week after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there may be a link between New Delhi and the murder of a Sikh separatist advocate in British Columbia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a week ago stood in parliament to say that domestic intelligence agencies were actively pursuing credible allegations tying New Delhi’s agents to the shooting of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in June.

About 100 protesters in Toronto burned an Indian flag and struck a cardboard cut-out of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with a shoe. About 200 protesters also gathered outside the Vancouver consulate.

 Demonstrators use their shoes to hit a placard depicting Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during a Sikh rally outside the Consulate General of India, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 25, following the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.— AFP
Demonstrators use their shoes to hit a placard depicting Indian prime minister Narendra Modi during a Sikh rally outside the Consulate General of India, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on September 25, following the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.— AFP

In Ottawa, fewer than 100 people gathered in front of the Indian High Commissioner’s office (embassy) in the capital. They waved yellow flags marked with the world “Khalistan”, a reference to their support for making India’s Punjab region an independent state for Sikhs, a cause Nijjar campaigned for.

“We are really thankful to Justin Trudeau… We want no stone left unturned to get to the bottom of this cowardly act,” protester Reshma Singh Bolinas said in Ottawa. Canada should put pressure on India to “stop the killing of innocent people in future.”

Canada is home to about 770,000 Sikhs — the highest population of Sikhs outside their home state of Punjab — and in recent years there have been many demonstrations that have irked India.

India labelled Trudeau’s allegations “absurd”. It warned travellers last week that there were growing “anti-India activities” in Canada, urging “utmost caution” but did not provide evidence or details of specific incidents.

The allegations have put a spotlight on Canada’s Sikh community. Sikhs make up just two per cent of India’s 1.4 billion population, but they are a majority in Punjab, a state of 30 million where their religion was born 500 years ago.

“The Indian government used dirty tactics and compromised the sovereignty of Canada,” said Kuljeet Singh, a protester in Toronto and a member of the group Sikhs for Justice.

Canada’s accusations have sparked tit-for-tat retaliation, with each nation expelling diplomats and New Delhi suspending visas for Canadians.

Some of the protesters in both Toronto and Ottawa called for the expulsion of the Indian High Commissioner (ambassador) to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, who earlier said authorities have been informed of the protests and were providing security.

Nijjar, who worked as a plumber, left the north Indian state of Punjab a quarter-century ago and became a Canadian citizen. He has supported the formation of an independent Sikh homeland. India designated him a “terrorist” in July 2020.

The Canadian government has amassed both human and signals intelligence in a months-long investigation into the Sikh separatist leader, CBC News reported last week, citing unidentified sources.

Published in Dawn, September 26th, 2023

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