The tensions between Canada and India have reached new proportions with the duel of diplomatic expulsions and the accusation of involvement of the Indian government in the murder of a sikh activist on Canadian territory.
The dispute revolves around sikh independence movement or of Khalistan. India has repeatedly accused Canada of supporting the movement, which is banned in India but is supported by the Sikh diaspora.
Last Monday, the Canadian Prime MinisterJustin Trudeaudescribed in Parliament what he described as credible accusations that India was connected to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. The Indian government refuted any involvement in Nijjar’s murder and claimed that Canada was trying to divert attention from Khalistan activists.
These are some details about the case:
What is the Khalistan movement?
He sikh independence movement of India became a bloody armed insurgency that shook the country in the decades of 1970 and 1980. It focused on the northern state of Punjabwhere Sikhs are the majority, although they represent around 1.7% of India’s population.
The insurgency lasted more than a decade and was annihilated by a Indian government offensive in which thousands of people were killed, including several prominent Sikh leaders.
According to advocacy groups human rightshundreds of young Sikhs were also killed in police operations, many in prisons or in simulated shootings.
In 1984the Indian armed forces stormed the Golden Temple —the holiest shrine of Sikhism—located in Amritsar, to expel the separatists who had taken refuge there. In the operation around 400 people diedaccording to official figures, but Sikh groups report thousands of murders.
Among those who lost their lives was the militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwaleaccused by the Indian government of directing the armed insurgency.
On October 31, 1984, the prime minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered the operation against the temple, was murdered by two of her bodyguards, who were Sikhs.
His death sparked a series of riots against the Sikhs, in which mobs of Hindus went house to house in northern India, especially in New Delhidriving Sikhs out of their homes, hacking many to death and burning others alive.
Is the movement still alive?
There is currently no active insurgency in Punjab, but the Khalistan movement He still enjoys some support in the state, as well as among the extensive Sikh diaspora. The Indian government has repeatedly warned over the years that Sikh separatists were attempting to stage a takeover.
The Prime Minister’s Government Narendra Modi It has also intensified the persecution of Sikh separatists and arrested dozens of leaders of different organizations linked to the movement.
When, in 2020, farmers camped on the outskirts of New Delhi to protest against the controversial farm laws, the government of Modi initially tried to discredit the Sikh participants by calling them “Khalistanis”. Under pressure, the Modi government ended up withdrawing the laws.
This year, the indian police detained a separatist leader who had revived demands for Khalistan, raising fears of possible outbreaks of violence in Punjab. Amritpal Singh, a 30-year-old preacher, had captured national attention for his fiery speeches. His inspiration, he said, had been Bhindranwale.
What is the movement like outside India?
India has asked countries like Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to take legal action against Sikh activists, and Modi has personally raised the issue with the prime ministers of those nations.
India has expressed concern especially to Canada, where Sikhs make up almost 2% of the country’s population.
Earlier this year, Sikh protesters tore down the Indian flag at the country’s embassy in London and destroyed the building’s window in a show of anger over the capture of Amritpal Singh. Other protesters also broke windows of the Indian consulate in San Francisco and confronted the embassy employees.
The Indian Foreign Ministry denounced the incidents and summoned the United Kingdom’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi to protest what it called a breach of security at the embassy in London.
The Indian government also accused Khalistan supporters in Canada of vandalizing Hindu temples with “anti-India” graffiti and attacking the offices of the Indian high commissioner in Ottawa during a protest in March.
Last year, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, a Sikh militant leader and head of the Khalistan Commando Force, was shot dead in Pakistan.
(With information from The Associated Press)