What is the republic of Khalistan, the claim of the Sikhs behind the diplomatic conflict between Canada and India

Mourners carry the coffin of Sikh community leader and temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar during Antim Darshan, the first part of a day-long funeral for him, in Surrey, British Columbia, Sunday, June 25, 2023. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP) (Darryl Dyck/)

Tensions between Canada and India have reached new heights with competing diplomatic expulsions and an allegation of Indian government involvement in the murder of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil.

The dispute centers on the Sikh independence movement, or Khalistan. India has repeatedly accused Canada of supporting the movement, which is banned in India but has support among the Sikh diaspora..

On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau outlined in Parliament what he called credible allegations that India was linked to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June. The Indian government denied any involvement in Nijjar’s murder and also said Canada was trying to divert attention from Khalistan activists there.

What is the Khalistan movement

The Sikh independence movement began as an armed insurgency late 1980s among the Sikhs who demanded a separate homeland. It was centered in the northern state of Punjab, where Sikhs are the majority, although they represent about 1.7% of India’s total population.

The insurgency lasted more than a decade and was suppressed by an Indian government offensive in which thousands of people, including prominent leaders, were killed.

What to know about the Sikh movement at the center of tensions between India and Canada
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he arrives at the Bharat Mandapam convention center for the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India, Saturday, September 9, 2023. ( AP Photo/Evan Vucci, file) (Evan Vucci/)

Hundreds of young Sikhs also died in police operations, many of which were later proven in court to have been staged, according to human rights groups.

In 1984, Indian forces stormed the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine, in Amritsar to expel separatists who had taken refuge there. The operation killed about 400 people, according to official figures, but Sikh groups say thousands died.

Among the dead was Sikh militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwalewhom the Indian government accused of leading the armed insurgency.

On October 31, 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered the assault on the temple, was assassinated by two of her bodyguards, who were Sikh.

His death sparked a series of anti-Sikh riots, in which Hindu mobs went from house to house throughout northern India, particularly in New Delhi, driving Sikhs from their homes, hacking many to death and burning them alive. to others.

What to know about the Sikh movement at the center of tensions between India and Canada
Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly, left, and Minister of Public Safety, Democratic Institutions and Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc, right, speak to reporters in the lobby of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa , Ont. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press via AP) (Justin Tang/)

Is the movement still active?

Today there is no active insurgency in Punjab, but the Khalistan movement still has some supporters in the state, as well as in the considerable Sikh diaspora beyond India. The Indian government has repeatedly warned over the years that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has also intensified its persecution of Sikh separatists and arrested dozens of leaders of various groups linked to the movement.

When farmers camped on the outskirts of New Delhi to protest against the controversial farm laws in 2020, the Modi government initially tried to discredit the Sikh participants by calling them “Khalistanis”. Under pressure, the Modi government subsequently withdrew the laws.

Earlier this year, Indian police arrested a separatist leader who had revived calls for Khalistan and raised fears of violence in Punjab. Amritpal Singh, a 30-year-old preacher, had captured national attention with his fiery speeches. He said that he was inspired by Bhindranwale.

How strong is the movement in the world?

India has been asking countries like Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom to take legal action against Sikh activists., and Modi has personally raised the issue with the nations’ prime ministers. India has especially raised these concerns with Canada, where Sikhs make up almost 2% of the country’s population.

What to know about the Sikh movement at the center of tensions between India and Canada
Khalistan flags are seen outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib in Surrey, British Columbia, Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, where temple president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead in his vehicle while leaving the temple parking lot in June. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP) (DARRYL DYCK/)

Earlier this year, Sikh protesters tore down the Indian flag outside the country’s high commission in London and smashed the building’s window in a show of anger against the move to arrest Amritpal Singh. Protesters also smashed windows of the Indian consulate in San Francisco and clashed with embassy workers.

India’s foreign ministry denounced the incidents and summoned the UK’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi to protest what it called the 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 Indian High Commission offices 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 AP)