Who was and how was the Sikh separatist leader murdered, for whose crime Canada blames India?

A mural shows the image of the late Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was assassinated in June 2023 in Canada (REUTERS/Chris Helgren/file) (CHRIS HELGREN/)

The Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjarwho had long fought for a separate homeland for his faithful, was assassinated in June near Vancouver, sparking a Diplomatic storm between India and Canada.

Indian authorities were looking for Nijjar for alleged terrorism crimes and conspiracy to commit murder, which he had denied to the Canadian media.

Little is known about his early years. He was born in 1977 in the Indian state of Punjabspiritual heart of the Sikh religion, where almost 60 percent of the population professes this faith.

When he was still a child, he Punjab was the scene of a violent insurgency carried out by extremists who sought to create a sovereign Sikh nation from the state.

Nijjar came to Canada when he was about 20 years oldin 1997, after Indian security forces controlled the insurgency.

The time of which Nijjar was president of a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, near Vancouver.  (REUTERS/Chris Helgren)
The time of which Nijjar was president of a gurdwara, or Sikh temple, near Vancouver. (REUTERS/Chris Helgren) (CHRIS HELGREN/)

The Canadian media Global News reported, citing immigration records from Nijjarthat he used a fraudulent passport to enter the country, which is home to the largest community of Sikhs outside of India.

He later ran a plumbing business and was president of a gurdwaraor Sikh temple, near Vancouver.

At the same time, he became involved in groups campaigning for “Khalistan“, the proposed name for a Sikh homeland.

It is estimated that Nijjar participated in the organization of referendums for the emigrated Sikhs to express their support for the creation of Khalistan.

Despite living in Canada, Indian authorities accused Nijjar of sponsoring numerous attacksmurders and violent acts in their country of origin.

Members of the Sikh community in front of the temple where their leader was murdered in Canada (REUTERS/Chris Helgren)
Members of the Sikh community in front of the temple where their leader was murdered in Canada (REUTERS/Chris Helgren) (CHRIS HELGREN/)

The Indian National Investigation Agency called him a “terrorist” and last year offered a reward of one million rupees ($12,000) for information leading to his arrest.

The media India Today said Nijjar had been accused of participating in a bomb attack in 2007 in which six people were killed and 42 others injured in the city of Ludhiana, not far from their hometown.

India has often complained to foreign governments, including Canada, about the activities of hardline Sikhs in the Indian diaspora who it claims are trying revive Punjab insurgency from the 1980s.

The first Minister Justin Trudeau visited Punjab in 2018where the state chief minister demanded action against Nijjar and eight other Sikh separatist leaders.

Murder and diplomatic storm

Nijjar was shot dead by two masked assailants in June in front of the temple which he presided near his home in Surrey, British Columbia.

Following his death, the World Sikh Organization of Canada stated that the country’s spy agency had warned it of threats against him.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar's funeral on June 25, 2023 (Europa Press/Contact/Darryl Dyck)
Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s funeral on June 25, 2023 (Europa Press/Contact/Darryl Dyck) (Europa Press/Contact/Darryl Dyc/)

Members of Canada’s Sikh community were quick to point the finger at Indiaand the following month several hundred people demonstrated in front of the Indian consulate in Toronto.

The Canadian government publicly backed those claims on Monday, when Trudeau declared in an emergency parliamentary session that his government had “credible allegations” that linked Indian agents to Nijjar’s murder.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Melanie Jollyalso announced the expulsion of a senior official from the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, who had been serving as a diplomat in Canada.

India called accusations of its involvement “absurd” and responded by ordering a Canadian diplomat to leave New Delhi.

The expulsion reflected India’s “growing concern” over the involvement of Canadian diplomats in “anti-India activities,” the country’s foreign ministry said.

(With information from AFP)