Bitter India-Canada Relations: Implications for Sikhs in Punjab


India-Canada Relations: Indian Sikhs Want Canada Related Tensions To Ease | PM Modi | Justin Trudeau - YouTube

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by Hammad Baloch        30 October 2023

The tragic murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist in Canada, has escalated into a bitter and highly contentious dispute between India and Canada. This diplomatic feud not only threatens to strain relations between these two nations but also holds significant implications for the Sikh community in Punjab, as well as those who aspire to migrate to Canada. In this article, we will delve deeper into the ongoing crisis and its wider implications, exploring how it intertwines with the complex historical and political dynamics of the region.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who left India a quarter-century ago, met a tragic end in June outside a temple in a Vancouver suburb. He was known for his role as a separatist leader among the Sikh community in Canada. The case took a dramatic turn when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the startling assertion that there were “credible allegations” of Indian government involvement in Nijjar’s killing. India vehemently rejected these allegations, sparking a series of punitive measures.

The Sikh community in India makes up a mere 2% of the country’s massive population. However, Punjab, where Sikhism was born 500 years ago, is home to the majority of Sikhs, with a population of 30 million. For many Sikhs in Punjab, this diplomatic row has raised concerns of a potential backlash from India’s Hindu-nationalist government. The fear of deteriorating economic prospects in the state is also a cause for concern. Once known as the prosperous breadbasket of India, Punjab has been surpassed by states that have focused on manufacturing, services, and technology over the last two decades.

For many Punjabi families, the dream of sending their sons and daughters to Canada has become increasingly attractive. Agriculture in Punjab has lost its allure as a lucrative profession. In 2022, India became the largest source of international students in Canada, with numbers surging by 47%. The uncertainty brought about by the diplomatic feud now raises questions about whether Canada will continue to offer student visas to Indian students.

Tensions between Sikh groups in Punjab and India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government have been ongoing since Sikh farmers led year-long protests against farm deregulation in 2020. The government’s decision to withdraw the controversial measure in the face of these protests was a rare political defeat for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Many Sikh activists and youth now claim that the government has fostered an “atmosphere of fear,” making it difficult for young people to participate in protests. The fear of repercussions akin to Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder in Canada looms large.

The long-standing demand for Khalistan, a Sikh homeland, continues to be a contentious issue. While India has officially suppressed the insurgent movement, embers from this struggle still smolder. Some argue that the pursuit of Khalistan is a fight for self-determination and the right to a plebiscite in Punjab. Meanwhile, the BJP maintains that there is no significant wave of support for independence in Punjab and that such demands pose a threat to India.

The diplomatic standoff between India and Canada serves as a microcosm of the larger debate over human rights, sovereignty, and self-determination. For Sikhs in Punjab, it raises questions about their place within the Indian state, their cultural identity, and their economic future. It also highlights the delicate balance of international diplomacy and how statements from world leaders can have far-reaching consequences.

The diplomatic row between India and Canada following the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar underscores the complex interplay of political, historical, and social factors. The Sikh community in Punjab finds itself at a crossroads, caught between aspirations for a better life in Canada and the need to address economic challenges in their homeland. It remains to be seen how these tensions will evolve, but they undoubtedly shed light on the enduring quest for justice, identity, and autonomy in a rapidly changing global landscape. The world watches with interest as the situation unfolds, hoping for a resolution that respects the rights and aspirations of all parties involved.