Why India fears the Khalistan motion and the way Canada grew to become embroiled in diplomatic spat over killing of Sikh separatist

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Why India fears the Khalistan motion and the way Canada grew to become embroiled in diplomatic spat over killing of Sikh separatist

India and Canada have engaged in tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions as a part of an escalating row over the killing of a Sikh separatist chief on Canadian soil.

The expulsions comply with claims by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that there are “credible allegations” linking the Indian authorities of Narendra Modi with the loss of life of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Nijjar, a outstanding member of the Khalistan motion looking for to create an unbiased Sikh homeland within the Indian state of Punjab, was shot useless on June 18, 2023, exterior a Sikh cultural heart in Surrey, British Columbia.

With tensions between the 2 nations rising, The Dialog reached out to Mark Juergensmeyer – an skilled on spiritual violence and Sikh nationalism – on the College of California, Santa Barbara, to convey context to a diplomatic spat few noticed coming.

1. What’s the Khalistan motion?

“Khalistan” means “the land of the pure,” although on this context the time period “khalsa” refers broadly to the spiritual neighborhood of Sikhs, and the time period “Khalistan” implies that they need to have their very own nation. The doubtless location for this nation could be in Punjab state in northern India the place 18 million Sikhs dwell. An extra 8 million Sikhs dwell elsewhere in India and overseas, primarily within the U.Ok., the U.S. and Canada.

The concept for an unbiased land for Sikhs goes again to pre-partition India, when the idea of a separate land for Muslims in India was being thought-about.

Some Sikhs at the moment thought that if Muslims might have “Pakistan” – the state that emerged by way of partition in 1947 – then there also needs to be a “Sikhistan,” or “Khalistan.” That concept was rejected by the Indian authorities, and as a substitute the Sikhs grew to become part of the state of Punjab. At the moment the boundaries of the Punjab have been drawn in such a manner that the Sikhs weren’t within the majority.

However Sikhs endured, partially as a result of one of many central tenets of the religion is “miri-piri” – the concept that spiritual and political management are merged. Of their 500-year historical past, Sikhs have had their very own kingdom, have fought in opposition to Moghul rule and constituted the spine of the military beneath India’s colonial and unbiased rule.

Within the Sixties, the thought of a separate homeland for Sikhs reemerged and fashioned a part of the demand for redrawing the boundaries of Punjab state in order that Sikhs could be within the majority. The protests have been profitable, and the Indian authorities created Punjabi Suba, a state whose boundaries included audio system of the Punjabi language utilized by most Sikhs. They now compose 58% of the inhabitants of the revised Punjab.

The notion of a “Khalistan” separate from India resurfaced in a dramatic manner within the large-scale militant rebellion that erupted within the Punjab within the Nineteen Eighties. Lots of these Sikhs who joined the militant motion did so as a result of they wished an unbiased Sikh nation, not only a Sikh-majority Indian state.

2. Why is the Indian authorities particularly involved about it now?

The Sikh rebellion within the Nineteen Eighties was a violent encounter between the Indian armed police and militant younger Sikhs, a lot of whom nonetheless harbored a craving for a separate state in Punjab.

Sikh chief Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, seated heart, along with his followers in Amritsar, on April 17, 1984.
AP Photograph/Sondeep Shanker

Hundreds of lives have been misplaced on each side in violent encounters between the Sikh militants and safety forces. The battle got here to a head in 1984 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi launched Operation Blue Star to liberate the Sikh’s Golden Temple from militants within the pilgrimage heart of Amritsar and seize or kill the figurehead of the Khalistan motion, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. He was killed within the assault, and Sikhs around the globe have been incensed that their sacred place was violated by police motion. Indira Gandhi was assassinated in retaliation by Sikh members of her personal bodyguard.

In recent times, a number of firebrand Sikh activists in India have reasserted the thought of Khalistan, and the Indian authorities fears a return of the violence and militancy of the Nineteen Eighties. The federal government of Narendra Modi needs to nip the motion within the bud earlier than it will get too massive and excessive.

3. What’s the connection between the Khalistan motion and Canada?

After the Sikh rebellion was crushed within the early Nineties, many Sikh activists fled India and went to Canada, the place they have been welcomed by a big Sikh neighborhood – a lot of whom had been sympathetic to the Khalistan concept. A large expatriate neighborhood of Sikhs has been rising within the nation for the reason that early twentieth century, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario.

Sikhs have been interested in Canada not solely due to its financial alternatives but additionally due to the liberty to develop their very own concepts of Sikh neighborhood. Although help for Khalistan is unlawful in India, in Canada Sikh activists are capable of converse freely and manage for the trigger.

Although Khalistan could be in India, the Canadian motion in favor of it helps to cement the diaspora Sikh id and provides the Canadian activists a way of connection to the Indian homeland.

4. Has the Canadian authorities been sympathetic to the Khalistan motion?

The diaspora neighborhood of Sikhs constitutes 2.1% of Canada’s inhabitants – the next share of the whole inhabitants than in India. They make up a big voting block within the nation and carry political clout. In actual fact, there are extra Sikhs in Canada’s cupboard than in India’s.

Though Trudeau has assured the Indian authorities that any acts of violence might be punished, he additionally has reassured Canadians that he respects free speech and the rights of Sikhs to talk and manage freely so long as they don’t violate Canadian legal guidelines.

5. What’s the broader context of Canada-India relations?

The Bharata Janata Get together, or BJP, of India’s Prime Minister Modi tends to help Hindu nationalism.

Just lately, the Modi authorities used “Bharat” quite than “India” when referring to the nation whereas internet hosting the G20 convention, attended by President Joe Biden, amongst different world dignitaries. “Bharat” is the choice of Hindu nationalists. This privileging, together with a rise in hate crimes, has led to an surroundings of concern and mistrust amongst minorities, together with Sikhs and Muslims, in India.

Contemplating the excessive share of Sikhs in Canada’s inhabitants, Trudeau understandably needs to claim the rights of Sikhs and present disapproval of the drift towards Hindu nationalism in India.

And this isn’t the one time that Trudeau and Modi have clashed over the problem. In 2018, Trudeau was condemned in India for his friendship with Jaspal Singh Atwal, a Khalistani supporter in Canada who was convicted of making an attempt to assassinate the chief minister of Punjab.

But each nations have causes to attempt to transfer on from the present diplomatic contretemps. India and Canada have shut buying and selling ties and customary strategic issues with relationship to China. It’s doubtless that, in time, each side will discover methods to chill down the tensions from this tough incident.


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