The ‘Khalistan Referendum’ has triggered a split among Canadian Indians, according to a MEA advisory

RANKED No. 12, on the 2022 Global Peace Index, Canada is trying to comprehend the recent Indian advisory which identified “a sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada”. The most popular daily in Canada, the Toronto Star, captured the confusion of many people “The language employed by Indian diplomats was that which one might expect to be used more to describe Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan”.

In April the month of April, the Indian pupil, Kartik Vasudev was shot dead in the subway station in front of Toronto. On the month of September, 12 an additional Indian student Satwinder Singh was killed when he was wounded in an attack that resulted in two additional fatalities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). However, it’s not clear whether the attacks were motivated by hatred. Toronto Police say they haven’t noticed a significant rise in hate crimes targeted at those who are of Indian or South Asian descent.

Two Hindu temples within the GTA have been the subject of vandalism over the past few months. In the past, the Khalsa religion school was vandalized in Brampton which is a major city located near Toronto which has the highest percentage of Indians in Canada.

Many believe the catalyst for the advisory comes from the controversial 18 September “Khalistan Referendum” in Brampton that was held by a pro-Khalistan organization Sikhs for Justice (SFJ). The organisers boasted that there were around 100,000 people who attended however, others claimed that the number could be “wildly exaggerated”.

The advisory is seen as a direct rebuke from New Delhi to the Justin Trudeau government, considering Trudeau’s backing for the farmers’ protests in 2020.

The referendum has placed several Sikhs who are seeking to disengage themselves from extremist groups such as those of the SFJ and aren’t typically ardent supporters of the Indian government in a dilemma. In the meantime, the outcomes of the election will be revealed after the vote has taken place at various locations across Canada and across the globe. Apart from Brampton, the vote has already been conducted in locations like London, Rome, and Geneva.

The SFJ declared the advisory “a threat to the freedom of speech and expression of Sikhs in Canada who are supporting the liberation of Punjab”. “The MEA is creating an atmosphere of ‘hate-mongering’ after the Modi regime failed to stop the Khalistan referendum through diplomatic channels,” the SFJ’s general counsel Gurpawant Singh Pannun stated in an official statement.

The SFJ is illegal in India and is believed to have claimed the responsibility for the Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG) attack on Punjab Intelligence headquarters in Mohali in the month of May.

Khalistan has been a long-running conflict among Sikhs as well as Hindus within Canada. Daljit Singh Sekhon, a religious leader who is a Khalistan supporter, claimed there’s no danger of violence from the two groups.

But, Manan Gupta, a Brampton resident who is often quoted in local media about issues of community, claimed that there have been efforts to create a division among people of the Indian diaspora. He mentioned recent threats against a handful of local Punjabi media outlets that are believed to be pro-Indian states.

“The ministry was left with no alternative but to issue a warning to safeguard and protect the interests of Indian citizens. This was also a way to inform Canada to be aware that India will not let its national interests be undermined by the polarisation of votes in the vote bank games played out by Canadian politicians. I doubt we’ll be witnessing Leicester (UK) similar incidents, however, there have been many attempts to cause rifts between the communities. This pattern must be stopped,” Gupta said.

Diaspora politics, during the past few years, has caused conflict in the last few years between Sikhs and Indo-Canadian Hindus. This year, during the peak of farmers protests there were rallies to support them and counter-rallies against the Indian government in Canada.

However, there’s no reason to panic, said Mississauga activist and lawyer Harminder Dhillon, who has resided in Canada for over four decades. “I moved to Canada nearly 37 years ago. It’s a serene welcoming, diverse, and friendly nation. There are some incidents but they’re few and far. I haven’t noticed any rise in the violence against Indians lately,” Dhillon said.

“Regarding the sectarian divide, It’s a painful fact of the diaspora and is linked to the events within South Asia. Are the divisions more pronounced as they have been in past times? It’s difficult to gauge However, it’s true that sometimes there’s tension, and it gets heated up, and then it settles down. Most often time it’s due to things happening in the home country,” Dhillon added.

The attempts to use social media to connect farmer protests with Khalistan and Khalistan – along with previous violence linked to the movement, also discourage some Sikhs who aren’t associated with the secessionist movements, from speaking up about the subject.

“Ontario is home to a Sikh population of 180,000. Of this, 100,000 of them voted for Khalistan as an overstatement. I am a Sikh and I have spoken to thousands of Sikhs throughout the GTA but they did not vote for Khalistan in this referendum.” stated a resident in Brampton who refused to identify himself. “I am proud of my Indian heritage, but I don’t want to be branded as someone supporting the BJP government’s politics,” said the man. declared.

Outside of the Indian diaspora too the warning was a big topic of conversation. An article published in The Globe and Mail noted in the article: “Indian students warned of hate crimes in Canada”. The attention paid to students is crucial since Canada is a popular destination for Indian students.

Based on departmental statistics from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) department the department issued 2,17,410 student visas granted in 2021 to Indians 2021. China with its 1,05,265 student visas, came in an insignificant second.

“Overseas students earn 22, billion dollars (Canadian) each year. According to the Canadian government’s own data show that. International students contribute to more than 170,000 jobs in the middle class. About half of them originate from India by themselves. They’re practically funding Canadian secondary education. If the message is spread that Canada is a dangerous location to Indian pupils, that could cause serious losses in revenue,” an industry observer.

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