India: Sikhs protest in Amritsar after Canada's allegations

Sikhs gathered outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar demanding punishment for the killers of a Sikh separatist in Canada

The protesters held placards demanding, among other things, 'truthful answers' from Prime Minister Narendra Modi after Canada alleged the Indian government was involved in the killing (photo: DW)
The protesters held placards demanding, among other things, 'truthful answers' from Prime Minister Narendra Modi after Canada alleged the Indian government was involved in the killing (photo: DW)


Hundreds of Sikh activists on Friday, 29 September staged a demonstration outside the Golden Temple in Amritsar, in the northern Indian state of Punjab, demanding punishment for the killers of a Sikh separatist shot dead in Canada.

What issue were they protesting?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot and killed in July this year in the parking lot of a Sikh temple in British Columbia, a quarter of a century after he left India following the death of his father, also a Sikh separatist leader.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month told parliament that there may be a link between the Indian government and the murder. Nijjar had been declared a terror suspect by India in 2020.

This prompted stern responses from India, which described Ottawa's allegations and plans for an investigation as "absurd."

Narendra Modi's government temporarily suspended visa processing for Canadians and issued a travel warning either for Indians in Canada or people planning a trip there, seemingly in response to the accusations. Both countries sent a diplomat home, in a tit-for-tat move.

Canada has not yet provided any evidence to back up its suspicion, but Trudeau did say when challenged that his government's decision to make its suspicions public was not "taken lightly."

The country is home to both a large Indian diaspora and a large Sikh community that emigrated from India.

Demonstration at Sikhism' holiest site

Holding posters of Nijjar, and placards often with English language slogans, the protesters called on Delhi to stop extrajudicial operations against separatists seeking an independent state in Punjab or part of that majority-Sikh region that spans India's border with Pakistan.

"It is time and opportunity for New Delhi to talk with Sikh leadership," said Paramjit Singh Mand, a leader of Dal Khalsa, the group, which is advocating for a separate Sikh homeland and organized the protest.

Sikhs make up just under 2% of India's population, according to the government's most recent census, with Sikhism the country's fourth most prevalent religion after Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. However, Sikhs also make up the majority of the population in the Punjab area of northern India and southern Pakistan. Some seek an independent nation known as Khalistan, to be located on some or all of this territory.

Canada's allegations, and the stern response from New Delhi, thrust an often forgotten issue back into an international spotlight several weeks after Nijjar's death passed with only relatively muted coverage outside Canada.

"We thank the Canadian government for exposing the Indian design, how India is operating on foreign soil, intervening in
Canadian affairs," said Kanwar Pal, political affairs secretary of the group.

Indian foreign minister says he raised the issue during US visit

Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar was just south of Canada's borders on Friday, visiting Washington DC.

He said that he had discussed the issue with US State Secretary Anthony Blinken and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during his visit.

Speaking at an event at the Hudson Institute think tank, Jaishankar said, "They shared US views and assessments on this whole situation, and I explained to them at some length ... a summary of the concerns which I had."

A US State Department readout on the visit made no mention of this issue, but a US official on Thursday confirmed that Blinken had discussed the matter with Jaishankar and urged India to cooperate with Canada's investigation.

"Our response to [Trudeau], both in private and public, was that what he was alleging was not consistent with our policy," Jaishankar said. "And that if his government had anything relevant and specific they would like us to look into, we were open to looking at it. Now, that's where that conversation is at this point in time."

He described the issue as "an issue of great friction" in India's ties to Canada over many years, one that for a while "became dormant," but that had again flared up in the last few years, "because of what we consider to be a very permissive Canadian attitude towards terrorists, extremists, people who advocate violence."

Jaishankar said such people originally from India had been given an "operating space" in Canada.

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Published: 30 Sep 2023, 9:00 AM