Concern, division among diaspora come to the fore

Sep 22, 2023 12:53 AM IST

A public video by the Khalistani secessionist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) has caused fear among "Hindu Canadians", leading to growing security concerns among the Indian diaspora in Canada. The video, which has since been taken down, showed a designated terrorist asking "Indo-Hindu" people to leave the country. The escalating diplomatic row between India and Canada, sparked by comments from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has led to the suspension of visa services for Canadian nationals by India. A petition has been filed to recognise "Hinduphobia" in Canada's Human Rights Code.

Amid an escalating diplomatic row between India and Canada, a public video by the Khalistani secessionist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) has led “Hindu Canadians” to be fearful, said Chandra Arya, a parliamentarian from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s own Liberal Party, underscoring growing security concerns among the Indian diaspora in the North American country.

Chandra Arya (Fi)
Chandra Arya (Fi)

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Arya asked people to stay “calm but vigilant” but asked them to report any incident of “Hinduphobia” to local law enforcement agencies.

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On Monday, the already frosty relationship between the two countries reached a new nadir when Trudeau suggested that India may have been behind the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen but a man designated a Khalistani terrorist by India.

Even as India has summarily rejected the charges, a full-scale diplomatic row has followed, with both countries expelling senior diplomats from their territories. India on Wednesday ratcheted up the pressure by announcing an indefinite suspension of all visa services for Canadian nationals.

On Wednesday, Arya pointed to a video uploaded on Youtube by SFJ a day after Trudeau’s comments, that has since been taken down, that showed Khalistani secessionist and designated terrorist Gurpatwant Pannun asking ”Indo-Hindu” people in Canada to leave the country. “The Khalistan movement leader is trying to provoke Hindu Canadians to react and divide the Hindu and Sikh communities in Canada,” Arya said.

The member of parliament however said that a vast majority of Sikh Canadians do not support the Khalistan movement. “Most Sikh Canadians may not publicly condemn the Khalistan movement for several reasons but they are deeply connected to the Hindu-Canadian community,” he said.

Arya said that while Canada had “high moral values” and he fully upheld the rule of law, it was incomprehensible that the glorification of terrorism was allowed in the name of freedom of speech and expression. “There would be outrage in Canada if a white supremist attacked any group of racialised Canadians asking them to get out of our country. But apparently this Khalistani leader can get away with this hate crime,” Arya said.

Over the past year, at least a dozen temples have been defaced with graffiti by Khalistani protesters, triggering a petitionbefore the House of Commons to recognise “Hinduphobia” in the glossary of terms in the Human Rights Code to describe “anti-Hindu” prejudice. The plea, e-4507, has so far gathered 9,000 signatures, much more than the 500 signatures it needed to be referred to the Government.

Vijay Jain, a spokesperson for the group Canadian Hindus for Harmony said the community was worried that Trudeau’s remarks could spark violence.

“We are now seeing full scale Hinduphobia across the board...we are worried that this(atmosphere) may translate into the loss of lives,” he said.

Experts in Canada have also underlined the need to keep the peace domestically. In a piece in the national daily, the Globe and Mail, Andrew Coyne warned, “There will be many Sikh Canadians who will be left shaken by Mr Nijjar’s killing; some will be enraged, and some of them may be tempted to engage in reprisals of some kind. The risk of ethnic and sectarian bloodshed in Canada is real.”

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    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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