Indira Gandhi assassination 'celebration' row: Canadian town of Brampton has largest Sikh population

Jun 09, 2023 01:36 PM IST

Data from the 2021 census says there are over 1.6 lakh Sikhs in Brampton, which is located in the Greater Toronto Area and in Ontario province.

The Canadian town of Brampton - at the centre of a growing political storm after a parade float depicted the assassination of former prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards - is home to the largest Sikh population in any city or town in that country.

Parade float depicting Indira Gandhi's assassination in Canada.
Parade float depicting Indira Gandhi's assassination in Canada.

Brampton's Sikhs constitute nearly 25 per cent, or a quarter, of the town's population, according to Canadian government data. Data from the 2021 census says there are over 1.6 lakh Sikhs in Brampton, which is located in the Greater Toronto Area and in Ontario province.

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Overall, Canada has the highest Sikh population outside their home state of Punjab.

Additionally, Brampton is also the town that held a 'referendum' by separatist outfit Sikhs For Justice (which is banned in India) - on the creation of a Khalistan state - in September last year. The Indian government had warned its Canadian counterpart against allowing the illegal exercise but the latter declined to interfere citing freedom of speech for those participating.

Also Read: Indira Gandhi's assassination celebrated in Canada's Brampton, envoy ‘appalled’

Notably, the town appointed a well-known community leader Harkirat Singh as its first ever turbaned Sikh deputy mayor last year. Previously on city Council, Singh will serve deputy to Mayor Patrick Brown till 2026.

Earlier this year the Indian government called Canada's High Commissioner to flag pro-Khalistan protesters breaching security of its diplomatic mission and consulates.

What happened in Brampton?

The controversy erupted after a video was widely circulated on social media of a parade float depicting late prime minister Indira Gandhi's assassination in Canada. The parade led by pro-Khalistan radicals was held on Sunday, days before the 39th anniversary of ‘Operation Bluestar’.

The operation, carried out by the Indian armed forces in 1984, was aimed at eliminating Damdami Taksal leader and separatist Jarnail Singh Bhindrawale and his supporters from the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Three months after the military operation, Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31. The viral video depicted the incident, showing the late PM and her killers. The parade also had a sign that said the assassination was “revenge for attack on Shri Darbar Sahib”.

Indian govt reacts strongly to controversy

Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar on Thursday condemned the Canadian government’s apparent tolerance towards the rise of anti-India elements. He cited the influence of “vote bank politics” as a possible reason behind the PM Justin Trudeau's government's inaction and cautioned that this stance would have negative consequences for Canada's relationship with India.

On Wednesday, India’s High Commission in Ottawa also sent a formal note to Global Affairs Canada, expressing its displeasure to the Canadian government over the incident.

Canada engages in damage control

A member of parliament belonging to Canada's ruling Liberal Party, Chandra Arya, who is of Indo-Canadian descent, called for action on the incident in a tweet. He stressed that the supporters of Khalistan movement “have crossed a line”. He also asserted that glorification of violence and public promotion of hate goes against the values of Canada. This sentiment was also echoed by the top Canadian envoy in India Cameron MacKay, who condemned the incident on Thursday.

Taking to Twitter MacKay said, “I am appalled by reports of an event in Canada that celebrated the assassination of late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. There is no place in Canada for hate or for the glorification of violence. I categorically condemn these activities."

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