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Friday, Nov 22, 2019

India cutting ‘blacklist’ of overseas Sikhs, Canada barring their entry

More than 100 UK-based Sikhs are said to be on the Canadian “blacklist”, unable to visit that country even though they travelled there several times in the past, bringing hardliners and moderates on one side.

world Updated: Feb 09, 2018 23:47 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar and Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Prasun Sonwalkar and Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, London/New Delhi
Sikh demonstrators hold a protest outside India House.
Sikh demonstrators hold a protest outside India House. (AFP File)

Slowly but surely, India has been resolving issues related to Sikhs abroad – mainly linked to Operation Bluestar of 1984 – and allowing former Khalistan supporters to visit the country, but many now face a so-called “blacklist” in Canada that bars their entry.

The process of New Delhi dealing with the issues of overseas Sikhs gained momentum after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met a delegation of UK-based Sikhs during his visit to London in November 2015. The process of freeing long-held political prisoners in India too was intensified.

Until some years ago, India allegedly had a “blacklist” that prevented several overseas Sikhs, once active in the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and the Khalistan movement, from visiting the country. Most of them now freely visit India with Overseas Citizen of India cards.

The recent issue of the Canadian “blacklist” goes beyond the ISYF, which was banned in the UK in 2001 but was de-proscribed in 2016. It also affects politics in Punjab. Amarinder Singh, now chief minister, was prevented from visiting Canada before the 2016 assembly election.

More than 100 UK-based Sikhs are said to be on the Canadian “blacklist”, unable to visit that country even though they travelled there several times in the past, bringing hardliners and moderates on one side.

In Toronto, Indian officials are disturbed since the “blacklist” may prevent talks and the eventual resolution of issues of overseas Sikhs.

A senior official said, “They (the Canadian government) do not want to see a patch-up (between India and Khalistanis in Canada).”

Among the UK-based Sikhs who previously travelled freely to Canada but were recently denied electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is Jasdev Singh Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Forum, one of the key interlocutors in talks with Modi in London.

He said: “It is astonishing that there is a ‘blacklist’ of Sikhs in Canada since 2016 while India is taking its own list down. Does Canada know more about us than India?

“It is even more shocking that this list has been formed when, for the first time, four Sikhs are in the Canada government, including the defence minister, a position that is part of the security group.

“Those denied entry, including myself, have been labelled as ‘terrorists’. It is widely suspected this list has been influenced by some Canadian Sikh politicians exploiting state power for advantage in internal Sikh politics. Our friends in Canada are seeking an inquiry.”

A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said on the issue of Rai being denied the ETA: “Due to privacy laws, we are unable to provide you with details of individual cases. Applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis, based on the specific facts of each case.”

Parminder Bal, a former ISYF functionary based at Slough in the UK who was denied the ETA in recent years, said: “There were three factions of the ISYF. Over 100 of us are affected by the Canadian ‘blacklist’. Our families, friends are there. They are violating the human rights of UK and European Sikhs.”

Rai has faced opposition from sections of the Sikh community in Canada. During an earlier visit, campaign group Sikhs for Justice challenged his claim that the Canadian Sikh community is ready for talks with the Modi government. “The Sikh cause cannot be undermined by the raising of non-issues by individuals like London-based Jasdev Rai,” the group had said.

A spokesman for the UK-based Sikh Federation alleged that Indian authorities had pressured foreign governments to stop some Sikhs travelling between the UK, the US and Canada to lobby for an independent Sikh homeland.

“We have established through a number of cases that increased pressure has been put on the Canadian authorities to target all those previously associated with the organisation (ISYF) even though it had not existed in the UK for 15 years since the ban in March 2001,” he said.

“Ironically we also know the Canadians have excluded some who were previously deemed ‘anti-national’ by India, but have subsequently become pro-Indian or become Indian government agents and been regularly travelling to India.

The spokesman said such blacklists of Sikhs who had “committed no crimes” are totally unacceptable. “Law-abiding Sikhs are being denied basic civil liberties of free movement to meet friends and relatives. It is disgraceful some Sikhs have been prevented from seeing loved ones who are poorly or attend family funerals or weddings in other countries,” he said.