The Modi government has released its most scathing statement to date on what it calls “anti-Indian activity” out of Canada, expressing concern and disappointment at Ottawa’s apparent inaction on the matter.
It comes after thousands of Canadian Sikhs took part in an unofficial voting exercise earlier this week dubbed the ‘Khalistan Referendum’, expressing their support for a separate Sikh nation-state from New Delhi in the north. from India.
While Canadian authorities have defended it as an exercise in freedom of speech, India’s foreign ministry has accused Canada of allowing extremists to carry out ‘deeply reprehensible’ and ‘politically motivated’ exercises that pose a threat. for the integrity of India.
In a notice issued Friday for its own nationals and students visiting Canada, India warned them to “exercise caution and remain vigilant” in the face of a “sharp increase” in hate crimes and sectarian violence there. down.
With Indian immigrants representing at least 1.4% of Canada’s population, including a large Sikh diaspora, the Khalistan countryside is becoming an increasingly sensitive point in relations between New Delhi and Ottawa.
What is the “Khalistan Referendum”?
The unofficial “referendum” is a voting exercise organized in several countries by the American organization Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which was banned in India in 2019 for “embracing secessionism and militancy”. [activities]”.
The referendum aims to build consensus among Sikh communities to create a separate homeland in India, which will be known as Khalistan. It is generally proposed that this be achieved by carving out the Indian state of Punjab, the only Sikh-majority state in the country.
The campaign group says it would then approach the UN and other international human rights bodies with the demand to restore “Punjab as a nation state”.
Established in 2007, SFJ is headed by Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a law graduate from Panjab University and currently a lawyer in the United States.
The group first announced in 2018 that it would hold an unofficial voting exercise, at the time dubbed “Referendum 2020”, in several countries with large Sikh diasporas, with the aim of “liberating Punjab from Indian occupation”.
« SFJ in its statement from London [in August 2018] announced the holding of the first-ever non-binding referendum within the global Sikh community on the issue of secession from India and the restoration of Punjab as an independent country,” according to the SFJ website.
He said he plans to hold the referendum in Punjab with major cities in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Kenya and the Middle East.
Indian authorities in Punjab claimed that the SFJ and the “Referendum 2020” campaign were being promoted and funded in Pakistan as a means to destabilize India. Indian intelligence agencies said the SFJ website shared its domain with a Karachi-based website as proof of this.
There are nearly a dozen registered cases against SFJ and Mr. Pannun in India, including three cases of sedition in Punjab.
What happened in Canada?
On September 19, around 100,000 people took part in the Khalistan Brampton referendum to vote in favor of the demand for a separate homeland for Sikhs in India.
Videos and photos on social media showed Sikhs carrying yellow flags with “Khalistan” written on them, queuing in long rows to vote.
A Hindu temple was also defaced in Etobicoke, Toronto earlier this week, with graffiti reading “Long live Khalistan” painted orange on one of the walls.
A similar referendum was held in London in November 2021 with campaigners saying around 10,000-12,000 people took part. However, other reports indicate that only 100 to 150 people showed up in the first hours of the referendum.
What did the Indian government say?
India says it is actively engaging with Canada and other governments on the Khalistan issue.
“The wacky exercise was organized by the extremists and radical elements supporting the so-called Khalistan referendum in Canada and elsewhere, I think,” government spokesman Arindam Bagchi said during his weekly press briefing. Thursday. “The matter was raised with Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels.
He said the Government of Canada has reiterated that it respects India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will not recognize the so-called referendum.
“However, we find it deeply reprehensible that politically motivated exercises by extremist elements should be allowed to take place in a friendly country. You are all aware of the history of violence in this regard,” he said.
In issuing the notice to Indian nationals on Friday, Bagchi said they had taken up the matter with their Canadian counterparts to demand an investigation into the hate crimes.
“The perpetrators of these crimes have yet to be brought to justice in Canada,” he said.
The ministry has urged Indian nationals and Indian students in Canada to register with Indian high commissions through an online portal, so that they can connect with them in case of emergency.
The Independent Gt