What Lies Beneath the India-Canada Divide: The Khalistan Separatist Movement

Understanding the Khalistan Separatist Movement

The Khalistan separatist movement, at the center of the India-Canada rift, has gained international attention following the killing of Canadian Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia. The Canadian government has alleged the involvement of the Indian government in this incident, intensifying tensions.

What is the Khalistan Movement?

The Khalistan movement, initiated during the independence of India and Pakistan in the 1940s, seeks to establish an independent Sikh state in the northern Indian region of Punjab. The term “Khalistan” translates to “Land of the Khalsa” or “Pure.”

Demographics of Sikhs and the Khalistan Movement

Sikhs, with a global population of approximately 26 million, primarily reside in India, where they constitute 1.7 percent of the population. However, Sikhs are the majority in Punjab, the religion’s place of origin. The Khalistan movement has garnered support among Sikhs in India and the Sikh diaspora, particularly in Canada.

Tensions with India’s Government

The Khalistan movement escalated in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, marked by a violent separatist insurgency in Punjab, India. This period was characterized by a significant clash between Sikh militants and the Indian government, culminating in a military operation at the Golden Temple and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

Renewed Concerns and Allegations

Recent years have seen renewed concerns about Sikh separatism in Punjab, leading to government crackdowns on suspected militants. The designation of Hardeep Singh Nijjar as a terrorist and accusations of his involvement in attacks in India have amplified these concerns.

The Khalistan Movement Abroad

The Khalistan movement has garnered support in the Sikh diaspora worldwide, particularly in countries with significant Sikh populations such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada. These nations have faced requests from the Indian government to curb Sikh activists’ activities.

International Mobilization

Sikhs for Justice, a U.S.-based group banned in India, has organized efforts to mobilize the Sikh diaspora for what it terms a “referendum” on Khalistan. These activities have been met with criticism from Indian authorities and discussions with countries like Canada through diplomatic channels.

The Legacy of Hardeep Singh Nijjar

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh separatist, played a central role in advocating for the Khalistan cause. His killing in Canada brought further attention to the movement and heightened tensions between Canada and India.

Recent International Protests

Demonstrations outside India’s High Commission in London and protests in Canada following Nijjar’s death have contributed to the strained relationship between the Indian government and Sikh groups abroad.

India’s Response to Accusations

In response to Canada’s allegations regarding Nijjar’s death, India’s Ministry of External Affairs emphasized the presence of Khalistani extremists in Canada and their threat to India’s sovereignty. This has been a point of contention in the ongoing rift between the two nations.

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