By Sabrina Almeida
The Khalistan referendum held in Brampton last month put a big spoke in already strained Canada-India relations and raises the critical question of whether expats should interfere in a country’s internal affairs.
As a first generation immigrant, I believe that I gave up that right to vote on anything concerning India when I opted for a Canadian passport. With close family members still living in the home country, I follow Indian affairs closely and have strong views on government policies but that’s the extent of my involvement. My decision to relocate and voluntarily give up my Indian citizenship stops me from attempting any sort of intervention, however good my intentions might be.
Many might say that being a non-Sikh I’m not qualified to comment on the issue of Khalistan or the referendums in support of it being held here in Canada or anywhere else. To put my stance in perspective, I would not vote on issues concerning Goa, either.
In my opinion, the Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) push for Punjab’s independence is akin to France (hypothetically speaking) weighing in on Quebec’s separation from Canada (on the basis of language and cultural similarities) and American right-wingers creating blockades in Ottawa over Canadian vaccine policies. Or me supporting the ‘Goa for the Goans’ ideology, for that matter. These are all sovereignty issues which non-citizens and outsiders must refrain from getting involved in.
SFJ is a US-based secessionist group whose sole mission is the creation of Khalistan. Not surprisingly it was banned by India in 2019. It has considerable support in the UK and seems to be expanding its reach in Canada, more specifically Brampton, if the referendum numbers quoted by organizers are to be believed. The Brampton event reportedly drew over 100,000 people (Indian and Pakistan media puts it at 50,000) when compared to 30,000 in London and 10,000 in Geneva.
There is no doubt that organizers handpicked Brampton for its sizable Sikh population and Khalistan leanings. It remains to be seen what response the referendum scheduled to be held in Mississauga next month generates. If reports of thousands of voters being turned away for lack of time in Brampton are true, the event in the neighbouring city might get a boost from their participation. While the signs for the event were very visible in Brampton, I haven’t come across any in Mississauga yet. But then I haven’t been to Malton which is home to a large number of Sikhs.
Nonetheless it’s about the optics not numbers or success of the event. India is already miffed with the Canadian government for not shutting down these events or punishing those responsible for defacing a Mahatma Gandhi statue and BAPS temple with pro-Khalistan slogans. Add to this the long string of faux pas on the part of our government officials, such as the comments made by our prime minister and other cabinet ministers of Indian origin during the farmers’ agitation. Canadian political leaders, including Trudeau, are seen by India as pandering to Khalistan sympathizers to keep themselves in power. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was refused an Indian visa for the same reason.
Amid the perceived inaction, India retaliated with a travel advisory cautioning its citizens of a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada.” Sikh groups like the World Sikh Organization have termed this as baseless and a political move. Some diaspora also responded, via media stories, reiterating there is no threat to their safety and that Canada is a safe place for Indians.
But there is no doubt that support for the Khalistan movement, or similar secessionist agendas with respect to any of its territories will be viewed unfavourably by India. While it is not the Canadian government’s duty to shut them down, expats must think and act responsibly to keep from interfering in India’s internal affairs and avoid being exploited by radical groups who will stop at nothing to achieve their objective.