Sikhs in North America are watching warily as tensions unfold between Canada and India after the nation’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, accused the Indian authorities of assassination on its soil.
Final week, Trudeau informed lawmakers that his authorities had credible proof that the Indian authorities was concerned within the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh-Canadian activist who was shot useless final June. India has denied these costs. For a lot of Sikhs, Nijjar was a human rights activist, advocating for an impartial homeland for a group lengthy persecuted by the Indian authorities. The Indian authorities mentioned Nijjar was a militant and a terrorist ― a declare denied by Nijjar himself earlier than his assassination.
The accusations set off a diplomatic disaster for Canada, India, and even the U.S. as Biden now finds himself caught between the 2 allies. Final week, India has warned its residents towards visiting components of Canada.
Canada responded by saying its nation was secure.
However for Sikhs within the U.S. and Canada, many are involved about their security, questioning if precautions can be taken by the federal government and if their activism will proceed to be a menace to their lives.
“There are human rights violations that occur in India, however we by no means thought that we’d see one thing like this taking place in Canada,” mentioned Sandeep Singh, an immigration advisor based mostly in Ontario.
“Refugees and different individuals depart their international locations as a result of they belief Canada and that Canada will defend their rights,” he added. “When one thing like that occurs, that leaves an influence on the group.”
Canada hosts the most important Sikh inhabitants exterior of India, accounting for over 2% of the inhabitants. The primary wave of Sikhs migrated to Canada within the 1900s, largely as laborers. All through the years, these numbers steadily elevated after the 1947 partition of India. The numbers spiked throughout the Nineteen Seventies and Nineteen Eighties insurgency the place the Indian authorities cracked down on Sikhs and supporters of the Khalistan motion ― a separatist motion that desires to create its personal state.
The Indian authorities violently suppressed the nationalist insurgency, setting off many years of violence. In 1984, closely armed Indian troops attacked Sikh separatists in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, the holiest shrine within the Sikh faith. The next yr, a Sikh extremist was convicted after a bomb went off on an Air India flight from Canada to India through Britain, killing 329 individuals on board.
The Khalistan motion, at present thought of a safety by the Indian authorities, has little assist contained in the nation however has grown with the diaspora in international locations like Canada and the U.S. Not all Sikhs assist the separatist motion, and never all supporters of the Khalistan motion imagine in the usage of extremist techniques to press for a Sikh state.
Singh, who’s a father of three, mentioned his 13-year-old daughter has been asking extra questions on Nijjar’s demise and what it means for Sikh Canadians like their household.
“There’s a security concern. We’ve been elevating this. Minorities will not be secure in India,” mentioned Singh. “If Sikhs who elevate their voice will not be secure in Canada, simply think about the state of affairs of minorities in India.”
It’s not simply Canada. Sikh Individuals have referred to as on the Biden administration to do extra to guard their group numbers. After the demise of Nijjar, FBI brokers warned a number of Sikh activists in California about threats towards their very own lives.
However some are apprehensive the American authorities is just not doing sufficient to guard outstanding Sikh voices.
Karam Singh, the co-founder of the California Sikh Youth Alliance, a youth-led Sikh group and advocacy group, informed HuffPost that he apprehensive that the White Home could also be prioritizing its commerce take care of India over the protection issues of Sikh Individuals.
“Simply because the USA has a method towards China, doesn’t imply that Indian minorities are cannon fodder,” mentioned Singh.
President Biden has been courting India for a renewed partnership in hopes to counterbalance China’s affect in Asia. U.S. officers have been reluctant to publicly focus on the homicide of the Sikh Canadian activist for concern of ruining the White Home’s Indo-Pacific targets.
“It’s a query of our justice system,” mentioned Singh. “As an American, we should always stand on our values and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to pursue an India-U.S. relationship that doesn’t speak about human rights.’”
Many Sikh Individuals are afraid for his or her households again dwelling, afraid that the Indian authorities may goal them in the event that they return, and afraid their visas may be canceled in retaliation.
Akashdeep Singh, a Sikh activist born and raised in British Columbia, Canada, hopes this limelight can invite extra individuals to know their plights as minorities.
“Once we fought and died to free ourselves from the British, nobody complained. Once we fought and died, to free ourselves from Mogul oppression throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, nobody complained,” mentioned Singh. “However now it’s out of the blue an issue once we simply merely ask for not solely fundamental rights however the rights of the group as an entire.”
Kunarveer Singh, a 26-year-old Sikh American who works in tech in San Jose, California, informed HuffPost that Sikhs have lengthy been misrepresented, and sometimes related to violence.
There are greater than 25 million Sikhs all over the world and practically 500,000 Sikh Individuals, in response to the Sikh Coalition, a nationwide advocacy group based mostly in New York.
Some Sikhs don’t shave or minimize their hair, and a few Sikh males wrap their hair in a turban as an indication of their religion. Within the U.S., nevertheless, Sikhs have confronted an onslaught of xenophobia resulting from their look.
“Our battle isn’t with anybody right here or with any type of particular person, faith or sect,” he mentioned. “It’s with a tyrannical authorities.”
However violence towards Sikhs doesn’t solely happen in India.
Within the U.S., the primary documented hate crime after 9/11 was a Sikh man, Balbir Sing Sodhi, who was killed in Arizona. In 2021, a white supremacist group gunned down worshippers in a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, killing 7 individuals and wounding others.
In Connecticut, Swaranjit Khalsa, the state’s first Sikh metropolis councilor, has been working to hunt extra illustration and recognition of Sikh Individuals in laws.
With the assistance of Khalsa, Connecticut grew to become the primary state within the nation to formally observe Sikh Genocide Remembrance Day in 2018, honoring the lives misplaced throughout anti-Sikh riots in India within the Nineteen Eighties.
In 2019, he donated a memorial devoted to those that died (weeks later, it was quietly faraway from the library). That very same yr, June was declared “Sikh Memorial Month.”
“I extremely request all of the elected officers on the federal degree to lift the voices of Sikhs identical to Canada,” he mentioned. “Even within the U.S., we’re struggling on daily basis, to maintain our historical past alive and to maintain our language alive. We would like our youngsters to know why we’re in America.”
Khalsa mentioned he hopes extra states will comply with swimsuit, honoring their Sikh neighbors in a proper capability, in hopes of pushing again towards stereotypes and misconceptions about his group.
“Why does somebody must die to ensure that us to get consideration?” he mentioned.