You’re worried about Canada’s political relations, but I am worried for my life

Anonymous // Contributor
Freya Emery (she/her) // Illustrator

The current events in Canada-India relations go further back than what’s happened recently. The recent death of Shaheed Hardeep Singh Nijjar — president of a Sikh temple in Surrey, B.C. — stem from a long history of violence and neglect toward Sikh people at the hands of the Indian government. Let’s begin in 1947.


1947 was the year of the Partition of India. The British carelessly tossed a line down on a map to split India into two separate nations now known as India, which retains the majority of Hindu citizens; and Pakistan, which retains the majority of Muslim citizens. The state of Punjab was divided between the two now independent countries. This led to major displacement of Punjabi citizens who had ended up on the wrong side of the border, causing death and missing persons who were never recovered. 


As the state of Punjab is neither majority Hindu nor majority Muslim, but is instead majority Sikh, debate was sparked among citizens about whether Punjab should have had its own borders drawn. Most prominent among this discussion is the Khalistan movement, which calls for Punjab to be made its own country called Khalistan; land of the pure. This name is derived from ‘Khalsa,’ another name for Sikhi.


1984 was the year of the most brutal attacks that marked the beginning of a genocide. Indira Gandhi, the first female prime minister of India, began attacks in June. It began with Operation Bluestar, a bomb attack carried out on Sri Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) targeting one man in particular named Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, an educator on the Sikh faith and Khalistan movement. This attack lasted 10 days at the beginning of June and Bhindranwale was murdered on the second day.


In the months that followed came Operation Woodrose. Military forces were sent into Punjabi villages to raid our homes, rape our women, and arrest our men without warrants to torture and interrogate them. This lasted four months.


On October 31, 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards. Hindu nationalists took to the streets to attack and kill as many Sikhs as they could, declaring, “Blood for blood.” Many non-nationalist Hindus sheltered Sikhs in their homes during these riots.


Operation Black Thunder began in 1988. Sikh militant protestors occupied Sri Harmandir Sahib. National security guards stormed in and arrested the militants. It was stated by the Director General of the Punjab Police that they did not want a repeat of Operation Bluestar. The militants ended up surrendering. 


This operation was a setback to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution which was first presented in 1973, declaring that Punjab be made a sovereign state with foreign relations, defence, currency, and general communication subject to Indian jurisdiction rather than declaring a separate country. This was met with a compromise in 1985, which allowed Punjab more freedom to express religious and cultural beliefs within the state’s government. There was no real resolution in terms of the state’s sovereignty.


In late 2020, the government of India introduced three new farming laws that would not guarantee minimum support price (MSP) for farmers. The majority of farmland in India is in the states of Punjab and Haryana, meaning the majority of farmers are Sikhs. Make no mistake; this was targeted. Thus began the “no farmers, no food” protests all over the world. In 2021, Prime Minister Modi announced the laws would be repealed.


2023 begins with India’s pursuit of Amritpal Singh, a Sikh activist in Punjab who preached Khalistani rhetoric. Many compared him to Sant Jarnail Bhindranwale, but he never claimed to be like him, just that he took inspiration from him and looked up to him. During the manhunt for Singh, there were media blackouts in Punjab as military forces were sent into villages to implement curfews, reminiscent of what happened in the 80s. Amritpal Singh eventually turned himself in to the police. It is unknown what happened from then on.


In recent events, Shaheed Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated on temple grounds, also reminiscent of the events of 1984. Shaheed Nijjar was the president of a gurudwara (Sikh temple) in Surrey, B.C. He was an advocate for Sikh rights and pro-Khalistani.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a controversial statement in the House of Commons that has sparked much debate recently about the death of the Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. I have heard from others following the situation that this was a stupid move on Trudeau’s part. They believe that he shouldn’t have made this statement or messed with Canada’s political relations to this extent.


To this, I ask: What is my life worth to you? What is the worth of the life of your neighbours, your friends, your classmates, your coworkers.What are our lives worth? What is your life worth?


Should I be made to feel unsafe in a  country to which my parents came for a better life? Isn’t that what we all want for our kids; a life better, easier and safer than the one we lived? What mistake is there in declaring, “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty?”


The murder of Shaheed Nijjar was meant to send a message. We are not safe, even here, even in Canada. They can still reach us here, on our own religious grounds meant to be a safe haven from discrimination and oppression. Message received.


While researching the House of Commons statements for this article, I noticed two things. One, Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre clearly stated, “Hardeep Singh N-word” before having to correct his statement to “Nijjar.” Two, many people in the comments of videos about this topic believe that it was right he was killed; that we deserve to be brutally murdered on the grounds of our most holy sites simply for wanting to live our lives not feeling as though we are being hunted. They called us terrorists and said more of us should die.


What I believe needs to happen politically is a reopening of the Anandpur Sahib Resolution. I don’t think that we can continue as we are, but I also don’t believe that Khalistan is feasible or agreeable. There is no need to run Punjab and its Sikh population out of a country that is meant to feel their own. Punjab also does not have the governance experience on a federal level to be able to sustain itself as a separate country and is currently suffering enough as it is.


Negotiations need to be reopened to let Punjab govern its own state within India as a sovereign state. Furthermore, the border laws between both sides of Punjab need to be laxed so those on either side can access the holy sites that they are currently being forced to observe only from a watchtower via telescope. However, we have seen with Kashmir and the negotiations around the time of Operation Black Thunder that this will not happen.


Maybe the best we can hope for is the ability to exist in the world without the fear of us or our people being murdered without cause, even on foreign soil.

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