Re: Sikhs Aren’t Safe Here

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

Anonymous // Contributor
Andy Postila (he/him) // Illustrator 

Let’s catch up on what’s happened since we last spoke*. 

The (unofficial) Khalistan referendum, the event that India so greatly despised and tried to prevent by assassinating Shaheed Hardeep Singh Nijjar on the grounds of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara (temple) in Surrey, B.C., happened at the end of October 2023. 

I was anxious for weeks leading up to this event. It’s easy to squash anxieties when you know they’re irrational, but this one wasn’t. I wasn’t afraid of what could have happened—I was afraid of a repetition of what already had.

I went past the gurdwara as the event was happening. There were police officers stationed outside and for the first time in my life—as someone who’s had police trauma since being profiled at a young age—I was glad to see them. There was also a protest happening in the streets near the gurdwara to call attention to what was going on.

A U.S.-based Sikh activist and leader of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, is the organizer of these unofficial referendums, including the one in Surrey, B.C. SFJ claimed that the combined vote count surpassed 200,000. 

Pannun is legally considered a terrorist in India for making threats against the Prime Minister and other government officials. Issuing threats of violence, whether they are to world leaders or otherwise, is objectively denounced by Sikhi as it is a pacifist religion.

In November 2023, a video was circulating wherein Pannun called for Sikhs to boycott Air India on November 19. He said that this was a call for a boycott, although he decided not to end his statement with, “There will be a global blockade.” He instead went a step further and stated, “on November 19, don’t travel by Air India or your life will be in danger.”

The RCMP began investigating these threats and Pannun was quick to clarify, “RCMP has every right to investigate a terror threat. And if they consider that calling for a boycott of Air India as a civil disobedience… is a terror, then so be it, let them investigate.”

The leaders of two countries have agreed on this now; India is posing a threat to Sikh citizens of the West. There was another attack attempted, with U.S. authorities confirming that they had to thwart an attempted assassination of Pannun. Officials of both the U.S. and Canada have confirmed that India is now cooperating with them to resolve these… “issues.”

Since Sikhism’s formal conception, Indian authorities have been trying to eradicate us. It started in 1762 with the Maharaja’s attacks on Sikhs in the state of Punjab after the religion rose to power there. It continued in 1984 with ex-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s destruction of Harmandir Sahib (our Golden Temple) and in 2020 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attacks on the livelihood of farmers (highly concentrated in Sikh-majority states). It is continuing now and they’ve gone global.

Along with a lack of political support of Sikhs, it’s rare to see social support—even online. Every video I come across of Indians in Canada, even if unrelated to politics, just has xenophobia in the comments. Off the top of my head, I can recall at least four videos with over 5,000 comments and the grand total of positive comments I can recall is only six. It happens on any video that depicts a turban.

Maybe anything I say here is futile. Maybe I won’t change any opinions. Regardless, as a child of immigrants, I have a message for those commenters: may peace reach your heart soon. Hatred will rot you from the inside out.

With all of the confusion growing in my heart with this situation, all I can do is stick to what I know to be true: people should not be targeted for their religious beliefs; violence (unless in self defence) has no place in our religion; hatred will ruin your heart, mind and body; and with the state that Punjab has been reduced to, it would not survive as a country of its own. It is barely surviving now.

“You’re worried about Canada’s political relations; I am worried for my life.” That turned out to be pretty true, didn’t it? I know of a 15-year-old in B.C. who is on a hit list circulating a couple of cities in the province. All they did was make an online post in support of Khalistan. How is an Instagram story worth their life? Is this article worth mine?

*Last article published November 2023
**Article was written prior to the farmer’s protests of 2024

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