Even as the government of a secular India cannot name a religion whose followers are being targeted abroad, the Ministry of External Affairs has cited a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crime, sectarian violence, and anti-India activities” in Canada in an advisory on 23 September for Indian nationals and students who are in Canada to say, “In view of the increasing incidences of crimes as described above, Indian nationals and students from India in Canada and those proceeding to Canada for travel/ education are advised to exercise due caution and remain vigilant.”
The advisory that does not name Hindus as targets, just as the communiqué by the Indian High Commission in Britain had not after the Leicester riots by Muslims, has come a few days after media reports of a “Khalistan referendum” in Canada, as well as reports of the vandalising of a Hindu temple recently.
On 22 September, reporters asked for the views of the MEA from its spokesman Arindam Bagchi on the “so-called Khalistan referendum taking place in countries like Canada”. The MEA spokesman termed it a “farcical exercise” held by “extremist and radical elements”. He said that the matter had been taken up with Canadian authorities, that the Canadian government respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, and that Canada would not recognise the exercise.
“However,” Bagchi said, “we find it deeply objectionable that politically motivated exercises by extremist elements are allowed to take place in a friendly country.” The people were aware of the “history of violence” around this demand, the MEA spokesperson said, and assured that the Indian government would continue to press the Canadian government on this matter.
Hate crimes and violence against Hindus
- In 2013 a Hindu temple in Surrey had three windows smashed. A baseball bat found there after the attack had Sikh markings.
- In 2018, the Montreal-based production house “Art of Where' advertised yoga-capris carrying images of Ganesha. Rajan Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism called this highly inappropriate as it hurts Hindus. He also urged "Art of Where" to offer a formal apology.
- In 2021, when break-in was reported at Hindu Sabha temple and Shri Jagannath temple, both in Brampton. In 2021 January saw instances being reported in other temples including Maa Chintpurni Mandir, Brampton, Hindu Heritage Centre, Mississauga, Gauri Shankar Mandir, Brampton and Hamilton Samaj Temple, Hamilton.
- Earlier this month, the BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto was allegedly defaced with “anti-India” graffiti. The High Commission of India in Ottawa, Canada, tweeted that it strongly condemned the act and requested Canadian authorities to investigate the incident.
Chandra Arya, an Indian-origin MP in Canada, mentioned another attack that happened in July, and said in their parliament that these incidents “must be condemned by all as hate crimes”. He mentioned specifically the increase in “anti-Hindu sentiments”.
Canadian news outlets had reported in July that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in a temple in Richmond Hill city had been vandalised with the words “Khalistan” and “Rapist”. The local police termed it a “hate bias-motivated incident”.
History of Indians in Canada and the Khalistan movement
Indians have been moving to Canada for over a century. The country has a sizable Indian-origin population, making up among the world’s largest Indian diaspora.
Canada is a preferred destination for higher education for many Indian students today, with around 60,000 students choosing to go to the country in the first half of 2022, second only to the US.
Sikhs from India were the first to migrate to Canada and their community remains the largest Indian-origin section in the Canadian demography. Estimates on the basis of Canada’s Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Canada (IRCC) report say that around 60% to 65% of those applying to go to Canada are from Punjab in India.
Over the years, the Sikhs in Canada have become a rich and politically powerful group. A large section of the community supports and funds the Khalistan separatist movement. Over the decades, these Sikhs have hosted many individual Khalistani ideologues and extremists.
India has repeatedly taken this up with Canada, and the situation has sometimes led to diplomatic embarrassments.
In 2018 during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India, Canadian diplomats had to withdraw a party invitation to a man convicted in the attempted murder of a Punjab minister who was on a visit to Canada in 1986. Jaspal Atwal, a known Khalistan supporter, had been invited to two events organised for Trudeau before the invitation was rescinded.
Trudeau later said, “Obviously, we take this extremely seriously. He should never have received an invitation. As soon as we received the information, we rescinded it. A member of parliament had included this individual”.
That same year, Public Safety Canada, an arm of the Canadian government, said some individuals in the country continued to support Sikh (Khalistani) extremist ideologies and movements in its 2018 Public Report on the Terrorism Threat to Canada, taking note of the movement’s links to terrorism for the first time, while adding that overall the support for the demand has been waning over time.
In 2010, then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at a joint press interaction in Canada with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper that “the Sikh community in Canada is prosperous” and most Sikhs were “peace-loving and good citizens of Canada”.
“But”, Singh said, “a small group of people have taken to the path of extremism which does great disservice to the Sikh community, India, and good relationship with Canada.”
Prime Minister Singh urged Canada to take action, saying, “Extremism of the religious variety is something not in tune with the growing realities of the integrated world community and globalised community… I have discussed with Prime Minister Harper that the Canadian soil is not used to promote extremism. The Prime Minister told me there are laws which (have) set out limitations, which are existing. But I am confident that the government of Prime Minister Harper is fully alive to what is happening.”