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Why Khalistan Independence Protests Are Being Held this Weekend in Vancouver and Toronto

Rallies in support of the Khalistan Freedom movement are being planned for Saturday, July 8 at India’s consulates in Toronto and Vancouver in the wake of the killing of prominent Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Mr. Nijjar was shot dead in the parking lot of the Surrey, B.C. gurdwara where he was president on June 18. Mr. Nijjar, whom India’s National Investigation Agency had accused of being a terrorist, advocated for Sikh independence and urged Sikhs around the world to vote in an international referendum for Punjab, a state in northern India, to secede.

These referendums are not sanctioned by the Indian or Canadian governments.

What are the Khalistan Freedom protests happening on July 8?

On July 8, protests are scheduled at Indian embassies in Toronto and Vancouver. The secessionist group Sikhs for Justice is helping promote the protests. The organization – headquartered in Washington and banned in India – supports the formation of a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

According to event posters being shared on social media, Khalistan rallies on July 8 are also being held in London, San Francisco and Melbourne.

What is the Khalistan movement?

The Sikh independence movement seeks to create an ethno-religious sovereign homeland known as Khalistan in the Punjab region of India. The roots of the Khalistan movement date back to the end of the British Empire in India.

The proposal is fiercely opposed by the Indian government.

Canada is home to about 770,000 people who reported Sikhism as their religion in the last census, comprising 2.1 per cent of the population. A small but influential number of these Sikhs support the idea of Khalistan.

Dan Stanton, a former executive manager of operations at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service whose work included Sikh extremism, described the Khalistan movement as a fringe belief. “My understanding is the Khalistan movement in India is a bit of a fringe movement and not a lot of Sikhs in Punjab buy into it and the same for the Sikh community here,” he said. “It looks to me like you’ve got extremists trying to hijack the movement and take us back to years ago.”

Why are the planned protests causing alarm?

Posters promoting the protests and created by Gurpatwant Pannun, the New York-based general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, have raised concerns from the federal government and India. The posters say “Kill India” over an illustration of a pen piercing a rifle, and features photos of Sanjay Kumar Verma, India’s high commissioner to Canada, as well as its two consuls-general, with a caption identifying them as the “killers” of Mr. Nijjar.

Police are still investigating the death of Mr. Nijjar.

Mr. Verma said the posters indicate a threat to the safety of Indian diplomats in Canada and he wants Canada to prevent the rallies from taking place. “They are not demonstrators,” he said. “They are thugs.”

Mr. Pannun said that “Kill India” is a reference to his group’s desire to see the Indian state of Punjab break off from India and form its own country. He said the phrase is not intended to incite violence. He also defended labelling the Indian diplomats as killers because he believes an Indian person is behind the death of Mr. Nijjar.

How has the Canadian government responded to the planned protests?

In response to the posters, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has said Canada will safeguard its Indian diplomats. On Twitter, Ms. Joly wrote “Canada remains in close contact with Indian officials in light of some of the promotional material circulating online regarding a protest planned for July 8,” she said, calling the material “unacceptable.”

Mr. Verma said India has made a formal complaint to the Department of Global Affairs about the “safety and security” of its diplomatic premises in Canada. The complaint comes after Sikhs protested outside the Indian embassy in Ottawa on March 23 in a demonstration against the Indian government’s crackdown in the state of Punjab.

Source : The Globe and Mail