Sikh scholars denounce Khalistan report by Canada think-thank

The report is shockingly un-Canadian in every aspect, from a lack of respect for free speech to a parroting of a foreign, Indian government narrative on Khalistani activism - Open Letter By Sikh Scholars

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By Asia Samachar Team | CANADA |

Fifty-four academics have denounced as ‘vitriolic content’ a report entitled “Khalistan: A Project of Pakistan” which they claim ‘maligns all Sikh-Canadians engaging in advocacy as extremist and foreign-influenced actors’.

In an ‘An open letter from Sikh Scholars’, they called on the Canada-based think thank that published the 24-page report to reevaluate its decision.

“The report is shockingly un-Canadian in every aspect, from a lack of respect for free speech to a parroting of a foreign, Indian government narrative on Khalistani activism. Without any critical analysis, the author completely disregards the valid grievances and grassroots advocacy of the Sikh community,” they said in the letter shared on a dedicated website. See here.

The report, authored by veteran journalist Terry Milewski, was published by Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) which badges itself as a ‘rigorously independent and non-partisan’ Ottawa-based ‘truly national’ public policy think tank.

“For Canadians, Pakistan’s actions pose a real and present national security risk. As the Khalistani cause has little traction in Punjab, Pakistan’s support of Khalistani extremists entails leveraging extremists based in Canada, including supporters with ties to terrorism,” MLI said in a press release to announce the publishing of the report.

In the succinct open letter, penned by ‘academics who work closely with the Sikh community’, they said the report contained ‘a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation’.

“We are particularly concerned with the manner in which the report casts wide aspersions on a highly visible, racialized community, engaged in legitimate advocacy. The report maligns all Sikh-Canadians engaging in advocacy as extremist and foreign-influenced actors. This is especially concerning as so many of these advocates and activists are rigorous critics of both India and Pakistan’s record regarding minority rights,” they said.

At least 20 of the signatories are from Canada-based universities. See below for the full letter and signatories.

The Khalistan report carried a joint foreword by Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal Cabinet Minister and former British Columbia Premier, and MLI fellow for foreign policy Shuvaloy Majumdar. It has been picked up by various media platforms, with many of them running highlighting the report without providing a counter narrative.

An open letter from Sikh Scholars

September 15, 2020

To the board of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute,
​ 

We are writing to you with regard to a report recently published by your Institute under the title, “Khalistan: a project of Pakistan.” We are asking that you reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name.

For the full report see here. 

As academics who work closely with the Sikh community, we are concerned to read a report that contains a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation. We are particularly concerned with the manner in which the report casts wide aspersions on a highly visible, racialized community, engaged in legitimate advocacy. The report maligns all Sikh-Canadians engaging in advocacy as extremist and foreign-influenced actors. This is especially concerning as so many of these advocates and activists are rigorous critics of both India and Pakistan’s record regarding minority rights.

The report also damages the credibility of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute as it lacks adequate academic rigour, historical and contextually-based journalistic analysis, and balance. As academics, writers, and professors, we regularly evaluate work for peer review and have our own work assessed for accuracy as well. The report is sparsely referenced and the few claims that are made seem to not have been fact-checked. The “reference” section is one-sided showing a lack of literature review or effort to triangulate claims. While the writing is presented as objective policy analysis, it actually reads as a scattered collection of opinions and vague allegations; it is a simplistic and single worldview. The report is shockingly un-Canadian in every aspect, from a lack of respect for free speech to a parroting of a foreign, Indian government narrative on Khalistani activism. Without any critical analysis, the author completely disregards the valid grievances and grassroots advocacy of the Sikh community. 

Mr. Milewski misses the opportunity to provide a meaningful policy analysis based on facts that would further the Institute’s aims of making “poor quality public policy in Ottawa unacceptable.” The following are some examples.

  1. The very introduction to the report sets the tone for what is to follow by callously characterizing Sikh advocacy as a “steady and predictable drumbeat of victimization, persecution and genocide commemoration, presented as steps to assist a community in need of healing.” Since when are political grievances of a community, the commemoration of mass atrocities, or the advocacy for human rights and justice, proof of something sinister? That too in a country with unique genocide legislation.
  2. The report’s characterization of the Khalistan movement is also surprisingly simplistic and incomplete. The author’s narrative completely erases the political context in which the Khalistani struggle for self-determination took place in the 1980 and 1990s—a struggle no international group, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, cast aside as simply “terrorist.” Instead, like all militant movements and armed conflicts across the world, serious questions under humanitarian law and human rights law were raised.
  3.  The report neither cites nor explains that simply holding a political opinion for “Khalistan” is not illegal even under India’s own laws that allow demanding separation from the country, as long as the demand does not call for arms or incite violence. (See section 124A on “sedition”). That the Indian government fails to follow its own laws is often the crux of Sikh advocacy in Punjab and outside. Also, holding political opinions is squarely protected under Canadian law. Why then the Institute would allow for this incomplete and unsubstantiated report, is puzzling. The erasure of well-documented violence at the hands of the Indian State is telling. The author repeatedly demonstrates a commitment to telling only one side of the story.
We hope that you carefully consider our concerns and reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name, particularly considering the lack of academic integrity and the gravity of the accusations being leveled against a highly visible, racialized community. This report has already been circulated in Sikh studies circles damaging the credibility and reputation of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Your institute lays claim to policy analysis produced with integrity that is evidence-based and without bias. The basic premise of this report, however, undermines your own mission.

If you do truly wish to engage in producing reports on Sikh-Canadians in the unbiased spirit of your institute, we are happy to provide peer-review and reference to triangulate and balance such reports. There is a body of extant writing that shows a diversity of Sikh views and debates about Khalistan which documents the abuses by both Pakistan and India that are ignored. Canada, as a non-aligned state in terms of regional geopolitics, is meaningfully positioned to benefit marginalized groups in both countries. For now, we look forward to your response and the timely retraction of this report.

 Kindest regards,

  1. Dr. Amrita Kaur Sukhi, Lecturer, University of Toronto
  2. Dr. Anne Murphy, Associate Professor, Department of Asian Studies, UBC
  3. Dr. Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of California, Irvine School of Social Sciences
  4. Dr. Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, Associate Professor of Sikh Studies, University of Michigan
  5. Dr. Balbinder Bhogal, The Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies and Professor of Religion, Hofstra University
  6. Dr. Bhavjinder Kaur Dhillon, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia
  7. Dipin Kaur, Yale University
  8. Gurbeer Singh, PhD Student, University of California, Riverside 
  9. Dr. Gurcharan  Singh, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa
  10. Gurinder Singh Mann (UK), Director Sikh Museum Initiative, Oxford University Published
  11. Prof Gurnam Singh, University of Warwick, UK
  12. Dr. Gurnam Singh Sanghera, Visiting Professor, ‘Centre for Studies on Sri Guru Granth Sahib,’ at Guru Nanak Dev University.
  13. Harinder Singh, Senior Fellow, Research & Policy, Sikh Research Institute
  14. Dr. Harjeet Singh Grewal, Instructor of Sikh Studies, Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary
  15. Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal, Department of History, Lafayette College
  16. Harleen Kaur, PhD candidate, UCLA
  17. Dr. Harpreet Singh, Sikhism Scholar, Harvard University
  18. H Bindy Kaur Kang-Dhillon, PhD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, UBC
  19. Dr, Indira Prahst, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Langara College
  20. Dr. Inderpal Grewal, Yale university
  21. Dr. Idrisa Pandit, Director of Studies in Islam, University of Waterloo
  22. Dr. Jagdeep Singh Walia, Department of Pediatrics, Queen’s University 
  23. Dr. Jakeet Singh, Department of Politics, York University
  24. Dr Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor, University of Leeds (UK)
  25. Ms Jaskiran Kaur, PhD, LSE
  26. Jasleen Singh, PhD (c), University of Michigan
  27. Dr. Jaspreet Bal, Professor, Humber College
  28. Dr. Jugdep Singh Chima, Hiram College
  29. Dr. Kamal Arora, Instructor, University of the Fraser Valley
  30. Kiranjot Chahal, PhD Humanities, York University
  31. Khushdeep Kaur, PhD Candidate, Temple University
  32. Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, Union Seminary
  33. Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law
  34. Dr. Manpreet Kaur, MD MS, Associate Professor, Stanford University
  35. Dr. Michael Hawley, Associate Professor of Sikh History, Mount Royal University
  36. Dr. Michael Nijhawan, Associate Professor, Sociology, York University
  37. Narinder Kaur, University College London, UK
  38. Dr. Nirvikar Singh, Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz
  39. prabhdeep singh kehal, PhD Candidate, Brown University
  40. Prabhsharanbir Singh, Instructor, Department of Sociology, UBC
  41. Prabhsharandeep Singh Sandhu, DPhil, University of Oxford
  42. Rajbir Singh Judge, Assistant Professor, Department of History, California State University
  43. Dr. Sara Grewal, Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Gender and Race, MacEwan University
  44. Sasha Sabherwal, PhD (c), Yale University
  45. Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, PhD (c), University of the Fraser Valley History
  46. Dr. Shruti Devgan, Bowdoin College
  47. Simran Kaur Saini, PhD (c), York University
  48. Simratpal Singh, Ph.D Candidate, University of Manitoba
  49. Sonia Aujla-Bhullar PhD (c), University of Calgary
  50. Tejpaul Bainiwal, PhD. Candidate Sikh Studies, UC Riverside
  51. Dr. Tarnjit Kaur, PhD Physics 
  52. Dr. Tavleen Kaur, University of Wolverhampton
  53. Dr. Pashaura Singh, Distinguished Professor and Saini Chair in Sikh Studies, University of California, Riverside
  54. Dr. Preet Kaur Virdi, Adjunct Assistant Professor, CUNY
For more information contact SikhScholarsResponse@gmail.com
RELATED STORY:

Overplaying the Khalistan card (Asia Samachar, 23 Feb 2018)

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