Pakistan bogeyman creating paranoia towards Sikh-Canadians?

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By Harinder Singh | OPINION |

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s report titled “Khalistan: A project of Pakistan” is incredibly one-sided, uses selective data, expresses anti-Muslim sentiments, and makes unsubstantiated allegations and conclusions. This report is particularly concerning, as it casts wide claims on highly visible Sikh-Canadians, insinuating they are extremists or foreign agents.

This report has far-reaching implications for Sikhs globally.

To understand the Sikh worldview, it is essential to understand Sikh heritage. To form opinions on historical and contemporary tensions, it is essential to consider independent sources and documented evidence.

The Sikh faith was founded in Panjab, now split between India and Pakistan. It flourished in Panjab with the 1Ness paradigm that propelled love and justice doctrines. The founders of the faith developed institutions and new cities across Panjab. The Sikhs became rulers in Panjab in the early 18th century; they confronted the Mughals, Afghans, Maratha, and British in their homeland. There are 30 million Sikhs worldwide, and more than 80% live in India.

The 1849 Panjab annexation by the British, the 1947 Partition of Panjab into East and West, and the 1984 Sikh Genocide in India are all traumas in the Sikh psyche. However, the report focuses on the partition alone, attempting to construct a narrative that Muslims killed Sikhs, when in fact, communal violence occurred between all communities.

Just as there is no wedge between Hindus and Sikhs, there is no wedge between Muslims and Sikhs. But there are ideological differences with the political theories of the Hindu nation and the Muslim nation.

Sikh-Canadians have always understood the value of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially given that their kin were persecuted in India from 1984-94. The tense and complex histories and relationships demand nuanced understandings, acknowledgments and reconciliations.

The report’s characterization of the Sikhs does not explore the political context of the 1980s-1990s, in which the struggle for self-determination took place.

Many Sikhs in the diaspora, including Canada, left India because of gross human rights violations well-documented by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Ensaaf. Recent court judgments in India have used the terms “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” when referring to what happened to the Sikhs in India. State violence was the norm, not the law.

“The Butcher of Panjab” KPS Gill, a former director-general of police (DGP) who mentored SS Saini (also a former DGP of Panjab), is on the run evading arrest this week for fake encounters, forced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. State violence against Sikhs is noticeably absent from the report.

Instead, the report frames legitimate political grievances, the commemoration of mass atrocities, and advocacy for human rights and justice as sinister.

Khalistan cannot be reduced to a violent fringe movement. In the 1989 Panjab elections, nine out of 13 elected Members of Parliament advocated self-determination. The current chief minister of the Indian Panjab resigned from the ruling party in 1984 and signed the Amritsar Declaration for Sikh sovereignty in 1994, along with almost all Sikh leaders. Both Canadian and Indian laws allow for self-determination.

Almost 2% of the Canadian population is now Sikh. Many serve as politicians, but not as policymakers yet. Canadians must safeguard their interests against all foreign interference by both adversary nuclear states, India and Pakistan. Canadians also ought to advance Sikh rights and protections not just in Canada, but also in India and Pakistan given the historical ties Sikhs have to Panjab.

Sikh children are growing up in Canada with assaults on their identity — many of their parents fled India due to persecution. Now they are targeted and maligned for their trauma-filled histories. Across party lines, Sikh-Canadians are raising their voices for justice. Just a few days ago, they honoured the human rights advocate Jaswant Singh Khalra. He was killed by the Panjab police for documenting evidence against the state and its apparatus — he gave his last public speech in Ontario.

This report paints Sikh-Canadians as a suspicious community, frames their advocacy work and their politics as extremist, and presumes that Sikhs are easily swayed by foreign influence with no agency of their own. It is irresponsible and lacks a fundamental understanding of the painful history Sikhs hold in their collective psyche.

It encourages paranoia toward all Sikhs and foments mistrust from their fellow Canadians, putting Sikh-Canadians in danger in the ‘maple-leaf’ country they call home.

— Harinder Singh serves as the Senior Fellow, Research & Policy, at the Sikh Research Institute (SikhRi). A frequent traveller to Canada, India and Pakistan, he works with governmental and non-governmental organizations. His work through the Sikh Research Institute develops Sikh perspectives on important topics that generate awareness and transformation. The article first appeared at the Toronto Sun (17 Sept 2020).

 

RELATED STORY:

Sikh scholars denounce Khalistan report by Canada think-thank (Asia Samachar, 17 Sept 2020)

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