VIDEO: Parade shows murder and jailing of Indian prime ministers, high commission calls for action in Brampton

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Published June 10, 2024 at 1:08 pm

For the second year in a row, a parade celebrating Sikh culture in Brampton has raised already heated tensions between Canada and India due to a float portraying the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The Sikh Martyrdom Parade is a religious event celebrated by the Brampton community and Sikhs around the world, with this year’s parade also commemorating the 40th anniversary of Operation Blue Star – an Indian military operation against Sikh separatists that left approximately 400 people dead.

That operation was ordered by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was later shot and killed by her Sikh bodyguards in apparent retaliation – a killing honoured with a parade float in Brampton on the weekend that India is calling a “public display of violence and hatred.”

“Indian nationals living in Canada feel intimidated by such hatred being propagated,” India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa Sanjay Kumar Verma said in a statement to Indian media outlets. “Unfortunately, this has happened in Canada time and again. Canadian systems and society have failed to put any cost on the perpetrators.”

A similar float was added to last year’s parade and was slammed by the Indian government for its “glorification of violence.”

Verma urged “all levels of governments in Canada” to take action against the “abhorrent” display. The same float also featured a cardboard cutout of current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a jail cell.

Diplomatic tensions between Canada and India have been strained following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims that the Indian government was involved in the hit-squad style murder of Canadian Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

Three Indian nationals have been arrested in B.C. and charged in the killing of Nijjar which police described as a sophisticated, targeted attack. The allegation led India to temporarily halt all visa services for Canadian citizens and left many travellers and agencies in Brampton scrambling.

Nijjar was a supporter of the Khalistan referendum movement – a nonbinding vote calling for the state of Punjab to break away from India and become the Sikh state of Khalistan. Thousands of Canadian followers of the Sikh faith came to Brampton in 2022 to take part in the controversial vote organized by Nijjar and others.

The murder also led Brampton City Council to call on police and the federal government to ensure places of worship are kept safe.

Cameron MacKay, High Commissioner for Canada in India, said in 2023 he was “appalled” by the reports “of an event in Canada that celebrated the assassination of late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.”

“There is no place in Canada for hate or for the glorification of violence. I categorically condemn these activities,” MacKay said of the 2023 float in a post on social media.

Brampton has many Sikh temples, also called a gurdwara. Harvinder Dhaliwal of Brampton’s Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Centre says he didn’t have a part in the float but understands the frustrations that inspired it.

“It’s part of history,” Dhaliwal told InSauga.com, saying that while the float may have upset some Bramptonians outside the Sikh population there is educational value for the entire Brampton community in the parade.

“My perspective is, when you have something like this your kids ask questions and you tell them, even if you are against the float or against whatever happened in Operation Blue Star. You’ve got to tell something to your kids,” he said.

India’s only female Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was killed by her bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi in 1984 and triggered rioting by Hindu supporters against Sikhs in northern India.

Insauga.com reached out to Mayor Patrick Brown for comment on the float and questions on whether the city will be addressing India’s concerns.

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