What is the Sikh separatist movement at centre of the Canada-India dispute?

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Published September 19, 2023 at 4:21 pm

Khalistan India Canada

The shooting death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, B.C., in June has touched off a foreign affairs crisis between Canada and India over the Sikh leader’s role in the Khalistan separatism movement. Here is what you need to know about the movement.

What is Khalistan? Khalistan is the term used for the quest of an independent Sikh homeland centred around the Indian state of Punjab where Sikhs make up a majority of the population. The group comprises about 1.7 per cent of India’s overall population.

How long has the Khalistan movement been around? The idea for a separate Sikh state has been around for at least 300 years, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. The idea featured prominently during the talks before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947.

Where is the movement now? A report by the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society at the University of Waterloo says the movement in Punjab peaked in the 1980s and early 1990s with a number of political and religious conflicts but it has since tapered off in India. However, the report says activity has resurfaced overseas, particularly in Canada, since the 1985 Air India bombing.

Is the movement still popular in Canada? Organizers of an overseas referendum say more than 135,000 people turned up on Sept. 10 to vote at the Surrey gurdwara where Nijjar was shot dead, and another vote is planned for Oct. 29. Organizers also say other votes are planned throughout Canada and across the world.

How large is the Sikh community in Canada? Statistics Canada says in 2022 that there were about 770,000 practitioners of the Sikh religion in the country, and the Canadian Network for Research on Terrorism, Security and Society says in a report that opinions are divided in the Canadian Sikh diaspora on the Khalistan movement, with a significant number of those in the community who do not support it.

The Canadian Press

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