Canadian Prime Minister revealed in parliament that there are credible allegations that the Indian government is connected to Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination in British Columbia. Nijjar was a Sikh Khalistani separatist leader, a movement that advocates for a separate Punjab rooted in Sikhism. Trudeau explained to Parliament that his decision to make these allegations and investigation into the assassination was to urge India to “take this matter with the utmost seriousness.”
On June 18, Nijjar was shot dead outside of a Sikh temple in a Vancouver neighborhood. In India, the government had branded Nijjar a “terrorist.” Such is a Hindutva and general nation-state tactic to crackdown on those in minority groups. separatist movements, and generally anyone who advocates against oppression.
Nijjar was from Jalandhar, Punjab. He moved to Canada in 1997 and was a plumber. He was associated with the Khalistan Tiger Force group. The Khalistan movement began as a rebellion in the late 1980s and ended with the governmental killing of Sikh leaders and civilians. Sikhs demanded a separate homeland, stifled from economic, social, and political circumstances of India. Khalistan means “Land of the Khalsa,” or “Land of the Pure.” Just as the Khalistani movement is suppressed and deemed terrorism by the Indian government, so are other minority movements in India, such as the fight against Indian occupation in the Kashmir Valley, or the members who make up the Dalit activism sphere. Utilizing terrorism as a charge against those who are politically active and advocating for self-determination is a loud tactic by nation-states. The US actively engages in counterterrorism work, entrapping Muslim Americans in a post 9/11 landscape. The UK utilizes counterterrorism to the same effect. Understanding how nation-states categorize certain people is integral to understanding what has transpired in Canada now.
Nijjar had been charged under the Unlawful Activities Act, which has been increasingly used by the Hindutva Modi administration to detain people without trial, indefinitely. Ensaaf Dhami says, “It seems that there is a clear connection between the individual who was targeted and killed and his political opinions, namely his stance in favor of an independent Sikh state and his belief that he has a right to advocate for that position.”
The allegation of India assassinating a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is a matter also of sovereignty of nation-states. Al Jazeera reports that Trudeau said, “We are not looking to provoke or escalate. We are simply laying out the facts as we understand them, and we want to work with the government of India to lay everything clear.” India has denied the accusations, and has instead prompted Canada to “take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil.”
Sikhs in Canada, and even the US, are now fearing for their safety. The Intercept reports that the FBI has warned Sikhs in the US about death threats after the Nijjar killing. Sikh Americans have asked the US government to help them take steps to protect themselves and stand up against the very aggressive and authoritarian Hindutva, Modi government.
“The U.S. has expressed concern over the allegations, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the U.S. is cooperating with Canada in its investigation. In a statement this week, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said that India does not have ‘special exemption’ to carry out actions like extrajudicial killings, for which the U.S. criticizes rival countries like Russia and China.”
The assassination of Nijjar should not be seen as occurring in a vacuum, but rather, it is a targeted attack at Sikh leaders from an aggressive Hindutva government. The Indian government must be held accountable for these alleged extrajudicial killings of minority activists and leaders.