Unveiling the Enigma of Hardeep Singh Nijjar: A Sikh Activist’s Tragic Demise in Canada
In a chilling narrative that has sent shockwaves through the global Sikh community, Canada recently unveiled “credible allegations” linking agents of the Indian government to the tragic assassination of the prominent Sikh leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, which occurred in June. The untimely death of Nijjar, a fervent advocate for the Khalistan movement, unfolded a complex web of controversy that has reverberated not only in Canada but also on the international stage.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar: A Brief Biography
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, hailing from the northern Indian state of Punjab, had called Canada home for over a quarter of a century. His life in Canada was marked by his successful plumbing business and his role as the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, a Sikh temple located in Surrey, British Columbia. Tragically, his journey was cut short at the age of 45.
Nijjar’s Role in the Khalistan Movement
Nijjar’s significance in the Khalistan movement cannot be overstated. In the northern state of Punjab, he was unequivocally labeled a “terrorist” by the Indian government, which even went so far as to issue an arrest warrant for him. Interpol notices in 2016 alleged his involvement as a “key conspirator” in the 2007 cinema bombing in Punjab. Additionally, Nijjar faced accusations of recruiting and fundraising, charges he vehemently denied.
Nijjar’s demise left behind a grieving wife and two adult sons, according to Canadian media reports.
The Mysterious Assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar
On the fateful evening of June 18, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police received a distressing report of a shooting outside the Sikh temple where Nijjar served as the president. Tragically, Nijjar succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds within the confines of his pickup truck, as the police arrived at the scene. The perpetrators, described as burly men concealing their faces, hastily fled the scene. Subsequently, it was disclosed that a third suspect had aided the two gunmen in escaping in a silver 2008 Toyota Camry. As of now, all three suspects remain at large, as reported by the Toronto Sun.
While authorities have deemed the incident “targeted,” the motive behind the murder remains undisclosed. This has spurred concerns among some members of the Sikh community who suspect that the assassination was politically motivated. Friends of Nijjar revealed that he had been alerted by Canadian intelligence officials about threats to his life.
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Nijjar’s legal representative, asserted that Nijjar was likely singled out for his role in organizing a nonbinding referendum in Canada. This referendum aimed to determine whether an independent Sikh state in Punjab, known as Khalistan, should be established. Pannun urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to expel the Indian high commissioner in Canada in light of these events.
Trudeau’s Stance on the Case
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed deep concern over the case, asserting that Canada was actively investigating the murder and exploring “credible allegations” linking the Indian government to the crime. He stressed the gravity of foreign government involvement in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil, considering it a blatant infringement of sovereignty and a violation of the principles governing free, open, and democratic societies.
Trudeau acknowledged the apprehensions within the Indo-Canadian community, empathizing with their anger and fear. He called upon the Indian government to collaborate in uncovering the truth behind this tragic incident. Trudeau confirmed that he had conveyed his concerns to top Indian security and intelligence officials, as well as to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the Group of 20 summit held earlier that month in New Delhi.
Impact on Canada-Indian Relations
Canada’s Foreign Minister, Mélanie Joly, took decisive action in response to the unfolding situation. She ordered the expulsion of an Indian diplomat whom she identified as “the head” of Indian intelligence in Canada. Trudeau also raised the allegations with U.S. President Biden and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, with plans to discuss the matter further at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s Public Safety Minister, revealed that Canadian security officials had made several trips to India recently to collaborate on investigating Nijjar’s murder. However, he refrained from directly addressing queries about potential hindrances imposed by Indian authorities on Canada’s investigative efforts.
As a tangible repercussion of this crisis, Canadian officials announced the cancellation of a long-anticipated trade mission to Mumbai, scheduled for the following month. Moreover, trade talks between the two nations have been temporarily suspended.
In a retaliatory move, India expelled a Canadian diplomat, a response that was seen as tit-for-tat.
India swiftly refuted Canada’s allegations, deeming them “absurd.” After the G-20 summit, Prime Minister Modi’s office expressed concerns about “continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.” These activities, according to Indian authorities, involved promoting secessionism and inciting violence.
Recent months have seen Indian officials sound the alarm about the potential resurgence of Sikh separatism in Punjab. In April, they apprehended Amritpal Singh, a self-declared separatist, following an extensive month-long pursuit during which they implemented partial internet shutdowns and social media censorship.
Sikhism: A Brief Overview
Sikhism, a monotheistic religion originating five centuries ago in Punjab, boasts a global following exceeding 25 million adherents. The majority of Sikhs reside in India, where they constitute a religious minority. Notably, Britain, Canada, and the United States are also home to substantial Sikh communities.
Central to Sikh identity is the turban, a visible symbol of their faith, worn by both men and women. Sikhism inherently advocates for universal equality.
According to the 2021 census, approximately 770,000 individuals in Canada identified as Sikhs. Upon assuming office in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet included four members of Sikh origin. Furthermore, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the center-left New Democratic Party, is also Sikh. It is important to note that while some Sikh individuals support the separatist movement, a significant portion does not, and separatism enjoys limited support within Punjab.
The Khalistan Movement Revisited
Nijjar’s tragic demise reignited global interest in the Khalistan movement, underscoring the enduring tensions between the Indian state and Sikh separatists. Launched in the 1940s, the movement aspires to establish Khalistan, a sovereign state for the Sikh population in India. It is important to note that the Indian government has banned the movement, citing it as a threat to national security.
Canada hosts an active wing of the Sikh diaspora advocating for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland. Indian security officials have expressed concerns over signs of escalating militancy in Punjab in recent years. The Sikh insurgency during the 1980s and 1990s resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, according to Human Rights Watch. Notably, a Sikh extremist was convicted in the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 heading from Canada to India, which killed all 329 people on board.