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Friday, December 1, 2023

How Hardeep Singh Nijjar Merged a Sikh Temple and a Separatist Motion

The markers of separatism are all over the place on the temple. Dozens of yellow flags of Khalistan — a homeland that Sikh separatists wish to create within the Punjab area of India — fly in and across the grounds of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple close to Vancouver.

In a floor ground corridor, the place the trustworthy have been socializing and consuming, the partitions are lined with scores of framed images of slain separatist leaders. Now, a portrait of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, holding the symbolic curved sword of religious males, has been added to a wall with 4 pushpins, nonetheless unframed.

Mr. Nijjar was gunned down exterior the temple in June, a killing that Canada has accused India of orchestrating, beginning a diplomatic skirmish that has culminated in a confrontation between the 2 international locations.

Mr. Nijjar had taken over management of the temple in 2019, and his ascension steered the temple in a much more strident and political path, probably rousing the suspicion of India, which labeled him a terrorist the next yr.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that brokers of the Indian authorities had carried out Mr. Nijjar’s execution on Canadian soil. The Indian authorities, which has lengthy accused Canada of harboring Sikh extremists, strongly denied the accusation. Mr. Trudeau’s allegation, made thus far with out the presentation of proof, led to tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats.

Mr. Trudeau, who was in New York on Thursday for the United Nations Common Meeting, instructed editors and reporters of The New York Instances that he couldn’t discuss concerning the proof behind his accusations.

“We’re not attempting to impress,’’ he stated. “However when we’ve got credible causes to imagine that this occurred, you’ll be able to’t shrug it off.’’

The temple is the oldest, largest and most influential in Surrey, town in British Columbia that’s an epicenter of Canada’s massive Sikh diaspora. At one time, when its leaders have been pleasant with India, it was a daily cease for visiting Indian officers.

Separatists gained management of the temple’s management in 2008, however they remained largely quiet about probably the most fraught facet of Sikh separatism: criticism of the Indian state.

That modified beneath Mr. Nijjar’s management.

“The distinction was how blunt Mr. Nijjar was in calling out the Indian state,’’ stated Gurkeerat Singh, 30, an in depth affiliate of Mr. Nijjar and a lifelong temple member. “He was very blunt, unapologetic. Each single week, he would come on the stage and make this the principle difficulty about what’s occurring to our youth in Punjab and what the Indian state has dedicated in opposition to us.’’

The temple, occupying a number of blocks, is without doubt one of the most seen focal factors of Sikh life in Surrey, together with a big sprawling out of doors mall known as Payal Enterprise Heart a few miles away.

The way it turned an outspoken advocate for separatism displays the evolution of the Sikh neighborhood in Canada — the biggest exterior India — and the political emergence of second-generation immigrants, the kids of Sikhs who fled to Canada following violence in India within the Nineteen Eighties, specialists stated.

It’s tough to gauge what share of the Canadian Sikh inhabitants helps the separatism that Mr. Nijjar championed and that fueled his rise, specialists stated, however indicators of this separatism are expressed extra conspicuously than previously — for instance, within the referendum for an unbiased state of Khalistan that Mr. Nijjar and different leaders have been organizing in Sikh diaspora communities worldwide.

“There may be now extra seen, bodily, tangible assist for Khalistan,’’ stated Indira Prahst, a sociologist at Langara Faculty in Vancouver. “It’s extra overt.’’

Irrespective of the breadth of the motion, the Indian authorities thought of Mr. Nijjar a menace. It declared him a terrorist in 2020, accusing him of plotting an assault in India and of main a terrorist group.

For Mr. Nijjar’s supporters, the costs have been merely a strategy to discredit an inspirational determine who was rallying Sikhs across the purpose of self-determination and combating for his or her rights.

Mr. Nijjar, who was 45 when he was killed, was a teen when he arrived in Canada in 1997 following years of lethal violence between Sikhs and the Indian authorities.

In 1984, Indian troopers occupied one of many holiest Sikh locations of worship in India, the Golden Temple, to take away militants after Sikh separatists had dedicated massacres of Hindus in Punjab, the state the place Sikhs are a majority. A whole lot of Sikhs have been killed, and 1000’s extra have been additionally killed after the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.

Mr. Nijjar instructed his household about Sikh males who, fearing being focused, needed to take off their turbans and of mates who disappeared, his son, Balraj Singh Nijjar, 21, stated in an interview.

“He talked about to me as effectively how he had been tortured in India in his teenage years and the way that left him with a ache to today,’’ the son stated.

By the point Mr. Nijjar arrived in 1997, the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple had existed for about 20 years. First established in a home in Delta, a metropolis about 10 miles southwest of Surrey, it was in-built its present location within the late Nineteen Seventies by the small Sikh neighborhood of principally working-class immigrants who had immigrated to Canada within the previous a long time, stated Shinder Purewal, an skilled on Sikh nationalism at Kwantlen Polytechnic College in Surrey.

“Most of them have been reasonable Sikhs, who weren’t a lot training and who have been reasonably built-in in Canadian society,’’ stated Mr. Purewal, who himself has been going to the temple ever because it was first housed in a house. “Secular sorts who went to temple extra for cultural reasonably than non secular causes.’’

However the mass arrival of Sikhs following the violence of the Nineteen Eighties modified the dynamics at this temple and others that opened within the area, pitting older arrivals who tended to foster pleasant ties with the Indian consulate and newcomers who noticed the Indian authorities as their sworn enemy.

“Within the Nineties and 2000s, there have been many skirmishes in temples between what you’ll name moderates and fundamentalists,’’ Satwinder Bains, an skilled on the Sikh neighborhood on the College of the Fraser Valley, stated, including that temple leaders are often elected by members.

In 2008, separatists advocating for the homeland of Khalistan took over the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple. Immediately, in Surrey, the place greater than 1 / 4 of town’s inhabitants identifies as Sikh, three out of a dozen temples are outwardly separatist, with the remainder remaining principally impartial, Mr. Purewal stated.

The separatist motion has turn out to be extra seen with the emergence of second-generation Canadian Sikhs who’ve heard tales of the violence within the Nineteen Eighties from mother and father and grandparents, stated Ms. Prahst, the sociologist.

“Members of the second era are actually listening to extra about what occurred in 1984 in India, and that’s placing a really deep chord of their hearts, their psyche and their identification,’’ Ms. Prahst stated.

Mr. Singh, the 30-year-old who was near Mr. Nijjar, was born and grew up in British Columbia. He turned politically conscious after listening to tales from his grandparents, he stated.

“Our mother and father are first era and so they made us financially secure,’’ Mr. Singh stated. “So we’re in a position to come out and talk about these points.”

Critics say that the separatist motion is basically a product of diaspora communities and now has little resonance amongst Sikhs in India. Separatists say that Sikhs in India are just too afraid to talk.

On the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara temple, worshipers — together with newcomers — expressed a wide range of opinions concerning the separatist motion.

Prabhjot Kaur, 30, who arrived in Surrey just a few months in the past to check enterprise administration and deliberate to return to India to work, stated she got here to the temple a number of occasions per week for non secular causes and didn’t imagine an unbiased Sikh state was viable.

“Who will put money into such a state?” Ms. Kaur stated, however added that the killing of Mr. Nijjar was unacceptable.

A memorial has been erected within the temple’s parking zone the place Mr. Nijjar was shot lifeless by two heavyset males whereas driving his pickup truck final June. An indication describes him as the primary martyr of the Khalistan motion in Canada.

Mr. Nijjar was on his manner house from the temple the place he had instructed congregants of his fears of being focused by India. In his pickup, he known as his spouse who put him on speakerphone, recalled his son, Balraj.

“What’s for dinner?’’ requested Mr. Nijjar who, relying on the reply, generally ordered takeout, his son stated.

But it surely was Father’s Day, and his favorites, together with a candy dessert known as seviyan, have been ready for him at house.

“He obtained even happier,’’ the son stated, “and he instructed us, ‘Maintain that heat. I’m coming proper now.’’’

Mihika Agarwal contributed reporting.

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