The Assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar: A Controversial Figure Straining Relations Between Canada and India

by Sophia Chen
Sikh Activist Assassination

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, an advocate for Sikh independence who was fatally shot two months ago, has become the focal point of escalating diplomatic tensions between India and Canada. While Sikh organizations have lauded him as a human rights activist, the Indian government has labeled him a criminal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada disclosed on Monday that his administration is looking into “substantive allegations” connecting agents of the Indian government to the assassination of Nijjar, which took place outside a Sikh cultural facility in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18. India has categorically denied any involvement, dismissing such claims as baseless.

A Canadian Separatist and Entrepreneur

At the time of his death at 45, Nijjar was a significant figure in the campaign for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan. He was involved in organizing an informal referendum on the issue among the global Sikh community through the organization Sikhs For Justice. Apart from his political activism, Nijjar was an entrepreneur in the plumbing industry and presided over a Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in suburban Vancouver. Banners displaying his image advocating for the referendum were displayed at the temple. In a 2016 interview with the Vancouver Sun, he categorically rejected Indian media claims that he led a terrorist cell, stating his long-standing residence and clean record in Canada.

A Polarizing Legacy

After his untimely death, the World Sikh Organization of Canada celebrated Nijjar as a vocal proponent of Khalistan who frequently led peaceful demonstrations against ongoing human rights abuses in India and in favor of Khalistan.

A Fugitive in India’s Eyes

Nijjar had been a person of interest to the Indian government for several years, considered a threat to national security due to his separatist views. Reports in 2016 from Indian media outlets alleged that he was the mastermind behind a bombing in Punjab, a state with a Sikh majority, as well as being involved in training terrorists near Vancouver. Nijjar consistently denied these claims.

In 2020, Indian authorities labeled him a member of a proscribed militant organization and formally designated him as a terrorist. During the same period, as farmers, predominantly from Punjab, protested controversial agricultural legislation on the outskirts of New Delhi, the Indian government sought to delegitimize the protests by associating them with Sikh separatists like Nijjar.

The Ongoing Struggle for Sikh Independence

The call for Sikh independence has roots dating back to the 1940s but became a violent insurgency that peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. The tension culminated in 1984 when then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a military operation against armed separatists hiding in Sikhism’s most sacred site, leading to her subsequent assassination by her Sikh bodyguards.

Canada’s Sikh Community Stands In Solidarity

Nijjar’s assassination galvanized Canada’s substantial Sikh community. Approximately a week after his death, about 200 demonstrators gathered outside the Indian Consulate in Vancouver, asserting their belief that Nijjar’s activism for an independent Sikh state was the underlying cause of his killing.

“It sent shockwaves through communities worldwide, including in Punjab,” Moninder Singh, a spokesperson for the British Columbia Sikh Gurdwara Council, told Canada’s CTV.

“The emotions are running extremely high,” said Sukh Dhaliwal, a Parliament member who represents Surrey, in the days following the murder.

This article has been updated to clarify that the armed insurgency took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Reported from Bangkok by Cohen.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Sikh Activist Assassination

What is the main controversy surrounding Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s death?

Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s death has sparked a controversy as it is seen as a source of escalating tensions between Canada and India. Sikh organizations view him as a human rights activist, while the Indian government labels him a criminal.

What were Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s affiliations and activities?

Nijjar was an advocate for Sikh independence and was actively involved in organizing an unofficial referendum on Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland. He also owned a plumbing business and held a leadership position at a Sikh temple in Canada.

Why was Hardeep Singh Nijjar wanted by the Indian government?

The Indian government considered Nijjar a security threat due to his alleged involvement in separatist activities. He was accused of masterminding a bombing in Punjab, training terrorists near Vancouver, and being associated with banned militant groups.

How has Canada’s Sikh community reacted to Nijjar’s assassination?

Canada’s Sikh community has rallied in support of Nijjar, with protests and demonstrations taking place. Many believe that his killing was linked to his advocacy for an independent Sikh state, Khalistan.

What is the historical context of the Sikh independence movement mentioned in the text?

The Sikh independence movement dates back to the 1940s and evolved into an armed insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s. It culminated in the Indian government’s military operation in 1984, leading to widespread violence and unrest.

What role has Canada played in the controversy?

Canada has a significant Sikh population and has been accused by India of tolerating Sikh separatists. The assassination of Nijjar has further strained diplomatic relations between the two countries.

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NewsHound47 September 20, 2023 - 9:51 am

Nijjar, big deal in Sikh world. India say he bad, Canada say he good. Who to believe?

Reader123 September 20, 2023 - 1:37 pm

cool article bout dat Sikh guy Nijjar. srsly tho, India n Canada beefin over him.

CuriousCat September 20, 2023 - 5:37 pm

So, what’s this Khalistan thing he was into? Can u explain dat more?

GlobalCitizen September 20, 2023 - 8:44 pm

Sikh history’s crazy. Remember Operation Blue Star in ’84? So much violence.

InfoSeeker23 September 21, 2023 - 3:20 am

Canada got a big Sikh crew. India not happy. Tensions, man.


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