The homicide of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh chief, by alleged brokers of the Indian state exterior a Surrey Gurdwara in British Columbia in June 2023 has precipitated a significant diplomatic incident between India and Canada. Niijar was a non secular chief accused by India of being the top of the banned Khalistan Tiger Pressure (KTF). Though he was born within the Indian state of Punjab, he was a Canadian citizen and his killing by two unidentified gunmen with alleged hyperlinks to India on Canadian soil was described by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as an “unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.” Whatever the alleged involvement of the Indian state, Nijjar’s homicide has wider implications than Indo-Canadian relations. It sheds gentle on the phenomenon of Sikh nationalism and the connection between the Sikh diaspora and its ‘homeland’ Punjab. Moreover, it calls into query the which means of Sikh id and sovereignty in a globalizing world.
The Sikhs are a particular cultural and non secular group in South Asia, with a vibrant diaspora and a territorial homeland. They’re distinctive as a result of most baptized male Sikhs put on uncut hair in turbans and may carry ceremonial swords known as kirpans, in step with the teachings of their tenth and remaining guru, Gobind Singh. There are roughly 26 million Sikhs worldwide, the overwhelming majority of whom dwell within the Indian state of Punjab, the place they type a small majority. The Punjab is their homeland and Amritsar is the Sikh Jerusalem or Mecca the place the holiest shrine, Sri Harmandir Sahibis situated within the Golden Temple complicated.
About 2 to three million Sikhs type a diaspora unfold internationally. These embrace settlers who migrated to the previous dominions of the British Empire, together with Canada, and its colonies. Nonetheless, many have been compelled to flee the Punjab in the course of the civil conflict that broke out between Sikh militants and the central authorities following the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine in Sikhism, by Indian troops on the orders of the Indian Prime Minister. Indira Gandhi in 1984. Gandhi was subsequently assassinated by her Sikh bodyguard, resulting in a pogrom allegedly organized by members of the ruling Indian Nationwide Congress celebration (INC), which left 3,000 folks lifeless. This led to a civil conflict in Punjab, as varied militant factions, a few of which explicitly supported the creation of a separate Sikh state, Khalistan, rebelled in opposition to the central authorities. Some might have been supported by Pakistan, however loved a level of legitimacy in Punjab when the central authorities suspended elections and deployed the military to suppress the motion for ‘nationwide self-determination’, at the price of an estimated 30,000 lives.
Though ‘normalcy’ returned to the Punjab within the mid-Nineties with the restoration of democratic elections, Khalistan lived on within the diaspora, particularly in multicultural societies reminiscent of Canada, which accepted many migrants from the Punjab. Three a long time in the past, Benedict Anderson (1992) advised that Sikh nationalism in Canada was a type of “long-distance nationalism,” by which he meant nationalism with out “duty or accountability.” Nijjar campaigned for a referendum in Canada on independence Khalistan when he was shot. Sikhs make up 2% of Canada’s inhabitants, which is about the identical as in India. Whereas the primary issues in predominantly agricultural Punjab at this time are farmer suicides attributable to excessive debt ranges, the deliberate liberalization of the agricultural sector that sparked farmer protests three years in the past, youth unemployment and a drug epidemic, the specter of the Khalistan nonetheless performs a significant position within the diaspora. I give three causes under.
One cause is that sovereignty for Sikhs is embodied; that’s, baptized Sikhs put on symbols that remind them that they’re a part of a non secular and political group: the Khalsa. The order of the Khalsa, or ‘group of the pure’, was initiated by the tenth and final human guru Gobind Singh (1658-1707). Guru Gobind granted religious authority to the Sikh Holy E book, the Granth Sahiband momentary authority over the group of baptized Sikhs by way of the teachings of Guru Panth – the authorized physique of the group (a collective assembly of the Khalsa) in whom his spirit is eternally current. This has led to the emergence of a discourse that identifies the Sikhs as each a political and a non secular group that shares collective myths and recollections courting again to the founding of the Khalsa order and the following empire of Maharaja Ranjit, who as soon as dominated an empire dominated. which extends to the borders of modern-day Afghanistan. Though Ranjit Singh’s empire was in observe multi-religious, the Sikhs have been a ‘dominant minority’ and after his dying it took two British wars to formally annex the world. Sikhs are reminded of their historical past each time they go to gurdwaratheir place of worship.
A second cause is that India can not declare to be a secular state. In contrast to the North American and French variations of secularism, Indian secularism has at all times been based mostly on the acceptance of spiritual and cultural variations within the public sphere. The state ought to, in idea, be the impartial arbiter between competing claims of spiritual communities and preserve a ‘principled distance’ from faith (Bhargava 1998). In observe, nonetheless, the Indian state was born within the aftermath of the violent partition of not solely the subcontinent but additionally the Punjab by the British into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan. The Sikhs have been in the midst of it. They sided with India, however many turned refugees compelled to flee ethnic cleaning in Pakistan.
Efforts to safe a homeland inside India paid off with the linguistic reorganization of the Punjab. Sikhs claimed Punjabi, broadly spoken by all non secular communities within the Punjab, as their very own. Searching for higher autonomy inside India, the central authorities below India’s Gandhi tried to divide the Sikh group by sponsoring militants. This backfired once they waged a violent marketing campaign of intimidation in opposition to Hindus and members of minority Sikh sects. Lastly, the state tried to crush the militants who took refuge within the Golden Temple complicated. Of their try to ‘flush them out’, Indian troops, lots of whom have been Sikhs themselves, desecrated the Golden Temple, killing many pilgrims. From then on, a good portion of the Sikh group was at conflict with the Indian state. Though the state finally succeeded in crushing the motion, it might not declare to be secular. Even the election of a Sikh Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, couldn’t reassure many Sikhs. The next rise of Hindu nationalism, as espoused by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP), accentuated the consolidation of an Indian nationwide id round an ethnic Hindu core. Underneath Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has develop into a Hindu state Hindu Rashtra.
However maybe crucial cause is that the present worldwide order solely grants recognition to international locations that may declare statehood. The Sikhs have in all probability been a nation since earlier than independence from British colonial rule. Claims to Sikh nationhood are based mostly, as Gurharpal Singh and I’ve argued in our current ebook, Sikh Nationalism, on an ethnic Punjabi core, as Sikhism is just not a proselytizing faith, the Punjabi language, and a territorial homeland. Nonetheless, all these parts of Sikh nationality will be disputed. Certainly, the nation itself is finest seen as an “imagined group” (Anderson 1991). What’s indeniable is that the Sikhs have their very own political system that developed from it Akali motion to take again management gurdwaras throughout British colonial rule. The institution of the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) supplied Sikhs with a mechanism to control gurdwaras. Aggressive elections have been held to achieve management of the SGPC which was dominated by varied factions of the Shiromani Akali Dal, the primary Sikh political celebration. Nonetheless, the SGPC’s management doesn’t prolong to the diaspora, the place a number of factions have emerged dedicated to the institution of a Sikh homeland. Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a frontrunner of 1 such faction that organized a referendum Khalistan. The declare of Indian state involvement, if confirmed true, would merely affirm what many minorities, particularly Muslims, have lengthy felt: that India below the BJP is a homeland for Hindus.
Regardless of the deep-seated and sometimes violent racism that many Sikhs within the diaspora face, Sikhs have in some ways develop into a “mannequin minority.” The success of many Sikh migrants in integrating into Canada’s multicultural society is mirrored within the election of a working towards turban-wearing Sikh, Jagmeet Singh, as chief of the New Democratic Get together, a vital election associate of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Nonetheless, it stays troublesome for a lot of Sikhs within the diaspora to maneuver on Khalistan. I’ve advised three causes: Sikh sovereignty is embodied within the Khalsa; India turns into one Hindu Rashtra; and the present worldwide order primarily acknowledges nations with a declare to statehood. KhalistanBriefly, continues to solid an extended shadow over the diaspora.
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