The Platform

Photo illustration by John Lyman

For many Khalistan activists, Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s murder was most foul.

On the serene evening of June 18, 2023, the tranquil scenery of Surrey, British Columbia, was shattered by the sound of gunfire. Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh separatist leader and temple president, was assassinated in a targeted attack that sent shockwaves through the Sikh community and beyond. This tragedy opened a new chapter in the convoluted saga of the Khalistan movement, which seeks an independent Sikh state and has long been a source of conflict between India and its Sikh diaspora.

Nijjar was more than just a community leader; he was a fervent advocate for Khalistan, tirelessly working to keep the dream of an independent Sikh nation alive. His involvement, however, made him a divisive figure, particularly in the eyes of the Indian government, which views the Khalistan movement as a threat to national security.

The assassination triggered a flurry of allegations and investigations. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s admission of “credible allegations” that Indian spies were involved in Nijjar’s death has further strained relations between Canada and India. The Indian government, however, has categorically rejected these charges as “absurd,” exacerbating the diplomatic situation.

In a parallel development, a disturbing revelation emerged from the United States, where court documents detailed an alleged plot sponsored by the Indian government to assassinate an unnamed Sikh lawyer who holds dual Canadian and U.S. citizenship. This diabolical plot, involving an Indian intelligence official and a narcotics trafficker, underscores the far-reaching consequences of the battle over Sikh activism.

Despite the swirling claims, the spirit of the Khalistan cause remains unwavering. Figures such as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun continue to push the idea, organizing nonbinding referendums across North America to gauge support for an independent Khalistan. Pannun’s relentless pursuit of justice, despite threats to his life, demonstrates the Sikh community’s perseverance in its quest for self-determination.

The demand for Khalistan has deep historical roots, dating back to the tumultuous period of the India-Pakistan partition. The Sikh community, once rulers of the prosperous region of Punjab, found themselves divided and marginalized in the newly formed nations. Over the years, the movement for an independent Sikh state has evolved, encompassing various forms of agitation, both peaceful and militant. Nijjar’s death is a stark reminder of the ongoing conflict and the lengths to which opposing factions will go to silence key voices within the cause.

In the aftermath of Nijjar’s death, the Sikh community in Canada and around the world rallied, demanding justice and transparency in the investigation. The tragedy has also reignited interest in the Khalistan movement among newer generations of Sikhs, many of whom are using social media and other platforms to express their support and educate others about their cause. As the situation evolves, it is clear that Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s legacy and the movement he championed will continue to resonate in the hearts and minds of Sikhs globally.

Nijjar’s assassination and the subsequent developments have highlighted the complex dynamics of Sikh activism in Canada. This episode has sparked not only concerns about foreign meddling on Canadian soil but also a broader examination of international relations and national security. The Canadian government’s ongoing investigation into Nijjar’s murder, coupled with the increasing number of public hearings on foreign political interference, underscores the situation’s complexity.

As the story unfolds, the Sikh community in Canada remains unified, with figures such as Nijjar and Pannun symbolizing the ongoing struggle for recognition and rights. The quest for Khalistan is more than just a political ambition; it is a profound desire for identity and recognition. Paradoxically, the tragic death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar has reignited the campaign, highlighting the Sikh diaspora’s enduring tenacity and conviction.

The Fifth Estate’s exposé provides a glimpse into the multilayered struggle of the Sikh community in Canada, as they navigate between pursuing their goals and the shadows of global geopolitics. As the world watches, the echoes of Khalistan continue to reverberate, reminding us of the intricate interplay between activism, sovereignty, and the unyielding desire for a homeland. As the investigation continues and new information emerges, the Sikh community’s resolve remains steadfast, demonstrating their unwavering commitment to justice, equality, and the right to self-determination.

Sehr Rushmeen, an Islamabad based freelance researcher, completed her MPhil from National Defence University (NDU) in Strategic Studies and her BSc from University of London (UOL) in International Relations. Her areas of interest include nuclear security, artificial intelligence in warfare, South China Sea and South Asian Politics.