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Modi government’s reluctance to felicitate flight charted by a Surrey gurdwara leaves Canadians stranded in Punjab Featured

Hardeep Singh Nijjar Hardeep Singh Nijjar

Gurpreet Singh

The hawkish approach of India’s right wing Hindu nationalist government led by Narendra Modi has left many Canadians stranded in Punjab.

Due to the outbreak of COVID 19 and the cancellation of a number of flights, the fate of Canadian citizens of Punjabi descent is hanging in the balance.

Most of them were visiting India when the pandemic struck.

Though Canada has been trying to get all its citizens back home through special flights, many within the Indo-Canadian community were not pleased.  They believe that not only are the flights insufficient; the passengers are being charged heavily. As a result a few community activists stepped forward to charter a flight on their own.

However, the flight that was to leave with more than 250 passengers on board from Amritsar a few days ago was cancelled at last minute. This is despite the fact that $2,850 for each passenger was deposited with the sponsors as part of what the organizers call a “citizenship initiative”.

The President of Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Surrey-Delta, Hardeep Singh Nijjar confirmed that they were helping to raise funds through a special bank account created for this purpose. About $ 450,000 was raised, but the money is now being returned due to cancellation.

One of the organizers, Sukhi Sandhu, blames it on local politics and thinks that Liberal government MPs, feeling threatened by people’s efforts, used their influence to have it cancelled. But sources say that the cancellation has to do with the ideology of Nijjar and his group.

The unofficial reason given to Canadian government representatives is that the Indian government is not keen to give any logistical aid to an initiative involving Guru Nanak Sikh temple.

After all, Nijjar supports Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a group that is campaigning for a referendum for a separate Sikh homeland in Punjab. The group was recently banned by the Modi government.  This is in sharp contrast to the impunity being enjoyed by Hindu extremist organizations in India. Even as they are involved in violent activities and determined to turn India into a Hindu theocracy, they are not being outlawed.

Not very long ago, the Punjab police had also charged SFJ leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannu with sedition for announcing monetary help to the patients of COVID 19 in India. Again, the right wing Hindu groups based in US and Canada were never charged with sedition for sending money to those involved in violence against Muslims.

Even otherwise, Nijjar was criminally charged in India in connection with terror incidents and the Indian government is trying to get him extradited.  Nijjar is not convicted in those cases.

Nijjar is not surprised if that is the case. He says that he had anticipated such a possibility and cautioned those who approached him to help in raising funds as the temple has a charitable status.

Notably, the Guru Nanak Sikh temple is a public body which has been helping foreign students from India and people from all walks of life in the time of crisis. Its volunteers and management have been consistently raising issues of human rights, not only in India, but other parts of the world. They had also asked the Canadian government to help Sikhs and Hindus who are being persecuted in Afghanistan following the March 25 terror attack on a Gurdwara in Kabul that left 25 people dead.

Its time for the Canadian MPs and those who have been pursuing humanitarian aid for Canadians stuck in India to raise this issue with the Modi government, rather than leaving Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara out in the cold.  They must not sit silent to such selectivity of the Indian state. The gurdwara does not just represent SFJ, which is only asking for a referendum, which is a democratic demand, and is represented by its congregation who do not necessarily agree with the temple management on everything. 

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