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India-Canada relations rocked by pro-Khalistan activities

India issues travel advisory, objects strongly to Khalistan Referendum


The relationship status is now deep frost. India's recent travel advisory for students travelling to Canada or studying there to “exercise due caution and remain vigilant'' is an indication that it will be a long time before a thaw sets in.

The travel advisory came a day after India objected strongly to a Khalistan referendum held in Ontario by pro-Khalistani group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ). “A farcical exercise was held by the extremists and radical elements supporting the so-called Khalistan Referendum in Canada and elsewhere,'' said Arindum Bagchi, at the weekly media briefing. “The matter has been taken up with Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels. The government of Canada has reiterated that they respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and that they will not recognise the so-called Khalistan Referendum which is taking place in Canada.” Pictures on social media suggest that the referendum was attended by a large number of people.

The travel advisory issued—acknowledges the event—and is issued amid “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities in Canada'' . “The Ministry of External Affairs and our High Commission/Consulates General in Canada have taken up these incidents with the Canadian authorities and requested them to investigate the said crimes and take appropriate action. The perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada,'' the advisory stated.

A few weeks earlier, BAPS Swaminarayan temple in Canada was defaced with anti-India graffiti by 'Canadian Khalistani' extremists'. On September 15, the Indian High Commission tweeted,"We strongly condemn defacing of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto with anti-India graffiti. Have requested Canadian authorities to investigate the incident and take prompt action on perpetrators."

Indian students have been caught in the storm that has been brewing. This is not the first advisory that the government has chosen to put out. Especially, with visa issues plaguing Indian students. Canada attracts a large number of Indian students. And figures from the MEA show that in the first half of this year, 60,258 Indians chose to go to Canada to study. This has been a particularly difficult one for Indians students headed to Canada as visas have taken very long to process. The Indian High Commission who was engaged with Canadian interlocutors issued an advisory. "Highlighting these issues and the fact that Indian students have already deposited tuition fees with the Canadian institutions we requested the Canadian authorities to expedite processing of visa applications for students from India," the advisory said.

Tensions over Khalistan are not new. This has been an issue between the two countries since 1980. India has made it clear through several governments the concerns about Khalistani extremism.

However, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, this conflict has become worse. In 2015, Trudeau attended the khalsa day parade—a red line for the Indian government—as it accused India of genocide during 1984. And Trudeau's visit to India in 2018—his first state visit—ended up being dubbed a disaster as the Indian government cold-shouldered him.

In 2020, a report by a Canadian think-tank noted that the support for the movement comes from Pakistan. The report authored by veteran journalist Terry Milewski released by Macdonald-Laurier Institute links support from across the border, offering credibility to India's claims. so, far there has been little progress on the issue.

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