India Issues Strong Travel Advisory for Canadian Citizens amid Diplomatic Tensions

  • 21 Sep 2023

India has recently issued a robust travel advisory to its citizens in Canada, warning of potential "politically condoned hate crimes," following recent allegations linking New Delhi to the assassination of a Sikh separatist activist on Canadian soil.

Key Points

  • Concerns over Targeted Threats: India’s Ministry of External Affairs has raised concerns about targeted threats against Indian diplomats and segments of the Indian community opposing anti-India agendas in Canada.
  • Deteriorating Security Environment: The advisory emphasizes the deteriorating security situation in Canada and advises Indian students to exercise extreme caution and vigilance.
  • Registration with Indian Authorities: Indian nationals and students are urged to register with the High Commission of India or Consulates General of India in Toronto and Vancouver for better communication in case of emergencies.
  • Suspension of Visa Services: Visa consultancy service BLS International, responsible for processing Indian visa applications in Canada, announced the suspension of visa services for Canadian citizens, citing "operational reasons."
  • Diplomatic Tensions: The travel advisory comes in the wake of a diplomatic rift between Canada and India, triggered by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's claims of investigating potential links between "agents of the government of India" and the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian citizen.
  • Terrorist Organizations: India categorizes several groups associated with the Khalistan movement as "terrorist organizations" under its Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).

Issue of Khalistan Movement

  • Demand for a Sikh Homeland: The Khalistan movement represents a demand for a distinct homeland for Sikhs, known as Khalistan (the land of the Khalsa).
  • Historical Background: The movement gained momentum in the 1980s due to widespread dissatisfaction among Sikhs in post-independence India regarding economic, social, and political conditions.
  • Roots in Partition: The partition of Punjab between Pakistan and India in 1947 left the Sikh community divided between a Muslim-majority Pakistan and a predominantly Hindu India, leading to disaffection.
  • 1966 Division: Punjab was further divided along linguistic lines in 1966 when the Hindi-speaking state of Haryana was created, exacerbating the Sikh community's sense of division.
  • Green Revolution Impact: India's Green Revolution in the late 1960s, aimed at improving agricultural production, created resentment among Sikhs due to wealth inequality, lack of non-agricultural development, and centralized agricultural policy.
  • Water Dispute: The diversion of water from the Sutlej River away from Punjab to neighboring states intensified Sikh grievances.
  • Leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale: In the late 1970s, Sikh preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale emerged as a prominent leader, claiming discrimination against Sikhs and an erosion of Sikh identity by the Indian government. Bhindranwale established a parallel government in the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar.
  • Operation Bluestar: In response to Bhindranwale's presence in the Golden Temple, the Indian army conducted Operation Bluestar in June 1984, further angering the Sikh population.
  • 1984 Anti-Sikh Violence: Following the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in November 1984, over 2,700 Sikhs (according to government estimates) were killed in violent attacks in New Delhi, intensifying the period of violence in Punjab.
  • Resurgence in Recent Years: The Khalistan movement resurfaced in recent years, notably during the farmer protests in New Delhi in 2020–21. Some supporters advocated for its revival, leading to renewed debates on the issue.
  • Transnational Character: The Khalistan movement has a transnational character, with significant support from the Sikh diaspora in countries like Canada, the UK, and Australia.
  • Air India Bombing: Sikh organizations based in Canada were blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight from Toronto to London, resulting in 329 deaths. One acquitted suspect in the attack was later shot dead in Canada.
  • Allegations of Canadian Support: The Indian government has accused Canada of providing a safe haven for Khalistani militants and extremists, leading to tensions in India-Canada relations.
  • Public Referendums: Public referendums on the creation of an independent Khalistan state have been held in Canada, the UK, Australia, and other countries, further straining diplomatic ties.
  • Recent Tensions: Recent tensions between India and Canada include the pause in talks on a free-trade agreement and a frosty exchange between the leaders of both countries at the G20 summit.