TORONTO: Thousands of Sikhs here on Sunday arrived at the polling station at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton to cast their vote for a referendum on the creation of Khalistan – a new state in Indian Punjab.
The voting started with special prayers. A large number of women and the elderly were in the queue to vote in the referendum. The voters said the results of the referendum would make it clear that Sikhs wanted freedom from India. A new country would appear on the map of the world in the state of Indian Punjab, they said adding India could not deprive Sikhs of freedom.
The Canadian government has refused to stop Canadian Sikhs from expressing their views by holding the Khalistan Referendum and by linking it with a peaceful and democratic process within the legal parameters of Canadian law.
Commenting on the situation which emerged after an attack on a Hindu temple and the poster of a revered Khalistan Sikh leader, a Canadian government official said that the Canadian nationals had every freedom to express their views under the Canadian laws relating to the right to freedom of expression and right to free speech and assembly.
The official views came after lobbying by the Indian government urging the Canadian government to act against the rising pro-Khalistan sentiment in Canada, which is home to over one million Sikhs. A high-profile campaign for Khalistan is being run by the pro-Kahlistan group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ).
The Indian government is reported to have tried to apply diplomatic pressure on the Canadian government ahead of the Khalistan Referendum voting on 18 September at the Gore Meadows Community Center in Brampton, Ontario. Hundreds of Sikhs gathered at the center on Saturday to make preparations for the voting on Sunday.
Canadian officials were quoted as saying that Canada could not take away right of the Canadians to engage in any kind of political activity and demand their rights through peaceful and democratic means.
Canadian parliamentarian Sukhminder Singh Dhaliwal also said that constitutional and democratic political expression could not be stopped. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the Counsel General of Sikhs for Justice and a New York Attorney, said the Indian government used every trick to paint Sikhs in a bad light to the West but democratic governments had refused to buckle to Indian pressure.
They recognized that the Khalistan referendum sought to assess the desire for an independent Khalistan, he said, adding once the voting process was completed the case would be taken up at the United Nations. Gurpatwant Singh Pannun reiterated that SFJ and other pro-Khalistan organizations had no links with violence. “We are for the ballot, not the bullet. India hates our approach to peace,” he maintained.
Jatinder Singh Grewal, the policy director of SFJ, said: “The issue of Khalistan Referendum falls well within the right of freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right enjoyed by all Canadians. India has a difficult time understanding this principle as they have systematically criminalized political decent within their state and today countless Sikhs who wish to exercise their right to self-determination are labeled `terrorists’.”
And now India was trying to export this system to the west but the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom guaranteed this right and no amount of Indian pressure would change this reality, he added.
Media reports reveal that Indian Prime Minister Modi’s government was visibly perturbed by the scenes of thousands of Sikhs coming out in the western capitals demanding freedom from India and the establishment of an independent state of Khalistan. The issue of Sikh separatism was a major bone of contention of Prime Minister Trudeau’s trip to India a few years ago. The Indian government had openly accused the Canadian authorities of showing leniency towards Khalistanis in Canada.
The Indian government demanded its Canadian counterpart prevent people from “misusing their right to freedom of expression” to “incite violence and glorify terrorists as martyrs” which was vehemently denied by SFJ.
The Indian media said that earlier this week the Indian authorities launched a strong protest with the Canadian government after BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto was vandalized with anti-Indian and pro-Khalistan slogans written at the entrance ahead of 18 September Khalistan Referendum voting which was set to attract tens of thousands of Sikhs.
The Indian government condemned the vandalism at the Mandir, calling on the Canadian prime minister to take action against the suspected Khalistani activists. “India had formally submitted a request in 2021 to the Canadian administration demanding a ban on SFJ. However, looking at the way this organisation is conducting a referendum event with no intervention by the Canadian authorities, it can be safely concluded that Indian demands have fallen on deaf ears. The recent defacing of a Swaminarayan temple proves that the Indian government must take up the matter with its Canadian counterpart,” a leading Indian media outlet, News18 said.
“We strongly condemn the defacing of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto with anti-India graffiti. Have requested Canadian authorities to investigate the incident and take prompt action on perpetrators,” the Indian High Commission tweeted.
In response to the attack, over 500 Sikhs protested outside the Indian consulate in Toronto claiming that the Indian government was behind the attack on the posters of nationalist Sikh leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was regarded as a martyr, saint and icon of the Khalistan Movement.
Despite the incident, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not uttered a word condemning the offenders. Not only him, even his coalition partner Jagmeet Singh, who was supposed to protect Indian heritage in Canada, had not spoken a word about it, TFIPOST, an Indian social media platform, said in its report.
The Canadian prime minister was quoted as saying “Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the right of peaceful protest. We believe in importance of dialogue and that is why we have reached out through multiple means directly to Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.” —APP