September 27, 2023
A billboard outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, shows the turbaned, bearded face of Hardeep Singh Nijjar with the words “shaheed jathedar,” or “martyred disciple.” On June 18, six masked assailants had gunned down Nijjar, 45, outside the same gurdwara.
India had accused Nijjar, a Canadian citizen and supporter of the Khalistani cause — a separatist movement seeking an independent homeland for Sikhs — of orchestrating terrorist attacks in Punjab since 2016, but didn’t have proof. Nijjar had stayed off any Canadian watch lists, since the Canadian constitution protected his right to free speech.
For over a century, Canada — home to the second-largest Sikh population in the world —has served as a Sikh stronghold and a “second Punjab.” Sikhs have been a minority that has faced significant persecution in several South Asian countries and outside them, finding refuge in Canada. But the murder of one man could fissure an age-old alliance between India and Canada.