By: The South Asian Post Desk
About 16 Sikh temples in BC and Alberta have joined Sikh religious organisations in Ontario, the US, and the UK to ban Indian officials and diplomats from making formal visits to their places of worship in response to the arrest of a Sikh activist in India and what they call interference in their affairs.
The initiative in Western Canada was moved forward by the Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar in Surrey, which organizes the annual mammoth Vaisakhi celebrations in British Columbia.
The ban started in Ontario and spread to temples or gurdwaras in the US and the UK, with more than 100 places of worship now involved, Sikh websites said.
Organisations supporting the campaign, said that the ban would apply to official visits but not personal trips to temples.
The November arrest of British Sikh activist Jagtar Singh Johal by Indian authorities and “interference in Sikh affairs” by Indian officials had led to the move, said campaign organisers.
Johal was detained in the northern state of Punjab and accused of involvement in the killings of prominent Hindu figures.
His family has rejected the allegations against him, explaining that he was in India to get married. Sikh activists say his arrest was politically motivated.
Federal Canada NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and two Liberal Sikh cabinet ministers have joined a chorus of international complaints about the alleged torture of Johal triggering intense reaction by the Modi administration in India.
Adding to the Indian government’s displeasure to the actions in Canada is the recent elevation of Harinder Malhi, an Ontario provincial parliament member as Minister of the Status of Women.
Malhi is the mover of the 1984 genocide motion in the Ontario House last April and the 38-year-old daughter of Canada’s first turbaned MP Gurbax Singh Malhi.
In the summer of 1984, Indian troops battling Sikh fighters stormed Sikhism’s holiest Gurdwara, the Golden Temple, leaving hundreds dead.
Later that year, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her Sikh bodyguards, who held her responsible for the bloodshed.
In the aftermath of Gandhi’s death, thousands of Sikhs were killed as sectarian mobs targeted Sikhs in Punjab, and the Indian capital New Delhi.
Sikhs have described the killings as a genocide, which India has discounted.
The decision by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne to elevate Malhi seems to have been taken with an eye to Sikh votes as Ontario goes to the polls in June.
Sikh Siyasat News said that the Sikhs residing in Canada will not give in or bow down to the interference and pressure placed upon them by the Indian state and their representatives, while reporting on the ban of Indian officials at local temples.
“Although this policy of restriction already exists informally, it is due time for a formal declaration”, temple representatives said according to the website.
“It should be noted that this step is being taken not to restrict access to the Guru, but rather to ensure that the Gurdwara Sahib remains clear from the interference of corrupt officials who represent a government that for the last 4 decades has committed genocide against the Sikh congregation and has never had positive intentions in dealing with Sikhs as a separate nation of people. Further, Sikhs in Canada have been humiliated and threatened by Indian
Consulate offices across the country when trying to access their native homeland of Punjab and being required to have a travel visa (issued by Indian Consulate offices) to do so”, the statement reads.
“Gurdwaras in Canada have often been approached by Sikhs with stories of mistreatment at the hands of these Indian officials who are keen to abuse their power, further subjugate Sikhs, and have attempted to infiltrate Gurdwara Sahibs and Sikh organizations in Canada since 1984”, the statement said.
The statement, however, added that no individual is banned from visiting Gurdwara and the prohibition is only for Indian officials when they try to visit the temples in their official capacity.
“To be clear, no individual is being banned from Gurdwara Sahibs, but Indian representatives in official capacity will not be permitted to address the congregation in Guru Darbar and sewadars from each Gurdwara Sahib may individually choose to which degree they will allow Indian officials access. The purpose of this declaration is to make it known that Sikhs in Canada will not be cornered by the Indian government and their representatives will be accountable to the Sikh congregation everywhere they go”, reads the statement.
The ban imposed by Sikh gurdwara committees in Canada on entry of Indian government officials in gurdwaras was also raised in India’s parliament last week.
Congress MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Singh Bittu raised the issue drawing government’s attention to the development in Canada.
“Khalistani (Sikh separatist) elements are behind the decision,” he said, and added that these elements are maligning the image of the entire Sikh community which will not be tolerated.
He cautioned the gurdwara committees concerned that by indulging in such uncalled for acts, they will forfeit the chance of any help from India.
“Government of India and state government of Punjab will not tolerate this,” he said.
This piece was republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
Marcus is a poet, editor and freelance journalist based in Toronto. He currently works with New Canadian Media as an Administrative Assistant.