Nijjar was a notable figure and a vocal advocate for the supporters seeking an independent Sikh state known as Khalistan. He served as the leader of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara, a Sikh place of worship located in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb where he resided. He remained in this leadership role until his passing.
During the summer, he was tragically assassinated outside a temple in British Columbia (BC), Canada. This event has sparked anger among his followers and escalated international tensions between Sikh separatists and the Indian government.
During a mid-June evening, Hardeep Singh Nijjar met a tragic end in the bustling parking lot of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey. Two masked assailants shot him dead while he sat in his truck.
Several months later, this unsolved murder still has profound repercussions, resonating not only in Canada but also beyond its borders. In early July, hundreds of Sikh separatists, joined by a few in cities such as Toronto, London, Melbourne, and San Francisco, took to the streets to protest against the Indian government, whom they suspect of being responsible for Nijjar’s demise.
In a recent development in September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India of involvement in Mr. Nijjar’s death, citing Canadian intelligence findings that have identified “credible allegations” linking his demise to agents of the Indian government.The Indian government has denied any hand in the murder.
The anger that erupted in the wake of the 45-year-old’s murder has spotlighted an enduring concern: certain factions advocating for a distinct homeland for Sikhs, who constitute a religious minority comprising roughly 2% of India’s population.
The movement reached its zenith during the 1980s, primarily in the state of Punjab, marked by a series of violent incidents and casualties. However, it waned as security forces conducted targeted operations against the movement. Nevertheless, supporters within the diaspora community have sustained their demands for a separate state, and these calls have gained momentum in recent times.
India has vehemently opposed the Khalistan movement, with all major political parties, including those in Punjab, unequivocally condemning violence and separatism.
At the time of his death, Canadian investigators had not ascertained the motive behind his murder or identified any suspects, but they did label the killing as a “targeted incident.”
Canada hosts the largest Sikh diaspora community outside of Punjab. On July 8th, hundreds gathered in Toronto to protest Mr. Nijjar’s death outside India’s High Consulate building. A smaller counter-protest in support of the Indian government was also present. These two groups engaged in heated exchanges across barricades for several hours, and one pro-Khalistan protester was arrested after attempting to breach the fence.
Even before the weekend, concerns had arisen regarding the protest. Some posters for the Toronto event contained the words “Kill India” and labeled Indian diplomats in Canada as “killers,” leading to the Indian government expressing its outrage by summoning the Canadian envoy.