© 2023 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Khalistan Returns

The breakdown of Indian-Canadian relations is front page news in India.
Sandip Roy
The breakdown of Indian-Canadian relations is front page news in India.

(Click on the Listen button above to hear the audio for this story)

In 1985 Ujjal Dosanjh, a Canadian politician, the former premier of British Columbia, was planning a summer trip to India with his sons.

UD1: except my bother kept harassassing me saying, you're going to take my three nephews in the in the hot. In the months of June and July and August to India

Dosanjh cancelled his tickets a week before the flight. That flight blew up over the Atlantic Ocean, all 329 people on board died, the worst aviation terrorist incident before 9/11. A Sikh militant group the Babbar Khalsa was blamed for the attack. They supported a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata

Dosanjh said he first heard about Khalistan in the 70s in Canada

UD2: I thought it was like a few kooks running around with passports of Khalistan and somebody was the president of Khalistan.

Then it got bloody in Punjab in the 80s with huge blood shed army operations and political killings. A firebrand Sikh preacher holed up in the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine.

Dosanjh got to meet him on a trip to India. The preacher didn’t like the looks of him. Literally. DOsanjh was a Sikh who had cut his hair, some thing Sikh men are not supposed to do.

UD3:   His insistence that I promise that I will. I will keep my maintain my hair.  He wanted that promise. He was basically stuck on it.

Then it got nasty

UD4: He says, these guys with bayonets, if they slash your throat, you wouldn't breathe.

Dosanjh met the Indian Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi as well. She was frustrated as a politician stuck in a bloody logjam.

UD5:  I think Mrs. Gandhi was concerned, but saw no way out. According to her. She said, Look, I don't know who to make a deal with

Eventually she sent in the Indian army to flush out the militants from the Golden Temple. The Sikh preacher died. But within a few months angry Sikh militants had their revenge

BBC1: Indira Gandhi, ruler of the world’s largest democracy died today shot down by two of her own bodyguards. They were Sikhs taking revenge for the invasion of their temple in June.

Next year Dosanjh too paid the price for speaking up against extremism. In February 1985 he got attacked in a parking lot by a man wielding a crowbar

UD6: He thumped me I think 6 or 7 times, and I put up my hand to protect my head. But my head finally got 84 stitches, and my hand was broken.

The Khalistani movement was largely crushed in India. But its support remained in parts of the Sikh diaspora in the West. Dosanjh says the firebrand Sikh preacher is still romanticised by some in Canada.

UD7: his pictures are stuck on the the rear window windscreens of the of the cars. not that not you don't see that that often but you see it

Dosanjh said part of the problem is Canadian political parties, mostly white, didn’t understand the intricacies of the problem

UD8: And therefore, it's pretty easy for someone who a khalistani to talk about human rights, equality and freedom and democracy

Now it’s gone into the political mainstream

UD9: And the NDP leader himself is is has been in the past a vocal supporter of Khalistan. So it's not just infiltrated. They're now leading some of the political parties

That NDP or New Democratic Party now props up Justin Trudeau’s minority government. And Justin Trudeau has sparked a diplomatic row with India about the killing of a Khalistan supporter in Canada.

JT1: Over the past number of weeks. Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

India has rubbished it and says Canada has never acted on India’s own complaints about Khalistan supporters who use Canada as a base.

Indian media now remind their audiences that another Canadian prime minister refused to extradite a militant India had wanted. That prime minister ironically was Pierre Trudeeu, Justin’s father. And that militant became a prime accused in the Air India bombing case though acquitted for lack of evidence.

Dosanjh says politicians in Canda don’t think of it as their issue. Even after Air India 182 exploded in mid-air

UD10: Prime Minister Maloney condoled with Rajiv Gandhi about the loss of his people, and vast majority of them were Canadians, brown Canadians, but nonetheless Canadians. 

They still saw it as an Indian problem not a Canadian one.

Now Khalistan has become both an Indian problem and a Canadian one.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW.