On 18th September 2022, a farce called Khalistan referendum was held at the outskirts of Toronto in the city of Brampton in Ontario, Canada. Unofficial estimates claim that 100,000 people participated and what is the truth may not be known and yet there were thousands who came from all directions.
I still call it a farce because first this was neither desired by the very residents of the state of Punjab they were talking about dividing from India nor did they participate in it. People living outside Punjab and with no desire to ever return there while living in their safe houses in Canada can never decide the fate of Punjab. Khalistan as an idea has run its course in Punjab and with Punjab enjoying stable democracy for decades, the focus has long back shifted to local issues than about dividing communities. This referendum was only an exercise by certain groups and individuals to safeguard their hold over the Canadian and North American Gurudwaras or Sikh places of worship and to gain stronger financial and political power. It was also a farce because only the Sikhs were allowed to vote as if Punjab belongs only to the Sikhs and that other communities do not even exist there. Or perhaps the organizers feared that by making it open to all, they would have enabled the moderates to come out and soundly reject any such motives.
However there is no denying the fact that the event was far, far beyond fringe.
I was present there and am giving an honest, factual account of the event.
People came in droves from everywhere and were of all age groups- young, old, very old in wheel chairs, children, men and women and from various parts of Ontario (if not other provinces). They were there in thousands and from 9 am right up to close at 5 30 pm, the lineup of cars was non-stop. But for the Police stopping access to the community hall for vehicles starting 4:30 pm, they could have kept coming. The event was peaceful, well organized with langar (food stall serving food and drinks) being served throughout the day and volunteers directing people and traffic to ensure that the voting was fast and smooth and people came out satisfied from the experience. The place was full of Khalistani flags, T shirts and logos- on road, flying high on cars, in hands of people raising the flags with zeal. For any person who stands up for a cause of united India, it was a depressing site indeed.
What was also deeply disappointing was the response of Indian government and the Indo-Canadians. The Indian consulate and the Indian government seem to distance itself from the fact that such an event could cause concern and either took it lightly as a fringe activity or thought that they could ignore it by looking away. As for the Indo-Canadians the less said the better. The flag waving community at events trying to showcase their patriotism and love for India by and raging social media wars and coming out as brave whats app soldiers standing for India were all missing in action. None!
Despite my writing to all authorities with copies to Indian consulate, no Canadian politician responded back except the Mayor of Brampton and he too showed his inability to cancel the event or to stop it from occurring in government owned community hall. Despite my requesting many Indo-Canadians to hold a protest to let the world know that Indo-Canadians do not support such a divisive agenda, no one came forward.
Yet a protest was to be made and was registered. I reached there at 10 am and after seeing such a sea of humanity, wrote messages of love and against division of India on posters and then took them to the entrance and stood there waving these posters to the people coming in till 5 30 pm. Initially the Khalistani organizers sent 8-10 volunteers who covered me with Khalistani flags hurling on all sides to ensure that my message was lost. But when I complained to the Police present and asked them to allow me to protest peacefully and to ask the activists to maintain a distance from me, they had to back down and were forced to maintain a distance from me which they did thereafter peacefully right to the end.
Sure I was heckled, abused and called names and many slurs were thrown at me by passerby. They were disturbed by my presence and tried to show their dislike. But the volunteers moderated them and asked them to allow me to continue protesting in peace. The volunteers ensured that no one came near me and the moment the general public started abusing me, they tried to intervene. The volunteers even offered me langar food that they were eating and as they too are our brothers, even though misguided, I thanked them for the same and ate standing there. It was important that I did not leave that spot as it was the North entry point to the community centre from where pedestrians and cars were coming in and hence I stood firm right till the end despite two hours of heavy rain. The message went clear that the Indo-Canadians also can stand up unity amongst us and for India and will oppose any forces talking about division of India.
The event should be taken as a huge eye opener. First stop considering this movement as fringe as that will be only at our peril. Secondly understand why some of the ordinary Sikhs living in Canada are supporting this movement. Is it all religious or is there something deeper? While earlier it was about a generation living with the ghosts of the Sikh genocide of 1984, a common thread that I heard yesterday was that the Indian media and a section of Hindu community in India including right wing supporters of the ruling party calling innocent farmers as Khalistani had an adverse effect. The people seem to actually believe that the Sikhs are being mistreated in India and considered as second class citizens especially under the current regime.
However the answers are not simple and a lot of deep analysis is required to find out various causes and to work on them to unite people again.
Also a lot of immediate corrective measures need to be taken. A large section of the crowd was Indian students of Sikh origin who were using their Indian identity to vote. This is further disturbing since these very people with their misguided views firmed up in Canada can go back to India and cause mischief. They need to be talked to and brought back into the main stream. Also there should be some ways where outgoing students should be deterred from engaging in anti-India activity when they leave Indian shores. It is for the Indian government to ponder.
The Indo-Canadians also need to have a deep discussion among them and to come out from the virtual world and to start grass root action to unite communities again. We need to mend broken bridges and to gain trust. We also need to let Canadian politicians know that by supporting such forces out to divide India, they cannot create a vote bank for themselves but give life to a monster which will come back to haunt them as most extremists have done in the past.
It is a long road ahead. Not all Sikhs support such activities and the silent majority of Sikh community opposes such people but fear them. It’s time to speak out.
As for me and people like me, while we may have differences with the current regime and with the politics of hate, any division of India will be opposed tooth and nail. That is the least we can do for our motherland which has given us so much. Amen.
Posted in Times of India- Link below-