2022 was a difficult year for Canadians.
The stock market crashed wiping out billions of dollars of collective wealth. First inflation and now the outrageous rage of interest rates is eating into whatever earnings are made on monthly basis and has made everyday life difficult. This is also leading to more shock with the crash of the housing market where investors have fled, genuine home aspirants are scared to enter with high mortgage cost which is making both the approvals as well as the ability to pay the mortgage difficult and even the home owners have delayed their decision to sell, not willing to accept that their home prices went down so soon while hoping for a bounce back. Furthermore Bank of Canada seems to be working overtime in their one track mind to counter inflation by trying to bring the growth of Canadian economy to a halt, if not a crash. Dark fears of recession and job losses are building in the horizon. On top of that, the federal system government is deeply bruised by the acts of the right wing which seems to be regrouping well and has already started a deeply disturbing movement in Alberta. It is further gaining ground Canada wide with Trudeau’s credibility hitting new low points. On top of that, NDP brings no hope with its leader who in trying to create a façade of unity in his deeply polarized party, has lost all sense of ideals and principles and is not just using any populist tool to build an image but also using divisive agenda against India as a way to stay popular and relevant in his base.
If this was not bad enough, it has been a far more difficult phase for Indo-Canadians. Many of us fall below the mean income and wealth levels of average Canadians and engage in low paying jobs with long hours to enable daily survival. Or run small businesses especially in service industries like real estate, mortgage, insurance sector, small retail which are the first in line to suffer when interest rates go up or recession fears loom. Furthermore on political front despite the appeal being created by Conservatives with aggressive marketing of Pierre Poilievre, it is difficult for many of us to trust Conservatives what with the racist rhetoric their base displays and the past anti-immigrant policies of their governments in power, especially that of the last Conservative Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
The existing divisions in Indo-Canadian community do not help further what with many of us living with extreme dislikes, if not real hate of other sect, religion, region or even things which should be a non-issue in Canada for us- the like or dislike of a political party and its leadership from back home in India. We forget that the White man first considers us as a Brown man, an exotic species worth enticing for political and economic benefits than for building any true friendships and bonds. We still measure successes in barometers of economic wealth, owned houses and cars and the ability to being able to call political leaders from India or Canada as our acquaintances than in building our own social, cultural and political space. That despite South Asians emerging as the largest visible minority group in Canada. Furthermore Indo-Canadians are themselves on path to become perhaps the largest visible minority with highest new arrivals in Canada.
If that was not enough, the divisive elements which were regarded as a Khalistani fringe in Canada emerged from the shadows and showed their real face in 2022, one which has scarred the Indo-Canadian community and has left us further divided and disgraced.
Imagine living with a neighbour who was more than your brother and with whom you shared common culture, songs, lives, festivals and many a times food and drinks. One fine day, you see a Khalistani flag rising from their lawns, sometimes put by choice but mostly by coercion. Or you go to the local Gurudwara on your next regular visit which is your common go-to place for spiritual healing and see Khalistanis flags and separatists hoarding and literature in every nook and corner. Or as a Sikh you realize that your Hindu neighbor starts giving you those stares as if you are an enemy just because he just saw a car on the road carrying Khalistani stickers, flags and memoranda and is unable to differentiate a Khalistani from a Sikh!
On top of that during the two farces called Khalistani referendums carried out by Sikh for Justice with the open support of almost all Gurudwaras and covert support of many Sikh politicians and their powerful friends, hate was not just used as a tool against just India but was used as a strong knife to create a deep cut amongst Hindus and Sikhs. Deeply disturbing hoardings, billboards and pamphlets against Hindus were common place all over Greater Toronto area. It was as if the Khalistanis were not targeting India but wanted to ensure that the Hindus START considering Sikhs not as brothers but as enemies. The propaganda was truly directed to shake the Hindu community to the core and make even moderate Hindus feel distanced and start believing that a pole position was required to assert their own place as Sikhs were falsely shown as united in the cause of their Khalistani homeland.
As for the Sikhs, the Khalistanis used many other tools to influence the mindset. First the Gurudwaras and other social, political and cultural organizations were used as bases to spread Khalistani propaganda. People who had immigrated to Canada in the eighties and nineties and who still carry their scars with them were the easiest to be herded. These people themselves became strong promoters of Khalistan ideology amongst their own sons and daughters, the Sikh youth of today who have been fed with hate for India along with their daily food from early childhood. Unfortunately many amongst the Sikh youth in teens and twenties genuinely feel that a Khalistani separate land is a just demand of the Sikh community being crushed by the Indian regimes. Hashtags and statements like #neverforget1984 have become the new “COOL” jargons not just for the Sikh youth of Canada but even for many Canadian politicians including, surprisingly the ones emerging from amongst the Hindu community.
The genocide carried out against the Hindu community and the regular acts of violence against the opposing Sikhs by the Khalistani terrorists in Northern India for 15 plus years has been conveniently forgotten and only the Khalistani propaganda founds resonance in Canada. Secondly what led to the exponential growth of the Khalistani sentiment amongst the Sikh community was also how the current Indian regime and its supporters handled the farmers struggle in India. By labelling common farmers as Khalistanis and terrorists, they provided an opportunity to the real Khalistanis to hijack the issue into a massive mass marketing tool wherein people were made to believe that India is against the Sikhs and that being a Khalistani supporter is somehow linked to the Sikhi.
It was as if the Khalistani flag bearers who used to operate as scavengers in the past and target only the emotionally weak had hit a jackpot and established a legitimate business of the “Bank of Khalistani hate and propaganda” whose coffers were being filled endlessly by emotional blackmail, social and religious outreach and the myopic vision and follies of many stupid political and religious leaders from the other side.
While the first farce Khalistani referendum in Brampton on September 18th 2022 was definitely successful in getting large numbers to come out in vote, it was heartening to see that their second attempt to consolidate their gains in the Sikh community ended as one of the biggest disaster event for them what with less than a thousand and that too is a high estimate, coming to participate. This despite that being held on 6th November, a weather friendly time in Canada, in Mississauga just a few blocks away from their major support base and despite their spending tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars in hateful Hindu phobic and anti-India marketing.
This fiasco for them happened primarily due to two reasons. One the Sikh community of Canada in general DO NOT support any kind of Hindu hate and their marketing strategy had reverse effect and made even the Sikhs who were Khalistani sympathizers stay away from people who were masquerading as Hindu haters. Secondly one of their large bases in the first referendum, the Sikh international student went missing realizing that the anti-Khalistan sentiment building as a force amongst the rest Indo-Canadian community may harm their future aspirations and made them stay home despite commands from their sponsoring patrons.
Fortunately these Khalistani farce referendums emerged as a strong wake up call for the rest of Indo-Canadian community and helped in uniting a deeply divided community. While there was a lone voice opposing the first farce referendum in Brampton, at Mississauga hundreds emerged from nowhere helped by a ragtag what’s app group developed in the last few days to offer their support for an undivided India. So much so that the Khalistani organizers of the farce forgot their main event and targeted this group in raising crude anti-India and anti-Indira Gandhi and Modi slogans. What a spectacle it was to see the frustrated Khalistani organizers using the same cars and trucks to continuously circulate in the area to create a façade out of a no-show for media and end up directing their entire energy and efforts to instigate the group of India supporters in giving any kind of inappropriate response, an effort in which too they failed miserably.
The story does not end here and there is more to tell. But it is evident that the Indo-Canadians today face greater social, political, economic challenges and further more divisive forces that is making everyday lives more difficult. Despite all challenges the future does carry hope.
First on the Khalistani front, Indo-Canadians seem to be uniting realizing that despite differences they need to stand together. Also slowly the moderate Sikhs are emerging from the shadows and realizing that silence is not an option anymore and that the bonds need to be rebuilt amongst the Indo-Canadians and only unity can enable us to become a true force in the Canadian landscape.
Second despite difficult economic challenges, there is hope that the Canadian economy which has relied heavily on its continuous growth will not fall in recession due to the increased numbers of new immigrant arrivals, a trend which will continue at least till 2025. That should enable continuous opportunities especially for the small businesses which rely on community support for their being a going concern and a growing concern.
And last but not the least, there seems to be a realization arising in the community that just economic success will not help and that success on all other fronts- political, social and cultural fronts in Canada is also required equally. The Khalistanis have been realized this decades back and have built a strong foundation in all these areas. The rest of us are now playing a catching game and it is heartening to see even the youth realizing that connecting beyond their virtual world is important to stay relevant.
Will they succeed? Will Indo-Canadians unite and not end up once again in taking zero sum pole positions? Only time will tell.
Or perhaps 2023! Stay tuned.
Posted in Times of India on 2nd January 2022. Link below-