Sikh separatist movement gains steam in Australia, Canada; Hindu temples vandalized

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Multiple Hindu temples have been vandalized in Australia and Canada, actions that have been attributed to members of the pro-Khalistan movement.

In the span of two weeks, three Hindu temples were vandalized in Australia – on January 12 at the Swaminarayan temple in Melbourne, January 16 at the historic Shri Shiva Vishnu Temple in Victoria, and on January 23 at the ISKCON Temple in Melbourne.

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The latest defacement saw slogans on the walls including “Khalistan Zindabad” (a rally call in support of Khalistan) and “Hindustan Murdabad,” (death to India).

The Khalistan movement is part of a separatist agenda to create an independent homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state. Various independent referendums to secede Punjab from India have been held, one in London in 2021, and another in Canada in 2022 – all of which bore non-binding results.

On January 26, the High Commission of India released a strongly-worded statement to address the vandalism:

“The High Commission of India strongly condemns the deeply disturbing incidents of vandalization, including of three Hindu temples in Melbourne in recent weeks. The frequency and impunity with which the vandals appear to be operating are alarming, as are the graffiti which include glorification of anti-Indian terrorists. These incidents are clear attempts to sow hatred and division among the peaceful multi-faith and multi-cultural Indian-Australian community.”

The statement continued, “Signals that pro-Khalistan elements are stepping up their activities in Australia, actively aided and abetted by members of proscribed terrorist organizations such as the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) and other inimical agencies from outside Australia, have been evident for some time.”

“Our concerns have repeatedly been shared with the Australian Government, both by the High Commission and our Consulates in Australia, and by our Government with the Australian High Commission in Delhi. It is hoped that not only will the perpetrators be brought to justice, but suitable action will also be taken to prevent further attempts.”

Following the vandalism in Australia, the Gauri Shankar Mandir was vandalized with “anti-India graffiti” in Canada’s Brampton province, Indian media reported on Tuesday. Times Now reported that the SFJ and other pro-Khalistan groups could be responsible for the attack.

In response, the Consulate General of India in Toronto published a short statement: “We strongly condemn defacing of Gauri Shankar Mandir in Brampton, a symbol of Indian heritage, with anti-India graffiti. The hateful act of vandalism has deeply hurt sentiments of Indian community in Canada. We have raised our concerns on the matter with Canadian authorities.”

At least three similar instances have occurred in Canada since 2022.

Referendum in the works

On Monday, at least two people were injured and many detained when brawls broke out between pro-Khalistan and pro-India supporters in Melbourne, the local police force said. The incident coincided with a scheduled Punjab independence referendum.

The issue of Sikh separatists has overshadowed India-Canada relations, with the latest incidents threatening to sour India-Australia ties. Last November, India called on the Trudeau government to ban a planned Khalistan referendum.

“We find it deeply objectionable that politically motivated exercises by extremist elements are allowed to take place in a friendly country. You are all aware of the history of violence in this regard,” MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi was quoted as saying in November by The Hindu.

“We will continue to press the Government of Canada on this matter, and call upon them to prevent anti-India activities by individuals and groups based in their country, and to designate as terrorist, under their law, individuals and entities who have been declared as terrorists under Indian law,” he added.

In response, the Canadian government said that they respect India’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity of India and that they will not recognize the so-called referendum”, according to Bagchi, but did not commit to stopping the event, likely in light of a possible freedom of speech and expression infringement.

India has issued warnings to the growing Indian expatriate population to stay vigilant as hate crime continues to increase in the North American country.

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