The Sikh separatist whose murder in British Columbia this summer has suddenly sparked a huge diplomatic dispute between Canada and India He was a prominent advocate for the creation of an independent nation, Khalistan, which would include parts of the Indian state of Punjab.
Separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, had moved to Canada in the mid-1990s. according to Indian news reportsafter a period when the Indian government was cracking down on the Sikh movement.
Decades later, the Indian government declared him a terrorist, accusing him of planning a violent attack in India linked to its defense. And in June, two masked assailants killed him outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia, a city bordering Washington.
Mr. Nijjar was born in the Jalandhar district of the northern Indian state of Punjab. In Canada he married, had two children, worked as a plumber and became president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, a temple in Surrey, in 2020.
Before finally gaining entry to Canada, the Canadian media outlet Global News reportedMr. Nijjar had made an unsuccessful attempt to move to the country: he filed a refugee claim, which the Canadian government said was partly fabricated, and, 11 days later, married a woman who sponsored him, an attempt the government also rejected. .
He obtained his citizenship in March 2015, Marc Miller, Canada’s immigration minister, said in a mail on X, the site formerly called Twitter. “I hope this dispels the unfounded rumors that he was not Canadian,” Miller added.
in a open letter In 2016, Nijjar stated: “I am a Sikh nationalist who believes in and supports the right of Sikhs to self-determination and independence of Indian-occupied Punjab through a future referendum.”
The Indian government declared Mr. Nijjar a terrorist in 2020, saying it had evidence that he was “involved in calling for seditionary and insurrectionary charges and also in trying to create discord between different communities in India.” The government said he ran a terrorist organization banned in India, Khalistan Tiger Force.
In a separate complaint in 2018, India’s top investigative agency accused him of “conspiring and planning to carry out a major terrorist attack in India.” He also alleged that he planned to violently attack meetings of the right-wing nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Last year, Indian media reported that an Indian investigation agency had offered a $12,000 reward for his arrest.
A Canadian journalist to whom Nijjar gave his last interview, Gurpreet Singh, painted a different picture, speaking with independent Indian media outlet The Wire about some of Mr. Nijjar’s community activities as a religious leader.
Nijjar held special prayers for “the Muslims killed in the 2019 Christchurch attacks in New Zealand,” Singh said, and for indigenous children after the discovery of anonymous graves of students in Canadian residential schools. Nijjar, she said, also advocated for the release of a detained Indian. human rights defender who used a wheelchair.
In Punjab, politicians and a journalist said that despite India’s accusations against him, Nijjar and his movement were little known.
“He left many years ago and no one here remembers him or talks about him,” said Raman Arora, a ruling party lawmaker in Jalandhar. “The Khalistan movement has been dead here for decades.”
A veteran Punjabi journalist, Jagtar Singh, also said that Nijjar “was and is totally unknown here” and that, in decades of covering Punjab, he had “never heard of him”.
Vineet Joshi, a Bharatiya Janata leader in Punjab, agreed that Nijjar was little known in the region today and blamed the Canadian government for encouraging people who harbored what he called anti-India sentiments.
“Canada has become a hub of Khalistan, anti-India activities and a conspiracy to destroy India,” Joshi said. “There is freedom of expression there, there is no problem. But one cannot speak of the disintegration of another nation. Now, when Indian authorities raise objections, Canadians ignore them.”
He also had a message for Canada: “You have to understand that this is not the same India. “It is much stronger under Modi’s leadership.”
Back in British Columbia, at a memorial event Monday night in Nijjar’s honor, his son Balraj Singh Nijjar called on the Canadian prime minister to meet with his allies and “put more pressure” on the Indian government. Mr. Nijjar’s death remains a fresh wound for the family, he added, speaking to reporters outside the temple.
“He had even called home about five minutes earlier to make dinner,” his son said. “It was kind of a big shock.”
Vjosa Isai contributed reporting from Toronto.