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Khalistan Movement: A Terrorist Threat at the Heart of India-Canada Conflict?

The Khalistan movement, a separatist movement in India, is at the heart of the India-Canada spat ignited by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation that India may be behind the assassination of a Sikh activist in Canada.

The movement, which has been outlawed and seen as a terrorist threat, is a concern for India. Sikhs, who make up under 2% of India’s population, play an outsized role in the economy and socio-cultural life. Born as a reform movement in the 1500s, Sikhism takes liberally from both Hinduism and Islam, with beliefs like karma and reincarnation coming from Hinduism and divinity without any physical form from Islam.

After India’s independence from Britain in 1947, Punjab and its mostly Sikh farmers helped a food insecure nation take steps toward self-sufficiency. However, the community has always felt misunderstood and unrewarded for their contributions.

Many Sikhs have migrated to places like the UK, US, and Canada, which has the largest population of Sikhs outside India and the most active separatist movement. They left behind their homeland but took with them those memories—and passed that down to the younger generation. The desire for a separate nation is much smaller in India, but even so, of concern to the authorities who have outlawed the movement and view it as a terrorist threat. New Delhi points to the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, which killed 329 people, as an example of this.

It originated from Canada and was widely believed to have been carried out by Canadian-based Sikhs. To solve the problem, tensions need to cool, conditions for young people must improve, investment in education, particularly for young girls and women, and developing healthcare infrastructure to address the growing drug crisis. Punjab, unfortunately, is a deeply indebted state. Failure to address these basic issues will cost present and future governments dearly. The anger among young Sikhs inside and outside the country may keep growing, and so may the resentment between communities. India has seen terrible days in Punjab, and it can’t afford to do so again.

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