Amidst escalating tensions between India and Canada, Punjab finds itself in a state of unrest, primarily concerning the safety of its young population studying and working in Canada. 2022 witnessed Canada admitting a record 551,405 international students from 184 countries. Remarkably, over 200,000 visas were granted to Indian students, with a significant number originating from Punjab.
Joyti Behal, an Amritsar-based journalist, vocalizes this growing apprehension. His daughter, currently studying in Canada, is at the heart of his concern. “Canada was seen as a beacon of safety, but recent events have sown seeds of doubt in many minds like mine, Given the current circumstances, many doubts have arisen in my mind. I am feeling a discomfort” states Behal.
Indeed, the allure of Canada has been magnetic for Punjab’s youth. This affinity has not only enriched Canada’s educational realm but also catalyzed the growth of immigration agencies in Punjab and Canada alike.
Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, an eminent figure in the educational sector, notes, “While Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau consistently emphasizes the safety and security of all Canadian citizens, his statements conspicuously lack specific mention of the well-being and protection of Indian students and professionals in Canada.”
However, sentiments have shifted post Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations, unsupported by evidence, against the Indian government over the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. India promptly denied these claims, labeling them as ‘unfounded.’ The fallout from these allegations has been swift: recalling diplomats, issuing travel advisories, and India even suspending visa services for Canadians.
Sunil Jakhar, President of the Bhartiya Janata Party in Punjab, has penned a letter to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, addressing the strain between the nations. In his letter, he emphasized not keeping people in prolonged apprehension and questioned the halting of visas. “I think the security of the country is of utmost priority, and all Punjabis will agree to this, but why grind the grain with the husk? There are just a few such individuals, and there’s a need to reconsider this entire policy”, said he.
The other concern is that Punjab might once again turn towards those dark days. The impact of these events is not only on India-Canada relations, but is also visible in many other places. The Khalistan movement’s propagators in Canada and other countries have found another opportunity.
Surinder Singh, a hotelier from Amritsar, nostalgically recalls Trudeau’s warm welcome in Amritsar, expressing dismay over the Prime Minister’s recent actions. Singh speculates on the political motivations behind these gestures. “I remember when Justin Trudeau came to Amritsar, and the residents of Amritsar welcomed him warmly. He questioned, What does Trudeau want to prove by leveling baseless allegations against India and giving a platform to extremist views? It seems to me he is doing all this to achieve his political objectives. We don’t want Punjab to go back to those dark days again.
Historically, Punjab has stood resilient against adversities, from confronting invaders like Nadir Shah to its pivotal role in India-Pakistan conflicts. The state’s legacy in the 1950s speaks of youth migrating internationally, marking their presence through dedication and diligence. While their migration brought youthful vigor to Canada, it inadvertently amplified the platform for pro-Khalistani sentiments. During the recent G-20 summit, while India raised concerns over Khalistani activities in Canada, Trudeau chose to spotlight India’s purported role in Nijjar’s assassination.
Experts opine that this rift is inadvertently boosting the pro-Khalistan movement’s global visibility. Although Trudeau and his cabinet have consistently underscored their commitment to the safety of all Canadians, conspicuously missing is an addressal for the safety of non-Canadian residents, especially students and workers.
Analysts specializing in Indo-Canadian relations emphasize the need for the Indian government to assuage the concerns of Punjab’s populace regarding the safety of its youth in Canada. Addressing these concerns might be the first step in mending the strained tapestry of Indo-Canadian relations.