By Gurpreet Singh
The brazen murder of the president of Surrey-Delta Gurdwara has left many of us devastated.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a tireless community activist. He was also a hardworking family man who earned his livelihood as a plumber.
At least two unidentified assailants shot Nijjar on Father’s Day. It occurred as he was about to head home to spend time with his sons after finishing his work at the gurdwara.
As authorities look for those involved and their motive, many speculate that contract killers hired by Indian intelligence assassinated Nijjar.
Not only has the temple congregation declared him a martyr, thousands have signed a petition asking the Canadian government to look into this. The signatures were collected as mourners paid their last tributes to the deceased at the gurdwara on June 25. Before his funeral, the Sikh leader’s body was brought there in a casket for viewing by community members.
Nijjar was associated with Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), an advocacy group fighting for an independent Sikh homeland of Khalistan. SFJ is banned in India and Nijjar was branded as a terrorist by the government in New Delhi. He was constantly targeted by a section of the Indian media at the behest of Indian intelligence agencies. They frequently accused of him being involved in violent activities and political murders.
This was despite the fact that he was never convicted or faced any criminal charges in Canada.
The Indian government had been trying to get him extradited. So much so that it purported that Nijjar was running a terrorist training camp in Mission, B.C.—a claim that proved to be a hoax.
Nijjar saw his death coming
In fact, Nijjar had been expressing concerns about losing his life at the hands of foreign actors active in Canada for a very long time. He told me that he had received threatening messages. Futhermore, Nijjar had been cautioned by Canadian police to remain vigilant.
In May, when news broke about the murder of prominent Pakistan-based Khalistani leader Paramjit Singh Panjwar came, Nijjar’s apprehensions grew.
India had been asking Pakistan to handover Panjawar and others like him hiding in that country.
Nijjar issued a statement accusing the Indian establishment of killing Panjwar through hired hitmen. Nijjar later organized special prayers for him at the gurdwara.
On May 18, I interviewed Nijjar for Spice Radio, during which he revealed that he was also on the radar of the Indian state and could meet the same fate here in Canada. In a nutshell, he saw his death coming and yet remained steadfast in his fight for Khalistan through peaceful means. He insisted that all that supporters want was a right to self-determination through the ballot and not a bullet (read referendum).
Exactly a month later, when I first heard about his murder on the night of June 18, I was shocked, but wasn’t surprised.
Whether Canadian authorities seriously look into this possibility or get anywhere remains to be seen. However, his last interview should be an eye-opener for Canada to find out more about growing foreign interference in this country by India. Only recently, Nijjar’s close associate, Moninder Singh, had worked on a report on Indian interference in Canada. He, too, is on the radar of India’s intelligence agency.
Nijjar supported oppressed minorities
In the meantime, right-wing Indian media commentators and pro-New Delhi trolls on social media continue to malign Nijjar as a terrorist, with some celebrating his death. Though it’s all very disheartening and insensitive, it also shows that he was doing right, and that’s why such evil forces were out against him.
Nijjar needs no validation from them as his record speaks for itself. Even though I never agreed 100 percent with his politics and I do not support Khalistan, he left behind a legacy of standing up for human rights and social justice for everyone, without any discrimination.
He was firm, and yet very polite and humble in his dealings with others. Nijjar had not only raised his voice for Sikhs facing persecution in India, but also for Muslims, Christians, and Dalits (so-called untouchables).
Once, he attended our rally for the jailed Delhi University Professor G.N. Saibaba, who is disabled below the waist. Saibaba is incarcerated under trumped-up charges for merely questioning the power of the state and defending the poor and marginalized.
At that time, he publicly announced his whole-hearted support on behalf of the gurdwara for the campaign for the freedom of Saibaba.
Free food for the needy
Meanwhile, when Canada was mourning the finding of unmarked graves of Indigenous kids at former residential school sites, Nijjar organized special prayers. In recognition of this, I presented him with a Radical Desi medal. For this, I came under attack on Twitter from a former Indian envoy in Vancouver.
Early this year, Nijjar held another event in memory of Nirmal Singh Gill, a temple keeper, who was murdered by white supremacists at the same gurdwara 25 years ago. During the pandemic, the gurdwara under his leadership provided free food to the needy and foreign students. It also sent relief materials to communities in BC affected by floods and wildfires.
So let India and its apologists call him whatever. He will always be our hero.
It’s rather bizarre that a government run by bigots—and who are turning the country into an intolerant Hindu theocracy—treats others seeking the right to self-determination on religious grounds as criminals and separatists. If the Indian government can allow Hindu majoritarianism to be expressed however it likes, it should let people like Nijjar speak their minds.
Instead of accepting the lies of a government—under whose rule the repression of religious minorities and political dissidents has spiked—let’s listen to our hearts and give Nijjar his due.