As controversies surrounding the annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey refuse to die, Sikh separatists should consider celebrating Khalistan Day instead of forcing participants at a community festival to endure propaganda for a Sikh homeland.
Though Vaisakhi is a harvest festival celebrated across India, it has religious significance for the Sikh community.
The 10th master of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh, picked this day in April 1699 to announce the formation of the Khalsa, an army of pure and devout Sikhs who sport long hair and four other articles of faith.
Since then, Sikhs also celebrate the event as the Khalsa Day.
However, the annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey organized by the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara (Sikh temple) continues to stir controversies every year.
This is mainly because the Dashmesh Darbar Gurdwara management vehemently support Khalistan, an imaginary Sikh homeland—a demand that is opposed by the Indian government.
During the annual Surrey parade, organizers not only hoist Khalistan flags but also display the pictures of the slain militants, whom they describe as martyrs.
Not all participants at the parade are religious or supporters of Khalistan.
For years, Canadian politicians have attended the Surrey parade despite various controversies and the opposition of the Indian government, which has accused Canada of being soft on Indian separatists.
The post 9/11 environment and increasing trade relations between Canada and India have somehow changed the perceptions of many Canadian politicians.
Some elected officials have turned vocal in their criticism of the organizers, while others continue to rub their shoulders with them to attract ethnic votes. Some are consistently opposed to the Sikh separatists.
The recent parade generated more controversy when one of the Dashmesh Darbar officials, Inderjeet Singh Bains, warned two elected officials, Ujjal Dosanjh and Dave Hayer, against attending the event.
Dosanjh and Hayer have both been critics of religious extremism.
Bains suggested that they should join the event at their own risk, prompting a police investigation.
Premier Gordon Campbell asked temple officials to apologize, which they finally did on April 21. The organizers acknowledged there was no need for Bains's comment. In the meantime, Surrey mayor Dianne Watts has indicated that the city might review the status of next year’s parade.
Though it is not a bad idea if any secular group takes over the event to avoid such sectarianism, Khalistan supporters can also avoid controversies on Vaisakhi by celebrating a separate Khalistan Day in Surrey.
Khalistan was proclaimed on April 29, 1986 from inside the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, in the Indian city of Amritsar.
The same shrine was attacked by the Indian army to flush out religious extremists who had fortified the place in 1984, leaving many innocent people dead.
The military assault also offended moderate Sikhs. As a result of this operation, then-Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.
Subsequently, innocent Sikhs were systematically murdered in different parts of India by goons led by Gandhi’s Congress party leaders. These political events alienated Sikhs from the mainstream, which only strengthened the hands of the separatists.
Since then, separatists mark April 29 as Khalistan Day. Why then do they have to raise the Khalistan issue on Vaisakhi?
Is it some kind of camouflaging to give the impression that tens of thousands of participants at the event want a Sikh homeland?
Perhaps the separatists are worried that not enough people will show up at an event in the name of Khalistan.
After all, the Khalistan movement has died in Punjab, India.
The people have rejected it by defeating radical Sikh leaders who promote Khalistan during election campaigns. Besides, people have learned bitter lessons from the senseless killings in the name of religion and theocracy.
Even apart from this, Khalistan was never a popular demand of the Sikhs. The disillusioned Sikh youth were lured into the separatist movement for numerous reasons, such as unemployment, uneven development, and police repression.
In addition, there was the Indian government’s double talk in handling the political situation of Punjab, where moderate Sikh leaders struggled for a federal political structure and some basic religious demands.
Instead of addressing these demands, India’s ruling elite groomed rogue elements to weaken the moderates.
Ultimately these rogue elements turned into an organized separatist force that challenged both the moderate Sikh leadership and the Indian government.
The people of Punjab who were caught between the guns of the militants and the Indian armed forces had to endure a decade of violence between early 1980s and 1990s.
Because Canada allows its citizens freedom of speech, Khalistan supporters should think about holding a separate peaceful event instead of pushing their political agenda onto a purely religious celebration.
Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.