The Indian government says there’s been a rise in “hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities” in Canada and is warning Indian nationals in the country, including students, to be on the alert.
The news release issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on Friday did not say what prompted the warning. It said the ministry and Indian diplomats have brought several incidents to the attention of Canadian authorities. It also said the alleged perpetrators have not been brought to justice.
“In view of the increasing incidences of crimes as described above, Indian nationals and students from India in Canada and those proceeding to Canada for travel/education are advised to exercise due caution and remain vigilant,” the release said.
The release also did not point to any data or evidence of an increase in hate crimes.
CBC News has reached out to the Indian Ministry of External Affairs for more details but has not received a response. A number of Canadian federal government departments also have not responded to CBC’s queries.
Earlier this week, Sikh organizers held what they called a referendum in Brampton, Ont. on whether there should be an independent Sikh state in northern India called Khalistan.
Proponents of Khalistan seek to establish a Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab region. The movement’s activities in Canada have caused tension between the Canadian and Indian governments, and also internally within the Liberal caucus.
Capt. Amarinder Singh, the former chief minister of Punjab, has even accused senior ministers in the Trudeau government of sympathizing with the movement — accusations they’ve denied.
The advisory was issued a day after an Indian government official condemned the Brampton vote in a news conference.
Arindam Bagchi, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, called it a “farcical exercise” and said it was held by “extremists and radical elements.”
Bagchi added that the matter has been brought up with the Canadian government through diplomatic channels.
“The government of Canada has reiterated that they respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India, and that they will not recognize the so-called referendum,” Bagchi said.
Statistics Canada said in a report earlier this year that there were 119 police-reported hate crimes in Canada targeting the South Asian population in 2020 — an increase of 38 incidents over 2019.
Police investigating vandalism incidents
Earlier this week, a Hindu temple in Toronto was defaced with the word “Khalistan” as well as “Death to India” in Urdu.
A spokesperson for Toronto Police told CBC News on Friday that the investigation is ongoing and they have not identified a suspect.
“The Hate Crime Unit has not seen a notable trend in hate crimes against people of Indian/South Asian descent,” the spokesperson said.
“We do understand that underreporting of hate crimes is a challenge and that the numbers reported may not accurately reflect what is occurring in our city.”
In July, vandals defaced a statue of Indian civil rights activist Mahatma Gandhi in Richmond Hill — again, with the word “Khalistan.” York Regional Police said they’re investigating the vandalism as a hate crime.
A spokesperson for York police told CBC News Friday that they have not identified any suspects yet.
Statement is intimidation, expert says
Chinnaiah Jangam, an associate professor of history at Carleton University who specializes in South Asia, said the threat to Indian nationals alleged in the advisory is exaggerated.
“Though there is a right-wing extremism asserting [itself in Canada]I don’t think there is any threat to any minorities here,” Jangam told CBC News.
He said the target audience for the advisory may not be Indian nationals in Canada but rather supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its leader, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — as well as BJP and Modi critics abroad.
“Most importantly, the issue of the statement has domestic implications in Indian politics,” Jangam said.
“It’s for consumption of [Modi’s] own vote base in India, and also to basically suppress any sort of dissent toward India in North America.”
Jangam has reported being the target of harassment and threats over his criticism of the Modi government and the BJP.
Tensions between local Indian Hindus and Muslims in Leicester, UK, boiled over into unrest last week. The BBC reports that authorities arrested 47 people in relation to the incident.
Jangam said Indian government officials may be reacting to the events in Leicester by looking to suppress criticism of the Indian government’s treatment of minorities.
“They are preparing some sort of ground,” he said. “It’s very concerning.”