Jungfateh Singh: What Really Happened At The Surrey Protest Against The High Commissioner of India
"...the crowd swiftly started identifying lone Indian nationalists wandering into the crowd, causing a commotion, and subsequently being told to leave by Sangat."
March 22, 2023 | 5 min. read | Opinion
On March 19, 2023, a day after the operation against Amritpal Singh and the WPD began in Punjab, Maninder Gill and the Friends of Canada & India Foundation organized an event with the Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma at the Taj Park Convention Centre in Surrey.
Ultimately, Sikh protesters effectively cancelled an appearance by the Indian High Commissioner to Canada.
A trickle of Sikhs arrived at the protest location around 3:00 pm that day. I was one among them, arriving at 3:30 pm. What started with a dozen or so people, however, quickly organically grew in size as men, women, and children began arriving as word of the event spread. The RCMP's presence gradually increased, as was to be anticipated.
The Sangat had decided to seal off all access to the convention center, accessible via a single, long road with a big gate at its entrance. A makeshift podium was assembled at the gate, and one by one, the Sangat members took to it to speak about the unfolding events in Punjab.
Even though I recognized a few faces, the sheer volume of people who felt compelled by Bir Ras to speak out about the Sikh uprising in Panjab was a pleasant surprise.
Although a Sikh demonstration of this sort is not novel, what has changed over the past few years is the provocations from Indian nationalists connected to far-right Hindu organizations.
This phenomenon of Indian nationalists disrupting Sikh demonstrations, provoking a response from Sikhs, and then claiming victimhood while waging aggressive media campaigns to characterize Sikhs as violent is a typical response to Sikh protests worldwide.
The demonstration on Sunday was not any different.
There were a lot of Sikhs there; at the height of the protest, some estimates placed the number of Sikhs present at over a thousand.
To guarantee the safety of the protesters, many local activists had photographs of known supporters of far-right activists on hand. This would prove crucial that day, as the crowd swiftly started identifying lone Indian nationalists wandering into the crowd, causing a commotion, and subsequently being told to leave by Sangat. They were escorted out in spurts throughout the night, and each time the RCMP arrived, they took them, loaded them into their cars, and drove away.
We eventually spotted a group of provocateurs up on a hill near a strip mall, so I and another sevadar went over and recommend that they should probably leave. They complied and exited with knowing grins.
The following morning, one of the event's main coordinators, Maninder Gill, challenged the protesters who had gathered the night before on the radio. However, an important discovery was woven into his rants and raves: the event organizers knew about the impending protests on March 19 and they called off the event the night before, on March 18.
Neither the Indian High Commissioner nor their staff intended to attend the event, so the venue was utterly deserted. But dozens of people associated with the event showed up anyways, coming and going from the protest site to create trouble before being escorted away as described above. Even more peculiar, Maninder Gill was inside the event center the entire time.
Who is Maninder Gill?
In 2010, a former Radio India managing director shot another man in the parking lot of a Surrey Gurdwara. That man would be charged and found guilty and condemned to four years in prison before having the charges stayed due to an unreasonable trial delay. That man was Maninder Gill, the same man who arranged the event on Sunday with the High Commissioner of India and the Friends of Canada and India Foundation.
During his radio broadcast the day after the protest, he threatened 'badla' (revenge) against the Sikhs he believed to be responsible for the event, claiming that local activists were poisoning the minds of Sikh youth, and boasted that he had done more for the families of Khalistan Shaheeds than his local peers. His history of violent criminal charges has caused some to worry that he may have the means to turn his threat of ‘badla’ into deadly action.
There has been an organized effort to misrepresent the protest on March 19, and it is obvious to us that Maninder Gill and his accomplices planned these provocations with the intention of using them later as fuel to vilify Sikhs in the media.
The cooperation between the Indian government, local nationalist organizations such as Friends of Canada & India Foundation, and a man charged with a daytime shooting has sparked questions among Canada's Sikh community and the general public. It casts a lot of doubt on the legitimacy of the Indian government, its proxies in this country, and the High Commission.
There has been a concerted effort to mischaracterize the situation in Panjab, threaten the people who live there, and shift attention elsewhere nationally and internationally. To legitimize the Indian government's bloody crackdown on Sikh protesters in Panjab, these provocations are designed to unsettle the narrative in Canada and steer it toward one of malignancy and mistrust.
As Sikhs, we must not fall into this trap.
We also should not feel constrained by the shifting boundaries of what is and is not acceptable during protests. This includes lowering the Indian flag, which represents the violent, genocidal, uprooting, and eradication of our very existence.
Sikhs need to practice Uchi Surat and think outside of these paradigms.
The stage is set for something genuinely historical to happen in Panjab. This is not just repression; it is also a rebellion of millions of Sikhs over the past decade, during which time there has been no unified Sikh leadership (Agoo) but only the awakening of our quam. This is something to rejoice in and put your faith in.
Jungfateh Singh is an organizer, writer and producer, and has worked on Sikh issues across the globe for over 15 years.
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