Sikh students hold protest at UBC, downtown Vancouver against human rights violations in Punjab

A small group of Sikh students silently protested ongoing human rights violations in Punjab in front of Koerner Library on March 20 before joining a larger rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG).

On Saturday, March 18, the Punjab government started a hunt for Bhai Amritpal Singh, a Sikh activist who promotes Sikh solidarity and the manifestation of Khalistan. Some understand Khalistan as a separate state for Sikhs between India and Pakistan, while others see Khalistan as an egalitarian rule for everyone, rather than a separate state.

The massacre of Sikhs in 1984 was caused by the strife between the government and Khalistani supporters and still traumatizes Sikhs living in India and overseas. Under the current Hindu-nationalist government, Sikhs feel highly targeted as a minority.

Since Saturday, the government of Punjab has suspended civil liberties and has arrested over 100 people with no justification, including many activists. The government has also cut off the internet for the fourth day, leading to a social media blackout.

While the issue of wanting a sovereign state for Sikhs is highly polarizing, UBC students centred their protests on raising awareness about human rights violations and the fear of things worsening from the current situation.

At 6 p.m., the students joined the protest at the VAG where notable figures such as Bhupinder Singh, General Secretary of the prominent Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara were present.

Gurkeerat Singh, the personal photographer of Amritpal Singh in India for three months, was also present and spoke at the protest about the activist’s work in helping Punjabis realize their place in the country and showing people the path of Sikhi (Sikhism).

Gurkeerat Singh also talked about how Amritpal Singh was helping people with drug addiction – a rampant issue in Punjab today – by setting up addiction centres.

“If we are Khalistan, someone has to speak for us,” he said.

“The Canadian government, the American government – none of these governments are going to do anything for the Sikh [community], because we are homeless. Every single child, every Sikh must have Khalsa raj (rule), Khalistan on their lips.”

This article was updated at 4:12 p.m. on March 22, 2023. A previous version previously said the students were carrying Khalistani flags at the VAG, which could not be confirmed. The Ubyssey regrets this error.