Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the Sikh activist whose killing has divided Canada and India?

By Krutika Pathi and David Cohen, The Associated Press

NEW DELHI — Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh independence advocate whose killing two months ago is at the center of a widening breach between India and Canada, was called a human rights activist by Sikh organizations and a terrorist by India’s government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that his government was investigating “credible allegations that agents of the Indian state were linked to the killing of a Canadian citizen” after Nijjar was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia.

India denied any role in the killing, calling the allegations absurd.

Nijjar was a prominent member of a movement to create an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan, and at the time of his death was organizing an unofficial referendum among the Sikh diaspora with the organization Sikhs For Justice.

He also owned a plumbing business and served as president of a local Sikh temple or gurdwara.

Nijjar was a wanted man in India, where authorities labeled him a terrorist in 2020.

In 2016, Indian media reported that he was suspected of masterminding a bombing in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab and training terrorists in a small city southeast of Vancouver.

He denied the allegations and told the Vancouver Sun that he was too busy to participate in Sikh diaspora politics.

“This is garbage — all the allegations. I am living here 20 years, right? Look at my record. There is nothing. I am a hard worker. I own my own business in the plumbing,” Nijjar told the newspaper.

Following his death, the World Sikh Organization of Canada called Nijjar an outspoken supporter of Khalistan who “often led peaceful protests against the violation of human rights actively taking place in India and in support of Khalistan.”

India has waged an at times bloody struggle against the Sikh independence movement since the 1980s, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered a raid to capture armed separatists taking refuge in a major Sikh temple.

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