By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Mirror
Colombo, October 3: Sikh gangsterism in Canada has had grave implications for India, given its links to the “Khalistan” separatist movement in the Indian province of Punjab.
A section of Canadian Sikhs have been demanding a separate “Khalistan” for India’s Sikhs. This demand, with violence associated with it, has created a deep fissure in Canada’s relations with India.
Much of the news coverage in India and Canada these days is about the death of a Canadian Sikh, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Surrey, a town in Canada. He was allegedly killed by Indian intelligence agents hunting down Sikh separatists in Canada.
India vehemently disputes Canada’s publicly voiced charge that Indian agents perched in the Indian High Commission in Ottawa, were involved in the killing of Nijjar. But the view in India is that Nijjar’s murder could well be a product of Canada’s culture of tolerating separatist, terrorist and criminal activities of some immigrant groups regardless of the consequences for the security and territorial integrity of another country, even if that country is a friendly one, like India.
Canada’s riposte to this is that under its democratic system, making a political demand, even if it is secessionist, cannot be prohibited so long as it is made non-violently. At any rate, a foreign country cannot be allowed to bump off a Canadian on Canadian soil, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told parliament.
While both the Indian and Canadian standpoints can be argued, it has to be understood that Nijjar’s killing may only be partially explained by references to Canadian Sikhs’ involvement in the Sikh separatist or Khalistani movement in India or to Canada’s licentious democracy.
The killing could well be part of the gangster culture that is prevalent in a section of the Sikh community in Canada. Sikh gangsterism is, in part, associated with violent separatism. But it has its own social, cultural and political roots. Violent separatism may only be a particular manifestation or offshoot of it.
Sikh gangsterism is part of “community gangsterism”, a characteristic of immigrant communities. Gangsterism in various communities stems from similar conditions and takes similar forms.
Sri Lankan Tamil gangsterism in Canada reached its height in the 1990s but came down subsequently due to social and economic changes in the immigrant Tamil community. The end of the civil war in Sri Lanka also had a sobering effect. But Sikh gangsterism is alive and kicking to this day because community action against separatism and criminal activities has been less.
Canadian vote-bank politics has also contributed to the existence and growth of Sikh gangsterism. White political parties eye the block votes of the over 700,000 Sikh immigrants concentrated in British Colombia. The Justin Trudeau government is dependent for its survival on the 25 MPs of the New Democratic Party (NDP) a pro-Khalistani party headed by a Sikh, Jagmeet Singh.
According toLouis A. Pagliaro and Ann Marie Pagliaro of the University of Alberta’s Substance Abusology and Clinical Pharmacology Research Group, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police ( Canadian national police force) had consistently ranked “Indo-Canadian gangs” as number three among Asian gangs.
By “Indo-Canadian gangs” the Pagliaros meant “Sikh” gangs.
In their chapter in the volume entitled Drugs, and Violent Crime among Canadian Youth: Facts, Trends, Issues, and Implications for Teachers, Schools, and Policymakers published in 2006, the Pagliaros say that about 40 Indo-Canadian gangs were active in British Columbia in 2006.
According to the police, the amount of guns with the “Indo-Canadian” gangsters was “astounding”.
The root of the Sikh gangster problem lay in: (1) easy availability of drugs (2) British Columbia’s lax drug laws and (3) the climate of permissiveness in the immigrant Sikhs’ social system.
Social Profile of Sikh Gangs
Most members of the Sikh gangs were adolescents and young men from middle-and upper-class Sikh immigrant families. They also were more likely to live at home with both of their biological parents. Many had some college or university education.
Although some gang members were recent immigrants, others were fourth-generation Canadians. Most were Sikhs with continued family ties to their place of origin –the Indian Punjab.
It was in the 1990s, that adolescents and young Sikhs from Punjab took up Vancouver’s drug trade, becoming notorious cocaine dealers. They were inspired by the exploits and the subsequent acquittals of cocaine-dealing gangs belonging to other Asian communities. Extensive media coverage had made these gangsters heroes.
Many Sikh parents worked 12 to 16 hours a day in search of a better financial position. In the process, they completely neglected their children. In the absence of parental acculturation, the kids got their culture from popular violence-filled American, Canadian and Indian videos and bullies in school.
According to Harbans Kandola, head of the “Sikh Alliance Against Youth Violence” many Sikh gang members knew little of their own traditional Punjabi/Sikh cultural values. They were impressed by Canadian youth culture marked by “flash, cash, and women”. And these cultural traits were acquired very early in life. Gangster Jagdeep Singh Mangat, for example, was introduced to drugs when he was in Grade 8.
The Sikh youths’ heroes were Canadian Sikh gangsters like Peter Gill, Bindy Johal, Ranjit Cheema and Jimsher Dosanjh. Gangster life was considered great because the pickings were attractive with an average of 10,000 Canadian dollars earned a week.
Gangster/Murderer Bhupinder Singh Johal (alias Bindy Johal), became a “mythological figure” when he was killed by another gang in 1998. According to the Pagliaros, acquittals by the judiciary only emboldened the gangsters by making gangsterism risk-free.
Most incidents were not reported to the police because the victims feared reprisals. Kandola laid the blame partially on British Columbia’s soft laws on marijuana and the police’s inability to solve murders.
Some gangsters like Johal were Robin Hoods, contributing to Sikh temple building and charities, thereby widening their social support base in the Sikh community.
Because of the absence of control, gangsterism claimed almost 200 lives of adolescents and young men of the Indo-Canadian community in British Columbia, the Pagliaros point out.
In traditional Sikh culture, boys are pampered. This is so among the Sikhs in Canada too. According to the Pagliaros, boys received Mustangs and BMWs even for minor achievements like passing a school exam. The other inherited cultural notion is that “boys can do no wrong”. Parents, especially mothers, would defend their stubbornly errant sons even when they were accused of serious crimes.
Canadian gangsters had brought unrest to their villages back in Indian Punjab. Punjab police noted an increase in crimes, particularly drug dealing and prostitution, associated with Indo-Canadians.
“It is generally well-known that the Indo-Canadian gang members who return to India to live or to visit relations are also actively involved in recruiting young girls and women from the villages to come to Canada, purportedly on vacation, while their true purpose is to act as drug carriers, or mules, moving drugs (primarily marijuana and cocaine) and other contraband,” the Pagliaros say.
As pointed out earlier, unabashed patronage extended by White Canadian politicians to the Sikh population has inadvertently boosted the prospects of community gangsters. Politicians across parties see the 700,000 strong Canadian Sikh community as a vote bank.
Because of this, Canadian governments have not handed over Sikh separatist gangsters wanted by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA). To date, requests for the extradition of 28 such gangsters are pending with the Canadian government.
In the 1990s, Canada was a theatre of Sri Lankan Tamil gangsterism also. It stemmed from the social background of the immigrants since the 1980s and 1990s. Tamil youth from the lower castes and lower classes who fled war-torn North Sri Lanka had adjustment issues besides financial insecurities in Canada. Gangsterism was an upshot of this.
But it was eventually controlled by a number of factors including efforts by community leaders and a general improvement in living standards leading to cordial familial and social ties and fewer clashes with the law. The end of the war back home in Sri Lanka in 2009 and the extinction of separatism there also played a part in ending Tamil gangsterism in Canada.