Toronto Sun: Punjab violence worries GTA Sikhs

BY TORONTO SUN

FIRST POSTED: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2015 08:40 PM EDT | UPDATED: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2015 08:42 PM EDT

Sikhs in the Greater Toronto Area are worried about the violence now rocking Punjab, the northern Indian state many of their family members call home.

“People are really, really upset,” said NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh, who represents Bramalea-Gore-Malton. “I’m getting messages daily from my constituents, from people who are in contact with people in Punjab who live in my riding.”

Violence in Punjab began after protests stemming from the recent desecration of a Sikh holy book.

The top official in Punjab convened an emergency meeting Tuesday to try to defuse the situation. Hundreds of Sikh protesters blocked the state’s main roads and highways on the same day, demanding action be taken against whoever tore 20 pages from a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib at a Sikh temple.

Police have arrested three people in connection with the desecration and said investigations were continuing.

Singh, meanwhile, said he intends on writing to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to “look at the response of the police.”

The desecration of the book is “essentially a hate crime — like someone going and defacing a synagogue,” Singh said Wednesday. “And when people from the Sikh community held peaceful protests and sit-ins, they were attacked.

“There have been numerous bystanders that were wounded.”

Brampton Councillor Gurpreet Dhillon said he would like to see prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau “reach out to his Indian counterpart and express his concerns about possible human rights violations.

“Canadians are watching the situation in Punjab with growing concerns about the right to peaceful protest,” he said in an e-mail.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada expressed similar worries.

Legal counsel and spokesman Balpreet Singh explained Punjab has a history of human rights abuses.

“Many people in Canada are worried that young Sikhs and Sikh protesters are at risk in Punjab,” he said.

— With files from Associated Press

maryam.shah@sunmedia.ca