As diplomatic tensions rise, the largest demographic of international students in Canada are caught in the crosshairs
The recent rift between India and Canada has brought uncertainty and chaos for both Indian international students at Concordia and the university’s Sikh community.
On Sept. 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of involvement in the assassination of Canadian citizen and Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Since then, diplomatic relations between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated, and India has halted visa applications for Canadian nationals in retaliation.
Angad Singh Malhotra, president of Concordia’s Sikh Student Association (SSA), said that over the last two weeks, a number of students have reached out to the SSA for help and advice regarding the situation.
“Yesterday somebody was telling me about how their parents got their visa refused because of the issues that are going on,” said Malhotra. “And they fear that a lot of them who are engaged with the community, if they are vocal, will get the refusal to go back to India.”
These concerns come as Indian government officials and media outlets portray Canada as a breeding ground for the Khalistani movement, which strives to establish a sovereign state for the Sikh population in northern India. While militant factions within the Khalistani movement exist in South Asia, the overwhelming majority of Khalistani activists adhere to non-violent principles.
For Sikh Canadians, like Singh, a Concordia graduate who asked his firstname not to be disclosed, the effects of these allegations are having deep reaching impacts into their personal lives. Following Trudeau’s announcement, Singh said he’s getting calls from his family back in India concerned about his well-being, owing to the spread of misinformation by the Indian media.
“They tell me that [based on] what Indian news channels show us, you guys are in deep trouble,” he said. “The Canadian government is kicking out all Indians or the Canadian government is kicking out all Sikhs.”
According to Julian Spencer-Churchill, associate professor in Concordia’s political science department, the proliferation of fake news stems from the consolidation of Indian media under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. These developments stem from a rise in the far right Hindu nationalism in the country over the last decade.
Indian students comprise over 40 per cent of international students studying in Canada, making the group the largest demographic of international students in the country. Nevertheless, the group suffers a lack of representation in both countries, according to Spencer-Churchill.
“Indian international students in Canada are victims here,” said Spencer-Churchill.
Concordia has made no formal announcement regarding the ongoing India-Canada crisis. As far as Malhotra knows, no one from the university’s administration has reached out to the SSA.
Spencer-Churchill recommended that the Indian and Sikh students lobby Concordia’s administration to allow for special accommodations, such as being able to attend classes remotely, until visa restrictions are lifted. However, he predicts that any visa complications that Indian international students are facing will be short-lived, due to the economic impact that these policies will have on educational institutions.
“The universities want money,” he said. “These people [Indian international students] are bringing their own money in many cases, […] and where they’re not like PhD students, industry is going to probably sponsor them. So there’s no advantage for Canada to keep the system stuck.”