15th September 2020   •   opinion
A Canadian institute posted an article on Khalistan; 50 Sikh scholars call it 'vitriolic'

by Barfi Culture Team | @barfi_culture.
To the board of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute,

We are writing to you with regard to a report recently published by your Institute under the title, “Khalistan: a project of Pakistan.” We are asking that you reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name.

For the full report see here.

As academics who work closely with the Sikh community, we are concerned to read a report that contains a litany of conclusory statements and allegations without any substantiation. We are particularly concerned with the manner in which the report casts wide aspersions on a highly visible, racialized community, engaged in legitimate advocacy. The report maligns all Sikh-Canadians engaging in advocacy as extremist and foreign-influenced actors. This is especially concerning as so many of these advocates and activists are rigorous critics of both India and Pakistan’s record regarding minority rights.

The report also damages the credibility of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute as it lacks adequate academic rigour, historical and contextually-based journalistic analysis, and balance. As academics, writers, and professors, we regularly evaluate work for peer review and have our own work assessed for accuracy as well. The report is sparsely referenced and the few claims that are made seem to not have been fact-checked. The “reference” section is one-sided showing a lack of literature review or effort to triangulate claims. While the writing is presented as objective policy analysis, it actually reads as a scattered collection of opinions and vague allegations; it is a simplistic and single worldview. The report is shockingly un-Canadian in every aspect, from a lack of respect for free speech to a parroting of a foreign, Indian government narrative on Khalistani activism. Without any critical analysis, the author completely disregards the valid grievances and grassroots advocacy of the Sikh community.

Mr. Milewski misses the opportunity to provide a meaningful policy analysis based on facts that would further the Institute’s aims of making “poor quality public policy in Ottawa unacceptable.” The following are some examples.

The very introduction to the report sets the tone for what is to follow by callously characterizing Sikh advocacy as a “steady and predictable drumbeat of victimization, persecution and genocide commemoration, presented as steps to assist a community in need of healing.” Since when are political grievances of a community, the commemoration of mass atrocities, or the advocacy for human rights and justice, proof of something sinister? That too in a country with unique genocide legislation.

The report’s characterization of the Khalistan movement is also surprisingly simplistic and incomplete. The author’s narrative completely erases the political context in which the Khalistani struggle for self-determination took place in the 1980 and 1990s—a struggle no international group, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, cast aside as simply “terrorist.” Instead, like all militant movements and armed conflicts across the world, serious questions under humanitarian law and human rights law were raised.

The report neither cites nor explains that simply holding a political opinion for “Khalistan” is not illegal even under India’s own laws that allow demanding separation from the country, as long as the demand does not call for arms or incite violence. (See section 124A on “sedition”). That the Indian government fails to follow its own laws is often the crux of Sikh advocacy in Punjab and outside. Also, holding political opinions is squarely protected under Canadian law. Why then the Institute would allow for this incomplete and unsubstantiated report, is puzzling. The erasure of well-documented violence at the hands of the Indian State is telling. The author repeatedly demonstrates a commitment to telling only one side of the story.

We hope that you carefully consider our concerns and reevaluate your decision to publish such vitriolic content under your institute’s name, particularly considering the lack of academic integrity and the gravity of the accusations being leveled against a highly visible, racialized community. This report has already been circulated in Sikh studies circles damaging the credibility and reputation of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Your institute lays claim to policy analysis produced with integrity that is evidence-based and without bias. The basic premise of this report, however, undermines your own mission.

If you do truly wish to engage in producing reports on Sikh-Canadians in the unbiased spirit of your institute, we are happy to provide peer-review and reference to triangulate and balance such reports. There is a body of extant writing that shows a diversity of Sikh views and debates about Khalistan which documents the abuses by both Pakistan and India that are ignored. Canada, as a non-aligned state in terms of regional geopolitics, is meaningfully positioned to benefit marginalized groups in both countries. For now, we look forward to your response and the timely retraction of this report.

Kindest regards,

Dr. Amrita Kaur Sukhi, Lecturer, University of Toronto
Dr. Anneeth Kaur Hundle, Dhan Kaur Sahota Presidential Chair in Sikh Studies at the University of California, Irvine School of Social Sciences
Dr. Arvind-Pal S. Mandair, Associate Professor of Sikh Studies, University of Michigan
Dr. Balbinder Bhogal, The Sardarni Kuljit Kaur Bindra Endowed Chair in Sikh Studies and Professor of Religion, Hofstra University
Dr. Bhavjinder Kaur Dhillon, Faculty of Science, University of British Columbia
Dipin Kaur, Yale University
Gurbeer Singh, PhD Student, University of California, Riverside
Dr. Gurcharan Singh, Adjunct Research Professor, Carleton University, Ottawa
Prof Gurnam Singh, University of Warwick, UK
Dr. Gurnam Singh Sanghera, Visiting Professor, ‘Centre for Studies on Sri Guru Granth Sahib,’ at Guru Nanak Dev University.
Harinder Singh, Senior Fellow, Research & Policy, Sikh Research Institute
Dr. Harjeet Singh Grewal, Instructor of Sikh Studies, Department of Classics and Religion, University of Calgary
Dr. Hafsa Kanjwal, Department of History, Lafayette College
Harleen Kaur, PhD candidate, UCLA
Dr. Harpreet Singh, Sikhism Scholar, Harvard University
H Bindy Kaur Kang-Dhillon, PfD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program, UBC
Dr, Indira Prahst, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Langara College
Dr. Inderpal Grewal, Yale university
Dr. Idrisa Pandit, Director of Studies in Islam, University of Waterloo
Honorary Fellow, Edward Cadbury Centre
Dr. Jagdeep Singh Walia, Department of Pediatrics, Queen’s University
Dr. Jakeet Singh, Department of Politics, York University
Dr Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor, University of Leeds (UK)
Jasleen Singh, PhD (c), University of Michigan
Dr. Jaspreet Bal, Professor, Humber College
Dr. Jugdep Singh Chima, Hiram College
Dr. Kamal Arora, Instructor, University of the Fraser Valley
Kiranjot Chahal, PhD Humanities, York University
Khushdeep Kaur, PhD Candidate, Temple University
Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, Union Seminary
Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law
Dr. Manpreet Kaur, MD MS, Associate Professor, Stanford University
Dr. Michael Hawley, Associate Professor of Sikh History, Mount Royal University
Narinder Kaur, University College London, UK
Dr. Nirvikar Singh, Distinguished Professor of Economics, University of California, Santa Cruz
prabhdeep singh kehal, PhD Candidate, Brown University
Prabhsharanbir Singh, Instructor, Department of Sociology, UBC
Rajbir Singh Judge, Assistant Professor, Department of History, California State University
Dr. Sara Grewal, Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Studies, Gender and Race, MacEwan University
Sasha Sabherwal, PhD (c), Yale University
Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, PhD (c), University of the Fraser Valley History
Dr. Shruti Devgan, Bowdoin College
Simran Kaur Saini, PhD (c), York University
Simratpal Singh, Ph.D Candidate, University of Manitoba
Sonia Aujla-Bhullar PhD (c), University of Calgary
Tejpaul Bainiwal, PhD. Candidate Sikh Studies, UC Riverside
Dr. Tarnjit Kaur, PhD Physics
Dr. Tavleen Kaur, University of Wolverhampton
Dr. Pashaura Singh, Distinguished Professor and Saini Chair in Sikh Studies, University of California, Riverside
Dr. Preet Kaur Virdi, Adjunct Assistant Professor, CUNY
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