Sikhs still divided after 25 years Threats shine spotlight on decades-long tensions Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post Published: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 Read more: Sikhs still divided after 25 years It has been 25 years since the Air India bombing and the anti-Sikh riots in India, and while the quest for an independent Sikh state called Khalistan has all but fizzled there, the separatist movement maintains a small but at times loud presence here in Canada. To be sure, the divide between pro-Khalistanis and those who believe in a united India has diminished since the 1990s, a decade marked by violent flashes including the high-profile murder of British Columbia newspaper publisher Tara Singh Hayer, a moderate Sikh who condemned violence in the Khalistan movement. Recent events across the country, however, have highlighted the underlying -- albeit far less heated -- tensions that continue to pit separatists against non-separatists, shining a spotlight on what many thought had become largely a dead issue. Although the motive behind Friday night's attack on the Sikh editor of the Punjabi Post in Brampton, Ont., remains unknown, the 42-year-old victim believes he was held at gunpoint because of his anti-extremist political views. He said pockets of separatist factions continue to "speak the language of violence." The assault and attempted kidnapping of an outspoken and moderate Sikh that may have been politically driven has sparked unease among community leaders and journalists in Brampton and beyond, reminding them that there remains a minority group bent on using violence to achieve its agenda. "The perception here is that the moderate community in Toronto is less powerful than British Columbia's," said Gurpreet Singh, a broadcaster with Surrey-based Radio India, adding that the moderate Sikh voice in B.C. has grown ever stronger over the years. "There is a perception that if you say something against Khalistan [in Toronto], you might get in trouble." The Indian High Commission said it has long been concerned about extremist elements among the Khalistani movement, and has recently warned Canadian officials that there is a renewed effort in the country to de-list banned terrorist groups aimed at fighting for an independent nation. "There is a small and violent group trying to hold the rest of the community ransom," said High Commissioner S.M. Gavai, adding that high-profile events in the Sikh community can lead to hostile flare-ups. In fact, at this year's Republic Day of India celebration at the Pearson Convention Centre in Brampton, pro-Khalistanis halted the event by laying two large Indian flags on the driveway leading to the venue. "The separatists wanted our performers and guests to desecrate the Indian flag by driving over it," said Kala Pillarisetty, co-chair of Panorama India, an umbrella organization for Indo-Canadian groups in the Greater Toronto Area. "It was very emotional for us, it was very upsetting." Members of the community were so enraged that they sent a petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper demanding that the government uphold the "fundamental rights of Indo-Canadian communities not affiliated to the pro-Khalistan movement." While the flag incident was non-violent, it nonetheless showcased the emotional tensions that are still simmering in the community, said Sunil Rao, editor of the Brampton-based South Asian Focus. "Some people who fled India for Canada continue to look upon Khalistan as a goal," Mr. Rao said. "This issue in Canada isn't really a thing of the past." Mr. Rao said there are Sikh temples in Ontario that are decorated with posters of Sikhs whom the Canadian government considers guilty of terrorist crimes, including Air India mastermind Talwinder Parmar. Some Sikh temples, called gudwaras, also post signs that say Zindabad Khalistan -- which means long live Khalistan. This is also true of a handful of gudwaras in British Columbia, a province that is home to Canada's largest Sikh population. Surrey's Dashmesh Darbar Temple, known for its pro-Khalistani stance, made headlines in 2007 after it featured images of Parmar on floats during its annual Vaisakhi Day parade, which celebrates the anniversary of the Sikh religion and attracted more than 100,000 people. Ranjeet Singh Khalsa, a pro-Khalistani member of the Dashmesh Darbar Temple, said Parmar was captured and tortured by the Indian government in 1986 and symbolizes the plight of the Sikhs in India more than two decades ago. "Every Sikh wants and needs Khalistan, but some people fear what the Indian or Canadian government will do if they raise a fuss." Mr. Khalsa said there are also tensions between conservative Sikhs, such as himself, and a small minority who are encouraging Canadian Sikhs to break from tradition by professing allegiance to Guru Nanak Dev Ji, a mortal guru. More than 500 Sikh protesters, including Mr. Khalsa, prevented the head of one such Sikh sect from speaking at Abbotsford's Gudwara Kalgidhar Darbar earlier this year. Abbotsford RCMP were called to quash the uproar after protesters rushed the main hall.