Toronto Sikh Celebration Without Incident Despite Recent Tensions

source: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Toronto+Sikh+celebration+without+incident+despite+recent+tensions/2950348/story.html

Toronto Sikh celebration without

incident despite recent tensions


By Joseph Brean, National Post with files from Global News - April 25, 2010 10:02 PM

2950350.bin


A large group of people crowd around a statue Statue of King Edward VII moved from Delhi, India in 1969, at Queens Park on a rainy day during the parade portion of the 25th annual Sikh Khalsa Day Celebration in Toronto, Ontario, April 25, 2010.

Photograph by: Tyler Anderson, National Post


TORONTO — There was good reason to expect controversy at Khalsa Day, Toronto’s celebration of the 311th anniversary of the founding of the Sikh religion.

Among the 80,000 attendees, there were rival factions from the ideological disputes that have divided Toronto-area temples, leading to street brawls among armed men and the stabbing of a prominent lawyer.

Balraj Deol, editor of the Khabarnama Punjabi weekly newspaper, wrote an open letter to Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urging that he stay away, and saying that some Canadian Sikh leaders “have managed to bluff our political elite for the past 2 1/2 decades.”

“Slowly they are making us accept ‘fundamentalist and militancy’ as real Sikh religion,” he wrote. “Young Sikhs are being indoctrinated and implanted in the political system.”

And there were several prominent mentions of the controversial Khalistan movement for a Sikh homeland in India, which a Khalsa Day organizer explicitly endorsed to the crowd at Queen’s Park.

In British Columbia, Premier Gordon Campbell boycotted a similar event after organizers made veiled threats about the safety of Ujjal Dosanjh, a Liberal MP and Canada’s most high-profile Sikh politician, who was also threatened as a “traitor” on a Facebook page.

But in the end, the traditional harvest festival of Vaisakhi went off without a hitch, except for the cold and rainy weather, and attracted nothing more offensive than the traditional platitudes of stumping politicians, from Toronto mayoral candidates to the leader of the federal Liberal party.

“Ontario needs the Sikh community to be united, because that’s what makes for a strong Ontario,” McGuinty said. “Our diversity defines us, but it never, ever divides us.”

Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff looked out at the hundreds of turbaned men on the slope leading up to the equestrian statue of King Edward VII and said it was a “wonderful sight.”

A petition being circulated Sunday urged the government of Canada to recognize that “an organized campaign of violence, rapes and killings took place in India in November of 1984,” and that this was a genocide under international law. It also called for India to prosecute the perpetrators.

In October 1984, Indian prime minister Indira Ghandi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards, in revenge for the military assault that summer on the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Sikhism’s holiest place.

The resulting riots led to the deaths of thousands of Sikhs and the emigration of many others to countries such as Canada.

This particular issue came to a boil recently in the case of Kamal Nath, the current Indian minister of road transport and highways, who was investigated but not convicted by a government commission looking into the 1984 violence, and who last month met privately in Toronto with McGuinty on trade, sparking protests.

The thousands of participants Sunday sought to put differences aside and convey a message of peace and compassion after days of tensions amid the Sikh community.

“Today we are above everything,” said Gobinder Singh Randhawa of the Ontario Sikh & Gurdwara Council. “I think this is the most important event today.”

National Post with files from Global News

jbrean@nationalpost.com © Copyright (c) Canwest News Service
 
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