Tens of thousands of community members attended a vote that was held at a Surrey gurdwara on Sunday.
The unofficial vote was to weigh support for an independent Sikh nation in northern India – Khalistan. The vote is not officially binding in any way.
The vote was held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara — the gurdwara where its former president Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot and killed in mid-June. Nijjar was a staunch supporter of the independence movement.
The vote is organized by Sikhs for Justice — a group that is in full support of a Khalistan nation. There is no opposing voice or opposing group campaign.
The group estimated more than 100,000 people attended the vote in Surrey.
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“The turnout tells us, and the wider community, that the issue of Khalistan is not an issue for a fringe group of people but rather .. this is a deep-rooted issue that touches the hearts and minds of many Sikhs,” Jatinder Grewal, a Sikh for Justice director, said.
“The first step is to recognize Sikhs actually do what a Khalistan. It is clear this is not a fringe movement.”
The vote was originally supposed to be held at a Surrey school, but the school district cancelled the group Sikhs For Justice’s rental due to a “violation” of the rental agreement.
By email, it said promotional posters for the event featured Tamanawis Secondary School alongside images of a weapon. The posters show a pen being used to stab a gun.
“Despite repeated attempts to address the issue, the event organizers failed to remove these concerning images, and materials continued to be posted throughout Surrey and on social media,” the district wrote.
“Our decision is in no way an endorsement of, or criticism of, any political position.”
The district said its rental policies and guidelines support its overall goal of creating a “safe environment” in schools.
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Sikhs For Justice volunteer Inderjeet Singh said the group was not notified of the cancellation until Sunday, a week ahead of the event.
Singh said the Sikh community is still grieving Nijjar’s death and frustrated with the lack of progress in the police investigation, and the vote cancellation “aggravated” people.
“It kind of was a slap in the face, almost you can say, to the community — especially after the death,” he said.
“You would think (the district) would actually try to work with us and in a way help us get through this tough time, but it’s actually added fuel to the fire.”
Votes are being held in many countries across the world but not India. The results will be tallied in the coming weeks ahead, organizers said.
— with files from The Canadian Press and Elizabeth McSheffrey
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