India’s Ministry of External Affairs advised Indian students in Canada to “exercise due caution and remain vigilant” in response to what it describes as a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-India activities” in the country.
In a September press release, the department said it and the Indian High Commission/ Consulates General in Canada had “taken up these incidents with the Canadian authorities and requested them to investigate the said crimes and take appropriate action”.
“Canada takes prides in being multicultural and in its multi-faith communities”
“The perpetrators of these crimes have not been brought to justice so far in Canada,” it warned.
Asked by The PIE which incidents the government was referring to, the MEA did not respond to requests for information.
It also advised Indian nationals and students from India in the country to register with the High Commission of India in Ottawa or Consulates General of India in Toronto and Vancouver to enable authorities to “better connect with Indian citizens in Canada in the event of any requirement or emergency”.
A number of stakeholders that The PIE has spoken with have suggested that the September 23 warning is an exaggeration by Indian authorities.
According to the World Sikh Organization of Canada – quoted in the Globe and Mail – the advisory is “purely political”. A spokesperson for the group, Balpreet Singh, said that two events had caught the attention of the Indian government.
The first was graffiti discovered at a Hindu Temple in Toronto on September 15, and the second a vote held in Brampton by Sikhs for Justice that was described as an independence referendum for Khalistan and Punjab.
Universities Canada highlighted that “Canada remains one of the safest countries in the world for all international students, including Indian students”.
“We strongly condemn the defacement of the Swaminarayan temple in Toronto, however this incident is not indicative of a trend or a growing escalation of violence directed towards Indian students,” said Universities Canada assistant director of International Relations, Graham Barber.
“Canada takes prides in being multicultural and in its multi-faith communities and believes everyone deserves to feel safe within their community.”
Anonymous sources in Canada questioned how the Indian government could publish the advisory without substantive evidence.
There are also concerns that Indian authorities may be encroaching on academic freedom. In July, a poster created by Toronto Metropolitan University film student and director Leena Manimekalai was targeted online and was requested to be withdrawn by the Indian High Commission in Canada.
The poster depicted a woman dressed as Hindu goddess Kali smoking a cigarette.
A source also suggested that Canadian institutions need to create foreign policies to withstand related issues in the future.
CBIE’s 2022 ISS Report found students “generally indicated high degrees of perceived safety, especially in their own accommodations, on-campus and workplaces”, but acknowledged that less ease was reported in online and social media environments and lower still in public spaces.
Student respondents also reported having experienced the highest levels of discrimination or harassment within the off-campus community. They “were generally confident in their institution’s ability to address harassment or discrimination”, it added.
Manager for International Recruitment Management and Partnerships at Sheridan College, Sandeep Rane, highlighted that fostering student success and well-being is a top priority for the institution in Ontario.
All of its campuses have on-site security, cameras and a SafeWalk program.
“We continue to encourage our students and employees to be alert and aware of their surroundings and to take necessary precautions to protect their safety when out in the community,” Rane said.
“Sheridan cares deeply about the communities in which our campuses reside and we share the determination of many partners who we work with in the community to keep them safe and welcoming places for everyone.”
“Canada is one of the safest, most diverse and inclusive countries in the world to gain a high quality education, home to the third largest tech sector in North America and offers tremendous post-graduate work opportunities,” Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant vice-president of Global Engagement & Partnerships at York International, told The PIE.
“All governments have a responsibility to look after their citizens, and advisories are not unusual if and when there is actual cause for concern,” she said.
“From my personal view, I would think that this disclaimer is kind of an exaggeration,” Sanchit Mittal, who is a facilitator for the CBIE Anti-Racism Response Training program, explained.
“I also think it’s the government of India’s attempt at getting a better handle on or to get a better visibility on the Indian citizens living in Canada or living abroad period.”
But it is also not only an issue in Canada.
Incidents in the UK have also been condemned by the High Commission of India in London recently. On September 19, a press release that “strongly condemned” what it said was violence against the Indian community in Leicester and “vandalization of premises and symbols of Hindu religion”.
Violence between groups of Hindu and Muslim men in the city in September could be down to the popularity of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India among Leicester’s Gujarati Hindu community, according to one Emeritus professor of Sikh and Punjab Studies at SOAS University of London.
The Indian National Student Association said in response that it was “concerned about safety of our Indian students in and around Leicester”.
“Many students in Leicester and parents in India have contacted us expressing their fear. We appeal [to] our students to be vigilant and extra cautious and get in touch with us if you have any concerns,” the group said.
Mittal, who is a former international student in Canada, also pointed to Canada’s safe reputation.
“Six or seven years ago when I was making a decision of where I wanted to study abroad, the safety aspect of Canada was by far the one of the top reasons for me to choose Canada over the US or Australia,” he said.
“[But] it would be so stupid of us to pretend that there isn’t racism… The other piece of my opinion is there has actually been an increase in incidents,” he continued.
“We’ve seen in a number of Indian students who have died in Canada as an outcome of violence of some sort,” he said, and also pointed to a 717% rise in reported Anti-Asian hate claims during the pandemic in Vancouver.
Global Affairs Canada passed a press request from The PIE to Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which said it “encourages all victims and witnesses to report any hate-motivated crime or incident to their local police of jurisdiction, as investigating hate-motivated crimes and incidents falls under the mandate of the local police of jurisdiction where the criminal activity takes place”.
“There is a truth in that caution”
“Reporting hate-motivated incidents, no matter how minor they may seem, can help police better target crime prevention efforts in communities,” RCMP added.
“It can also help identify trends and prevent a possible escalation towards violence. That said, a hate-motivated incident may be motivated by the same factors as a hate-motivated crime, but it does not reach the threshold of being a criminal offence. Such incidents may include name-calling or racial insults.”
Barber noted that India and Canada have a “longstanding relationship”, with Canada being home to one of the largest communities of people with Indian heritage – totalling some 1.4 million individuals.
“Over 125,000 study permits were issued to Indian students in 2021 making it the largest community of international students in Canada,” he said.
“We welcome Indian students, visiting faculty and researchers to our institutions and encourage them to continue to consider Canada as a safe and secure country for quality education and research.”
However, Mittal also raised further concerns.
“We’ve also seen the number of suicides have increased for international students in Canada, many of them coming from South Asia,” he added.
“While saying that hate crimes have increased against Indians in particular is an exaggeration, there is a truth in that caution that tells you to have a little bit more awareness about where you’re going.
“It’s right that Canada is diverse and inclusive and amazing, but there are also aspects of challenging pieces you’re going to have to navigate, which includes your race and the colour of your skin.”
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