The Veterans’ Association of Ontario is bringing together representatives from Hindu and Sikh organisations to resolve differences over the laws that have divided the Indo-Canadian community

A group of armed forces veterans in Canada has started a campaign to try to mend a growing rift between various communities in the country over farm laws passed in India last year that have sparked protests.

The Veterans’ Association of Ontario, which comprises Indian-origin members who have served in the armed forces in India and Canada, is bringing together representatives from Hindu and Sikh organisations to resolve differences over the farm laws that have divided the Indo-Canadian community.

Brigadier Nawab Heer (Retd), chair of the association, told HT he was “hopeful” the situation will be “defused”, adding, “I don’t know why we should be creating tensions among ourselves. Views should be respected on both sides. If the Indian diaspora has to flourish here, we have to be together.”

The association has facilitated dialogue between some leaders of the two communities, while religious establishments like gurdwaras have also been brought into the process of trying to create harmony.

Among the initiatives the entity has planned is a cultural fair this spring, to be organised jointly by the Sikh and Hindu communities.

Heer says the plan is to have a physical fair, but if Covid-19 curbs continue, it may have to be held virtually.

Also on the agenda is counselling and orientation for international students from India, some of whom have participated in the protests against the laws that have taken place in Canada.

Heer, who is Sikh, said such students were often “gullible and vulnerable” and need to be “insulated” from elements that “instigated” them.

The protests in Canada against India’s farm laws, including a rally in front of the Indian High Commission in Ottawa on Saturday, have seen the involvement of pro-Khalistan groups. There have also been several reports of threats and intimidation of individuals considered pro-India by separatists.

This has also led to violence, including assault and harassment during a “Tiranga-Maple” car rally organised by the Indo-Canadian community in the Greater Toronto Area on February 28.

On the other hand, some extreme voices within the Hindu community have given calls for boycotting Sikh establishments such as stores and restaurants, and confronting them outside gurdwaras.

Having received “positive” feedback for their efforts so far, Heer is optimistic that negativity can be “curbed” except among those “with vested interests” to keep the divisions in place.