By Ahmar Khan
In recent weeks, Banerjee, the director and one of very few members of his hate group, Canadian Hindu Advocacy, has been a part of a group of fellow Hindu Nationalists marching on Gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) over farmers’ protests being held in India. In some cases, violence has broken out. Despite the violence occurring, Banerjee cited at the time that he would still show up and would continue to march in front of Sikh temples.
“Our crew will be visiting Brampton and walking the sidewalks in front of Sikh temples. We will show up with no advance notice and we shall expose evil. We've done it before and we'll do it again,” wrote Banerjee’s twitter account on March 1, where he also used the Khalistan hashtag. Banerjee was also spotted by Baaz News as being present at other marches later throughout the month.
Banerjee’s goal seems to be to label Sikhs, especially those living in the diaspora, as being Khalistani, a term used to denounce Sikhs as being separatists and engaging in acts of terror. In fact, the term Khalistani for Sikhs is similar to what Muslims sought with Pakistan, an attempt to achieve autonomy in India, where they were and are a persecuted minority.
With tensions in India between the government and farmers, many of whom are Sikh, reaching boiling points, Banerjee has focused his attention on trying to target Sikhs. In a tweet, Banerjee stated that “White Canadian Patriot groups” are calling on the Indian Army to send forces to Canada to control the Khalistani-Sikh problem, despite showing no proof of Khalistani terrorism or the Indian Army attempting to come to Canada.
It’s not just one instance of making veiled threats; the Hindutva fanatic has even made statements saying that Canada would roll out the red carpet for the Indian Army and the RSS, a right-wing Hindu Nationalist paramilitary group, to “cleanse the country,” of Sikhs.
“We badly need Operation Blue Star 2. Hindu Nationalists should be imported for this task,” he wrote on his Twitter account. Operation Blue Star was an attack carried out by the Indian Army which resulted in the destruction of the Golden Temple, the holiest site in the Sikh religion, as well as the deaths of civilians and Sikh separatists in 1984.
Of course, Banerjee is not representative of Hindus or Hindu-Canadians as a whole. It is, however, fair to say that he's becoming the face of the now-galvanized Hindu nationalist protests in Canada.
Amarnath Amarasingam, Assistant Professor at the school of religion at Queen's University, has been paying attention to the Hindu Nationalist troublemaker for some time.
To Amarasingam, it’s clear that Banerjee and his antics aren’t operating in a reality-based setting. However, that does not diminish the impact his words can have on inciting violence against Sikhs.
“It’s quite dangerous speech...he knows it's ridiculous, he knows it's not going to happen,” said Amarasingam.
In another instance, Banerjee likened Canada seeking vaccines from India while also bringing up the issues of the farmers' protests as being linked.
“Vaccines are weapons against a virus, while these farmer protests are a virus. Hindu nationalism is the cure for this virus,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Despite calling Sikhs a virus, his tweets have not yet been removed from Twitter for violating the company’s hate speech rules. Banerjee has also expressed his fears that Sikh politicians could use their power to help create an ethnostate in Canada. Amarasingam noted that while there may be divisions in India between Sikhs and Hindus, the same doesn’t exist here; instead, it’s Hindu Nationalists targeting the Sikh community.
Amarasingam is aware that many, if not most, Canadians don’t know what Hindu Nationalists are but he noted that they are a group focused on ethnic cleansing and removing minorities. He noted when it comes to Muslims, especially in India, they outnumber them greatly but fear that Muslims will eventually outnumber them due to their high birth rates. Despite being a majority with a minority complex and holding all the power, Hindus within India, who have elected a Hindu Nationalist party into power, remain emboldened against Muslims who they fear will overtake them and against Sikhs, who they fear will divide up "Mother India."
“I think Canadians need to be aware these are active hate groups, they're responsible for the countless anti-Muslim deaths in India, murders on the streets, burning of religious institutions,” he said.
While Sikhs are Banerjee’s latest targets, it’s not the first time he has targeted another minority group persecuted in India. In 2017, he went after Muslims and was sued by restaurateur Mohamad Fakih. A judge ordered in Fakih’s favour, after Banerjee associated Fakih, with zero evidence, to terrorism and sexual assault. Banerjee was forced to issue a video apology to the Canadian-Muslim as part of a settlement.
“I have learned that it was wrong to attack Mr. Fakih because of his religion or where he is from. Such hate has no place in Canada and I will not make public statements of this nature in the future,” said Banerjee in the video.
Banerjee was born in France before emigrating to Canada at the age of two. After growing up in New Brunswick, Banerjee helped found the Hindu Conference of Canada in 2003. He gained some recognition, stating the organization was “designed to work with all citizens and protect the shared Hindu and Canadian values of equal opportunity and freedom.”
In a CBC op-ed, Banerjee offers up that Hindus, who he describes as a tolerant group, do not push their faith on others. He follows those comments indicating that Hindu’s “success and prosperity were unrecognized by Canadians,” which have torn away at him.
In person and on Twitter, Banerjee often interacts with noted xenophobes like Gus Stefanis, a failed candidate for the neo-Nazi Canadian Nationalist Party. The conversations and oftentimes interactions with far-right white nationalists and neo-Nazis is deeply concerning to Amarasingam. He added that Banerjee refers to them as patriots, and two sides are aligned on their anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, anti-immigration stances.
Banerjee has attended protests with a variety of figures in Canada’s right wing extremist movement, including longtime neo-Nazi Paul Fromm and other figures like Tomas Liko and Kevin Johnston. During the virtual trial of far-right propagandist Rick Boswick, Banerjee interrupted to repeatedly shout “convert to Hinduism.”
It wasn’t long ago that former U.S. President Donald Trump, who notably was thought to be a saviour by white nationalists, hosted an event for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The event held in Texas served as an opportunity at that time for Hindu Nationalists and far-right groups to come together.
“The linkages between the Hindu Nationalist groups and some on the far-right has been quite worrying,” Amarasingam said. “These groups have seemingly nothing in common, but they’re forming alliances.”
Banerjee with neo-Nazis Paul Fromm and Tomas Liko. Source: Facebook
For Banerjee and other Hindu Nationalists, the thought of being Indian is being Hindu and vice-versa. So, when countries like Pakistan oppose India, Banerjee is not shy about his feelings towards India’s adversary, insisting that Pakistan should not exist.
“Pakistan must be ripped to shreds. Destroy that monstrosity,” he wrote on Twitter.
While Canadians are relatively oblivious to the racial tensions existing within some of these groups, Amarasingam thinks Banerjee’s decisions to fuel and espouse hatred towards other ethnic minorities can do serious harm.
“Exporting some of that conversation to Canada, you’re going to have divisions within different diasporic communities,” he said.
Since he started working to establish Hindu Nationalists as a voice, Banerjee has noted he wanted to build up a strong voting block which would allow Hindus to push back on a policy level and be a part of the conversations, regardless of how toxic it has become.
“They want to ensure they have a voice in the conversation, but that voice has been quite poisonous,” said Amarasingam.
It’s not just Banerjee who is working to foster toxic conversations; as Amarasingam points out, Hindu Nationalists abroad run online campaigns that are quick to doxx, threaten and target people who speak out against their tactics.
“There is a social media campaign in India to silence, to harass people in the diaspora,” he said.
While at times it seems like Banerjee’s threats online and his constant choice to incite hatred can fall on deaf ears, Amarasingam knows better. He admitted that in the moment it may not have disastrous effects, but his hatred primes people to be quicker to mobilize when sparks do fly.
“We might not see ongoing violence, but there will be a certain segment of the population that is primed for violence,” he said.