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Thousands of families are caught up in the fallout between Canada and India


Tensions are running high between India and Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged possible involvement by India's government in the assassination of a Canadian citizen. That's affecting thousands of families in both countries, with India suspending the issuance of visas to Canadian citizens. Shalu Yadav spoke with some of them.

RAMIT KUMAR: My daughter - she's very close to my mom. They are talking every day on video call with my mom. And they said, hey, Nani, we are coming. I'm sorry, Shalu.

SHALU YADAV, BYLINE: Ramit Kumar broke down as she recalled the excitement that had been building up in her family about their upcoming trip to India. Her husband and twin children had their bags packed and tickets booked, but just as they were going to apply for their visas, the Indian government announced suspension of visa services for Canadians.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Breaking news that's coming in. Indian visa services...

YADAV: The Kumars became Canadian citizens in 2018. And because India does not allow dual citizenship, they have to obtain a visa every time they want to go back home. This time, they were looking forward to celebrating Diwali and a family wedding in India. Her husband, Munish, says their hopes came crashing down as they heard the news.

MUNISH KUMAR: So my kids, the twin kids - they were going first time to India. And all my family members and my wife's family members - they were super excited to see them. Seriously, it's so frustrating - not for my family. It's - there are a lot of families out there. You know, they're suffering.

YADAV: The Kumars are from the North Indian state of Punjab, which has the largest Sikh population in India. And Canada is home to the world's largest Sikh population outside of India, many of whom have Canadian citizenship.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

YADAV: This sudden allegation by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, which India called absurd, has caused anxiety in the diaspora community. And it's not just those who have family ties in both countries. Business owners who have a special connection with India are also impacted.

AMIT BINDRA: Business is one thing, but emotionally, it does affect us - that we can't - we're not in a position to do a business with the country where we were born and raised.

YADAV: Amit Bindra became a Canadian citizen in 2009. He owns a construction company in Winnipeg City in Manitoba. He was going to seal his first trade deal with an Indian partner later this year.

BINDRA: We used to buy material being supplied from Italy and Spain and all those countries, and it was a little bit more expensive. But then when I was in India earlier this year, I was able to speak with a couple of manufacturers where - material for our construction sites out from India. It would have been cheaper. With these restrictions, we may not able to do that.

YADAV: Just a few months ago, the two countries were making progress towards signing an FTA, or a free trade agreement. Now talks are paused, and an upcoming Canadian trade mission to India has been postponed, too.

SUHASINI HAIDAR: The free trade agreement talks were seen as a sign that India-Canada ties actually were getting better.

YADAV: Suhasini Haidar is the diplomatic editor of prominent Indian newspaper The Hindu.

HAIDAR: FTA was actually supposed to boost India Canada trade to much higher levels, like India has with so many of these other Western, developed economies. That's one casualty.

YADAV: Meanwhile, the anxiety among hundreds of families in India and Canada is palpable. Ramit Kumar has a message for the prime minister of India back home.

R KUMAR: I just wanted to tell Prime Minister Mr. Modi they have to think about the public, as well. Please, please. It's a humble request to do something for us, please.

YADAV: But for now, analysts say that the situation could get a lot worse before relations normalize between India and Canada, leaving family and business ties in a limbo.

For NPR News, I'm Shalu Yadav in Delhi.

(SOUNDBITE OF WRUCE BILLIS' "DAYS AND DAZE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Shalu Yadav