Rajinder Singh Taggar, Consulting editor of Khalsa Vox, reports from Toronto after visiting Canada in August this year.
The increasing incidents of sexual exploitation of Punjabi girls on study visas to Canada calls for the immediate attention of social organizations. The Sikh social and religious organizations back home in Punjab state of India also need to take cognizance of the same.
Some 5 lakh international students, including adolescent girls, especially from Punjab, come to Canada every year. In the prevailing economic circumstances and employment market scenario, students are not getting proper jobs as per permissible work hours. Rentals for accommodation have skyrocketed, and rates of groceries, including milk and fruits, have become almost unaffordable for international students. All this makes them vulnerable to exploitation of different types. If girls get pushed into the flesh trade, boys are unknowingly dragged into the drug business, all to make ends meet.
The information shared here emanated from an interview with Ms Sunder Singh, the Executive Director (ED) of a women’s support group, the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women (EHCFW). Khalsa Vox spoke to Ms Singh on the burning issue of exploitation of Indian students and found that it is a matter of great concern. However, the Gurdwara committees in Canada are just not interested in helping out students in distress.
Ms Singh revealed that in 2017, over 1,500 distress calls were received from girls. The number had gone up three times till 2022. “We try to act as facilitators for arranging suitable jobs and accommodation for the girls by involving Canadian police and other government bodies. In case there are vacancies at the EHCFW field offices, girls facing difficulties are preferred” added the ED of the women’s organization.
She explains: The modus operandi that old settlers adopted is to offer financial help to needy students. By and by, they gain their confidence. In the case of girls, gangs start exploiting them sexually as a quid pro quo for financial help. In the case of boys, their services are used to carry drugs to designated places. This vicious circle ultimately introduces international students to the world of crime.
Ms Singh advises that the students should neither accept financial help from fresh acquaintances nor should they share their bank details and addresses. There have been instances when girls are asked by “helping” acquaintances to spend time with their other friends. The girls are filmed stealthily in objectionable postures. Blackmailing follows, jeopardizing the lives of the victims.
According to Ms Singh, Indian parents should not send their wards to Canada till they are graduates and mature enough as life is not easy here. The immigration consultants in India lure clients by presenting a very prosperous life that awaits them in Canada. In the case of those having helpful relatives settled in Canada, the situation may be somewhat different.
“We approached some Gurdwaras a few years ago requesting them to contribute to our efforts from their huge financial resources, but they did not show any interest,” said Ms Singh. The EHCFW is supported mainly by the government of Ontario province.
She agreed to a suggestion that the plight of Punjabi students needed to be brought to the knowledge of Akal Takht Jathedar and requested to issue a diktat to all committees of Gurdwaras abroad to contribute financially towards helping students in distress.
Giving the background of the NGO, Ms Sunder Singh said Ms. Elspeth Heyworth was born in India as her father was a minister there in the British government of Yore. She came to settle in Canada only to see the misery of Indian women. She then decided to help the women immigrants. Once, she went to India and died accidentally at a beach in Goa. Later, her friends decided to carry forward her task of serving women in general, particularly Indian women in Canada.
The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the discussants. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.