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Indian students reassess their overseas education plans as relations between New Delhi and Ottawa deteriorate

JALANDHAR, PUNJAB: For a year, Mr Ashu Gandhi had been making plans to get a Master’s degree in Canada.

His ambition to study in Canada started when he was 15 years old, after hearing about people in his neighbourhood moving there for work. 

Canada has been a popular destination for Indian students for years, with thousands heading there annually to further their studies and eventually taking up permanent residence.

However, after India warned its citizens of rising “anti-India activities” in Canada following a diplomatic fallout, he has been forced to reassess his options.

“I think I may drop this plan completely, or perhaps wait it out. My family members are also worried about sending me to Canada in this environment,” Mr Gandhi told CNA. 

He said he is now looking for an alternative education destination and seeking help from counsellors.

There are also concerns about wasted money, said his father Jatinder Gandhi.

“We’re a middle-income household. For Ashu’s education, we’ve used a lot of our savings, and we’ve also borrowed from people. Parents would do anything for their kids,” he said.

“But now if we spend this money and his move to Canada is hampered, we’d be stuck in a bad place.”

FLARED TENSIONS

Protests in Canada led by Sikhs demanding a separate state called Khalistan had already created a strain on India-Canada ties, with India perceiving the movement, which has quietened in Sikh-majority Punjab, as a threat. 

Canada is home to the largest number of Sikhs outside India, with a Sikh population of more than 770,000, or around 2 per cent of its total population.

Tensions flared in September when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that Indian agents played a role in the death of Canadian Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was labelled a terrorist by Indian officials.

India has refuted Mr Trudeau’s allegations and in a sign of deteriorating ties, demanded that Canada withdraw a majority of its diplomatic officials from India.

It has also suspended visas for Canadians, leaving Indians worried about tit-for-tat measures which could push thousands of students into limbo, along with millions of US dollars sunk into school fees.

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