Paluck Kohli, a Toronto-based impact evaluation specialist, and her fiancé Ro, a financial data analyst, are both from India. When Ro received his Canadian citizenship in August, he also lost something—India doesn’t allow dual citizenship. When they go back to India in December for their wedding with over 600 guests, Ro will have to apply for a visitor’s visa. But recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused the Indian government of being connected to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader who lived in British Columbia. On September 21, India suspended its visa service for Canadians, putting the wedding in jeopardy. Here’s their story.
In June of 2019, I moved from my hometown, New Delhi, to Kingston, Ontario, to study business at Queen’s University. I was excited to live in Canada, which I saw as a melting pot of cultures with great opportunities in my field of study, which was innovation and entrepreneurship. When I finished my degree, I moved to Toronto and started working for a social innovation charity, focusing on impact measurement, client engagement and communications.
In August of 2022, Ro and I met through our parents. He’s from India too, but when he was 16, he moved to Dubai for school, then to the U.S. and then to Vancouver. He’s still based in Vancouver, so he flew to Toronto to meet me a month after we connected online. I really valued how much he’d experienced in his life after moving away from home as a teenager.
Things between me and Ro escalated pretty quickly after that. We talked about marriage early on, and what our lives would look like together. We both loved Canada and how inclusive it is here, plus the scenery is so beautiful. We saw Canada as a good place to start a family. We weren’t sure whether we’d live in Toronto or Vancouver. We both have remote jobs—Ro works in finance as an analyst—so we figured we’d spend half a year in Toronto and half a year in Vancouver, then decide.
But before moving in together, we wanted to get married. In January of 2023, we went back to India for an engagement ceremony and began planning our wedding for December in Amritsar, where Ro was born. In April of 2023, we both applied for Canadian citizenship. Ro’s application went through faster than mine. He was invited to take his citizenship test in July, which he passed with flying colours. In early August, while he was visiting me in Toronto, he got his notice to take his oath of citizenship. It would happen virtually in a few days, and he felt unprepared because he didn’t have any formal clothes with him. He even thought about borrowing one of my work blazers for the oath and we had a good laugh about it. To celebrate the day, I bought him some maple sugar, a Canadian fridge magnet and a luggage tag, then we went out for dinner afterwards. He was so excited to finally become a Canadian citizen.
But he had mixed emotions about it, as did I. Becoming a Canadian citizen means renouncing our Indian citizenship. We both love Canada, but we have strong attachments to India as well . We’re both from big families, and most of our relatives still live back home. After becoming Canadian citizens, we’d need to apply for travel visas to visit our families and to get married there. I figured it’d be best to wait until after our wedding to take our oaths, in case we had trouble getting visas, but Ro wasn’t worried.
In mid-August, I received a notice to book my citizenship test. They give you a three-week window to book your test, but I was in India at the time to plan our wedding, so they agreed to postpone it. Our wedding will be a three-day affair with a cocktail party, a cricket match between the bride’s side and the groom’s side (both of our families are really into cricket), a henna night and the wedding itself, which will have over 600 guests. Weddings in India are very community-based, so you invite everybody to celebrate with you. Some weddings have more than a thousand guests.
On September 18, when political tensions escalated between India and Canada, I felt disheartened. Seeing conflict between Canada and India—two places that I hold dear to my heart—was difficult. We were also worried about Ro’s travel visa. Before he could submit his application, on September 23, India suspended its visa service for Canadians. I read the news in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. I FaceTimed Ro, since it was only midnight in Vancouver. We couldn’t believe it was happening. We had about 35 guests from Canada who would be attending our wedding, and only a couple of them had applied for their visa. But most importantly, Ro wouldn’t be able to get his visa. The wedding can’t happen without him.
We both immediately went into problem-solving mode. We thought about having a small wedding here in Canada instead, but it’s not ideal. Our wedding will only happen once in our lives and we want it to be nothing less than magic. Not getting married in December isn’t an option for us. Our families have spent the equivalent of over $75,000 on deposits for the venues of our wedding events. Plus, we have more than 200 guests who are flying from different cities in India and also internationally for the wedding, and many of them have already purchased tickets.
On September 25, we got the idea of reaching out to Indian authorities to find out if there were any workarounds for Ro. We still haven’t received any solid solution. In a few weeks, we’ll have to decide whether or not to pull the plug on our wedding. I don’t even want to think about what that would mean for us and our families.
I’ve accepted that these things are out of our control. My hope is that everything can still go ahead as planned. We just have to trust the universe. I’m trying to keep my cool, since we still have two months before the wedding. But I’m stressed out about it. Luckily, both of our families are really level-headed, so they’re not freaking out yet. I think we’re trying to be strong for one another, but deep down, everyone’s probably thinking: What are we going to do?
I know other people who’ve been affected by the tensions too, like an Indian friend in Toronto whose father is unwell. She wants to go back to India and visit him, but now she can’t. I’m optimistic that the situation will be resolved soon, not only so that our wedding can go ahead as planned, but also for this greater reason: to see peace re-established between these two countries that I love.
—As told to Andrea Yu