For six consecutive days, authorities in India have been on a nationwide hunt for Amritpal Singh, a hardline Sikh chief from the northwestern state of Punjab who rose to prominence for supporting the Khalistan motion, which requires the creation of an impartial Sikh homeland.
30-year-old Singh has been on the run since March 18. To seek out him, authorities have deployed hundreds of paramilitary police and restricted Web and cellular messaging providers throughout the state—forcing practically 30 million individuals to go offline.
Singh leads a gaggle referred to as Waris Punjab De, which suggests “the heirs of Punjab,” and made nationwide headlines in February when a whole lot of his supporters stormed a neighborhood police station with weapons and swords to demand the discharge of a jailed aide, injuring six police officers.
Supporters of Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh clashed with Punjab Police personnel on Feb. 23 as they headed for the police station in Ajnala to protest.
Sameer Sehgal—Hindustan Occasions/Sipa USA/Alamy
Thus far, the police have arrested greater than 100 individuals linked to the incident, together with Singh’s uncle and driver. On Sunday, an official advised the native press that the police preemptively arrested people who had been “trying to disturb regulation and order in Punjab.”
Right here’s what to know concerning the occasions unfolding:
Who’s Amritpal Singh?
Singh is a controversial self-styled preacher who rose to prominence after the year-long farmers’ protests in 2020 in opposition to new agricultural legal guidelines proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (the federal government repealed the legal guidelines in November 2021). Earlier than this, he was a comparatively unknown truck driver who ran a automobile rental enterprise in Dubai.
Throughout the protests Singh joined Waris Punjab De, a corporation based by actor and activist Deep Sidhu, to mobilize farmers. After Sidhu was killed in a automobile crash in February 2022, Singh took over the group and continued to marketing campaign for Sikh rights by giving impassioned speeches in opposition to rising Hindu nationalism sentiments beneath the Modi administration, in addition to social points like rampant drug habit in Punjab. His speeches resonated with many Sikhs and have led to his rising reputation.
Singh has additionally likened himself to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh separatist determine who led the Khalistan motion and was killed by the Indian military in 1984 on the orders of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, after storming the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine of Sikhism. Within the aftermath of the operation, Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.
Final month, he generated controversy for making threatening feedback in opposition to the Indian House Minister, Amit Shah, by suggesting the minister might meet the identical destiny as Gandhi for talking in opposition to the Khalistan motion.
Amritpal Singh, middle, pays his respect on the Golden Temple in Amritsar on March 3.
Narinder Nanu—AFP/Getty Photos
Why was the Web banned?
The state authorities of Punjab, which is led by the opposition Aam Admi Celebration, initially introduced a 24-hour ban on cellular web and SMS providers on Saturday whereas armed forces launched an operation in opposition to Singh. However since then, authorities have prolonged the ban to stop the unfold of faux information, rumors, and misinformation on social media that they are saying might spark additional violence.
Lots of Singh’s supporters have posted on social media. One video stay steamed on Fb and Twitter confirmed the chief being chased by the police via wheat fields in Punjab. Singh’s father, Sardar Tersem Singh, additionally posted on Twitter, asking all Punjabis “to boost their voice in opposition to the injustice in opposition to him and stand with him.” His submit shortly went viral.
Amid the crackdown, the Indian authorities additionally requested Twitter to withhold 122 Twitter accounts in connection to the incident, in keeping with Twitter’s disclosure to the Lumen Database. Nevertheless, many of those accounts should not related to Waris Punjab De, with the listing together with Canadian politicians Jagmeet Singh and Gurratan Singh, the poet Rupi Kaur, civil society organizations United Sikhs and Khalra Mission, and U.S.-based creator Pieter Friedrich.
Though the statewide ban was one of many broadest shutdowns lately, it’s not the primary time that the Indian authorities has restricted entry to the web. Since 2018, India has ranked first on the planet for the best variety of web shutdowns. A current report by Entry Now, a New York-based non-profit that works on digital rights and on-line freedoms, counted 84 such incidents in 2022. Many digital rights activists have referred to as the deployment of this tactic ineffective and an infringement of free speech and digital rights.
Punjab police forcefully take away supporters protesting the police motion in opposition to Amritpal Singh in Mohali, India, on March 21.
Sanjeev Sharma—Hindustan Occasions/Getty Photos
How is the world reacting?
Because the hunt for Singh was underway, protests broke out in Canada, the U.S. the U.Ok., with Indian consulates within the cities of London and San Francisco vandalized by Singh’s supporters. In London, the Indian flag was torn down and changed with the Khalistan emblem.
In response, India summoned the senior-most UK diplomat in New Delhi on Sunday “to convey robust protest on the actions taken by separatist and extremist components,” in keeping with a press release by India’s international ministry. It additionally requested for “an evidence for the entire absence of the British safety that allowed these components to enter” the premises in London.
Alex Ellis, the British Excessive Commissioner to India, posted on Twitter: “I condemn the disgraceful acts in the present day in opposition to the individuals and premises of the [High Commission of India] – completely unacceptable.”
What’s the Khalistan motion?
The Khalistan motion believes in an impartial, Sikh-majority state inside Punjab. The faith of Sikhism was based within the fifteenth Century by Guru Nanak. As we speak, it’s the majority faith in Punjab however includes lower than 2% of India’s 1.3 billion individuals.
The motion’s origin will be traced to India’s independence from British rule in 1947 when Punjab was sliced into two elements between the newly based nations of India and Pakistan. Throughout this time, a bloody Partition displaced many individuals and left practically 1 million useless. Since then, the Khalistan motion has gained reputation and led to violent clashes between the Indian authorities and the Khalistani rise up erupting over time.
A report by Human Rights Watch describes how Sikh militants had been chargeable for severe human rights abuses, together with the bloodbath of civilians, assaults on Hindu minorities within the state, indiscriminate bomb assaults in crowded locations, and the assassination of various political leaders. On the identical time, the report states that the Indian authorities additionally ordered counterinsurgency operations that led to the arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial execution, and enforced disappearance of hundreds of Sikhs.
India has banned the Khalistan motion and considers it a nationwide safety risk, with various teams related to the motion listed as “terrorist organizations” beneath the Illegal Actions (Prevention) Act. Regardless of the ban, the motion has attracted sympathy and assist from some members of the Sikh diaspora who migrated to Western nations for higher financial alternatives.
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