Police have launched a major crackdown in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.
After shutting down the Internet, officers reportedly arrested 78 members of Waris Punjab De (Protectors of Punjab). It occurred shortly before many Sikhs planned to commemorate the barsi (first death anniversary) of slain Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moose Wala.
On May 29 of last year, gangsters murdered the politically active Moose Wala in Jawaharke village.
His father, Balkaur Singh, expressed outrage last week over one of those accused doing a TV interview. The gangster charged in the crime, Lawrence Bishnoi, maligned Moose Wala from Tihar Jail.
“When I saw him on television, I felt my son had died again,” said Singh, according to the Chandigarh-based Tribune.
He and his wife recently demonstrated outside the Punjab Legislative Assembly. They’re seeking justice for their son’s death.
Punjab police insist that a gangster in Canada orchestrated the hit on Moose Wala.
However, his parents claim that the government of Punjab disclosed details about his security on social media, leading to their son’s death.
Humble Music posted this tribute on YouTube to Moose Wala’s music.
In 2020, the Guardian included Moose Wala on its list of 50 up and coming artists.
Moose Wala generated controversy in some circles for promoting gun culture and criticizing the religious establishment. He sought a seat in the Punjabi Legislative Assembly in 2022 as a member of the Indian National Congress.
BREAKING | Amritpal Singh has been detained in Punjab, as police also arrest some of his aides.
Mobile internet, dongle services, and SMS have been suspended as well in Punjab.
Reports that S. 144 instituted in Mukstar too, four or more people cannot congregate. pic.twitter.com/05ETxvyJpc
— Baaz (@BaazNewsOrg) March 18, 2023
Critics slam police version of the story
Meanwhile, the Sikh news organization Baaz has reported that police took the leader of Waris Punjab De, Amritpal Singh, into custody.
Punjab police, on the other hand, have claimed that Amritpal Singh escaped in the Shahkot-Mehatpur area.
“He is now a fugitive and we are looking for him and we will soon arrest him,” Jalandhar Police Commissioner Kuldeep Singh Chahal told reporters.
Police say that Amritpal Singh and his supporters face charges in connection with swarming a police station and fighting with officers to try to get a preacher released.
The Waris Punjab De leader also faces charges of kidnapping, assault, and criminal intimidation.
Sikhs abroad fear that Amritpal Singh, who’s around 30 years old, might become a victim of an extrajudicial police killing.
More than 40 American Sikh organizations have signed an open statement condemning “Indian paramilitary operations” in Punjab.
In addition, demonstrators in London pulled down the flag from the Indian High Commission.
BREAKING | Demonstrators in London, protesting "widespread repression in Punjab" according to @theNSYF, have pulled down the Indian flag outside the Indian high commission in the city.
Protests are beginning to occur across the Sikh diaspora as draconian measures hit Punjab. pic.twitter.com/nrNMhGkKKI
— Baaz (@BaazNewsOrg) March 19, 2023
Self-styled preacher inspired by Bhindranwale
Amritpal Singh emerged as the head of Waris Punjab De after its founder, Indian film actor Deep Sidhu, died last year.
Sidhu, a vocal supporter of a yearlong farmers protest in Delhi, reportedly didn’t survive a car accident near the Indian capital. However, many Sikhs believe that the Indian state murdered him because of his advocacy for Sikh sovereignty.
According to the BBC, Amritpal Singh is a “self-styled preacher” who’s been inspired by another firebrand Sikh preacher, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.
In the 1980s, Bhindranwale led an armed insurgency for an independent Sikh state. He died when the Indian Army invaded the Golden Temple in Amritsar to crush the revolt in June 1984.
Four months later, that directly led to the assassination of then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Congress Party officials responded by organizing massacres of innocent Sikhs in several Indian cities.
Then under the leadership of senior police officer K.P.S. Gill, security officials ruthlessly cracked down on the Sikh insurgency.
“In some cases, the police reported that people had been killed in armed ‘encounters’, even after they were seen by witnesses to be arrested,” Amnesty International stated in a 1991 report. “In other cases, the police finally acknowledged the arrests, but claimed that the detainees had ‘escaped’.
“Scores of people have simply ‘disappeared’, the security forces refusing to acknowledge that they had ever been arrested,” the report continued. “It is feared that many of them have been killed in custody.”
India shuts down the internet more than any other nation and now has a criminal prohibition on gatherings of more than four people. Calling India a democracy has now moved from irony to farce. Appreciate @AsmJasmeetBains for being clear about this. https://t.co/SlXERjuFS8
— Amar Shergill (@AmarShergillCA) March 19, 2023
Critics of the Indian government in Metro Vancouver reacted to the clampdown in Punjab with a large protest outside the Taj Park Convention Centre in Surrey on March 19.
The High Commissioner of India to Canada, H.E. Sanjay Kumar Verma, and the Friends of Canada & India Foundation had planned to hold a dinner reception at that location. According to Gurpreet Singh Sahota, editor of Charhdi Kala and Akal Guardian Punjabi newspapers, the event was cancelled due to the demonstration.