Amritpal Singh of India. What you need to know about hunting

F:or six days in a row, Indian authorities have been conducting a nationwide manhunt for Amritpal Singh, a hardline Sikh leader from the northwestern state of Punjab who rose to prominence for his support of the Khalistan movement, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland.

Singh, 30, has been on the run since March 18. Authorities deployed thousands of riot police officers to track him down and cut Internet and cellphone service across the state, forcing an estimated 30 million people offline.

Singh leads a group called Waris Punjab De, meaning “Descendants of Punjab,” and made national headlines in February when hundreds of his supporters stormed a local police station with guns and swords to demand the release of a jailed aide.

Supporters of waris punjab de chief amritpal singh clashed with punjab police officials on february 23 when they marched towards ajnala police station to protest. (sameer sehgal—hindustan times/sipa usa/alamy)

Supporters of Waris Punjab De chief Amritpal Singh clashed with Punjab Police officials on February 23 when they marched towards Ajnala police station to protest.

Sameer Sehgal-Hindustan Times/Sipa USA/Alamy

So far, the police have arrested more than a hundred people in connection with the case, including Singh’s uncle and the driver. An official told local media on Sunday that police had preemptively arrested people who were “trying to disrupt law and order in Punjab”.

Here’s what you need to know about the unfolding events.

Who is Amritpal Singh?

Singh is a self-styled campaigner who rose to prominence following a year-long farmer protest against new agricultural laws proposed by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 (the government repealed the laws in November 2021). Before this, he was a relatively unknown truck driver who ran a car rental business in Dubai.

During the protests, Singh joined Waris Punjab De, an organization founded by actor and activist Deep Sidhu, to mobilize farmers. After Sidhu was killed in a car accident in February 2022, Singh took over the organization and continued to campaign for Sikh rights, giving fiery speeches against growing Hindu nationalist sentiment under the Modi administration, as well as social issues such as drug addiction in Punjab. His speeches resonated with many Sikhs and led to an increase in his popularity.

Singh also likened himself to Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh separatist who led the Khalistan movement and was killed by the Indian Army in 1984, who stormed Amritsar’s Golden Temple, its holiest shrine, on the orders of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. of Sikhism. Among the Sikh community, who felt targeted by the government, the action was met with anger and led to further communal tensions. Gandhi was later assassinated by his Sikh bodyguards.

Last month, he sparked controversy for making threatening comments against Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, suggesting the minister could face the same fate as Gandhi for speaking out against the Khalistan movement.

Amritpal singh, center, pays his respects at the golden temple in amritsar on march 3. (narinder nanu — afp/getty images)

Amritpal Singh, center, pays his respects at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on March 3.

Narinder Nanu — AFP/Getty Images

Why was the internet banned?

The Punjab state government, led by the opposition Aam Admi Party, initially announced a 24-hour ban on mobile internet and SMS services on Saturday while the armed forces launched an operation against Singh. But since then, authorities have extended the ban to prevent the spread of fake news, rumors and misinformation on social media, which they say could fuel further violence.

Many of Singh’s supporters posted on social media. One video Live streams on Facebook and Twitter showed police chasing the leader through the wheat fields of Punjab. Singh’s father Sardar Tersem Singh also took to Twitter asking all Punjabis to “raise their voice against the injustice against him and stand by him”. His post quickly went viral.

Amid pressure, the Indian government also asked Twitter to withdraw 122 Twitter accounts in relation to the incident, according to The discovery of Twitter to the Lumen database. However, many of these accounts are not associated with Waris Punjab De, the list includes Canadian politicians Jagmeet Singh and Gurathan Singh, poet Rupi Kaur, civil society organizations United Sikhs and Khalra Mission, and US-based author Peter Friedrich.

Although the state ban was one of the most widespread shutdowns in recent years, it is not the first time the Indian government has restricted access to the Internet. Since 2018, India has the highest number of internet blackouts in the world. a latest report Access Now, a New York-based nonprofit that works on digital rights and online freedoms, counted 84 such incidents in 2022. Many digital rights activists have called this tactic ineffective and a violation of free speech and digital rights.

Punjab police forcibly remove supporters protesting against police action against amritpal singh in mohali, india on march 21.

Punjab police forcibly remove supporters protesting against police action against Amritpal Singh in Mohali, India on March 21.

Sanjeev Sharma-Hindustan Times/Getty Images

How is the world responding?

As the manhunt for Singh continued, protests broke out in Canada, the US and the UK, with the Indian consulates in London and San Francisco vandalized by Singh supporters. In London, the Indian flag was torn down and replaced with the Khalistan coat of arms.

In response, India summoned Britain’s most senior diplomat to New Delhi on Sunday to “express a strong protest against the activities of separatist and extremist elements,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It also asked for an “explanation for the complete lack of British security that allowed these elements to enter” the London area.

British High Commissioner to India, Alex Ellis, is installed on Twitter. “I condemn today’s disgraceful actions against the people and territories [High Commission of India] – It is absolutely unacceptable.

What is the Khalistan Movement?

The Khalistan movement believes in an independent, Sikh-majority state in Punjab. The religion of Sikhism was founded in the 15th century by Guru Nanak. Today it is the majority religion in Punjab, but accounts for less than 2% of India’s 1.3 billion people.

The origins of the movement can be traced back to India’s independence from British rule in 1947, when Punjab was partitioned between the newly formed nations of India and Pakistan. During this time, the bloody partition displaced many people and left an estimated 1 million dead. Since then, the Khalistan movement has gained in popularity and led to violent clashes between the Indian government and the Khalistan insurgency that have erupted over the years.

a report Human Rights Watch describes how Sikh militants are responsible for serious human rights abuses, including massacres of civilians, attacks on Hindu minorities in the state, indiscriminate bombing of populated areas, and assassinations of a number of political leaders. At the same time, the report notes that the Indian government has also ordered counter-insurgency operations that have resulted in the arbitrary detention, torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances of thousands of Sikhs.

India has banned the Khalistan movement and considers it a national security threat, with several groups linked to the movement listed as “terrorist organizations” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Despite the ban, the movement has gained sympathy and support from some members of the Sikh diaspora who have migrated to Western countries for better economic opportunities.

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