SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The following press release was published by 40 American based Sikh youth organizations regarding the ongoing crackdown in Punjab related to Bhai Amritpal Singh of Varis Punjab:
We, the undersigned organizations, condemn the security operations that have recently been executed in Indian-administered Punjab for the unlawful detention of Amritpal Singh, a prominent Sikh activist and the chief leader of Waris Punjab De (WPD, Heirs of Punjab), an organization committed to ameliorating the drug epidemic in Punjab, spreading the Sikh faith, and raising awareness around the Sikh struggle for self-determination from India.
Today, Punjab has faced state-wide draconian measures in the form of internet shutdowns (that still currently remain), search operations, police blockades, and deployment of paramilitary troops, to have Amritpal Singh arrested and silenced. From reports in Punjab, security personnel have arbitrarily arrested Amritpal Singh alongside other members of WPD but deny their whereabouts whereas dozens of other Sikh activists are facing sustained illegal house detentions and are undergoing harassment at the hands of police. At least 78 people have so far been taken into custody.
Subsequently, fearing mass protests of the arrests, many influential Sikh pages on social media were censored and internet services in Punjab were unlawfully suspended. Numerous international bodies have long claimed that such internet shutdowns and blackouts have been weaponized as a tactic in faltering democracies, like India, to not only crush and silence dissent but also facilitate mass killings of minority communities like the Sikhs.
Alongside the mass suspension of internet services, colonial-era Section 144 (of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure) has also been instituted in multiple cities across Punjab which makes it illegal for more than four people to congregate, violating the fundamental right to free assembly. Those charged under this section can be arrested for rioting and causing a disturbance. Amritpal Singh’s village, Jallupur Khera, in Amritsar, has been sealed by police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel while all major roads in Punjab currently have checkpoints by India’s paramilitary forces.
The arrests are alarming for the Sikh world as they have conterminously taken place with the one-year death anniversary of the late Sikh singer, Shubhdeep Singh ‘Sidhu Moosewala,’ who was suddenly murdered last year in mysterious circumstances after he had made remarks and content in support of the Sikh struggle for sovereignty from India. Similarly, actor turned Sikh activist, Deep Sidhu, who also founded WPD, was murdered in what many organizations claim was a staged accident after he had openly campaigned for Sikh independence from India.
According to eyewitness accounts, Amritpal Singh had been taken into custody at Shahkot police station, but was transported soon after. His location since the appearance is problematically still being denied by authorities, who claim that he is not in their custody but being looked for in a manhunt.
Keeping in mind the murders of two important Sikh voices in 2022 and past historical precedent, many fear that with Amritpal’s location remaining undisclosed, his safety may be compromised at the hands of security agencies who can have him assassinated in an extrajudicial encounter. This tactic had become common during the Punjab conflict of 1980s to 1990s, when in the name of counterinsurgency operations, Sikhs of Punjab saw widespread arbitrary arrests (like Amritpal’s) which were then routinely followed with extrajudicial murders by Indian security officials who to date are protected by legal immunity.
By law, Indian authorities must disclose where any person is being held, and therefore Amritpal Singh’s location of detainment must be brought forth. We stand also concerned that if or when arrested, Amritpal Singh and others would be unjustly charged, ill-treated, and tortured, despite being innocent, under draconian laws like the UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) or NSA (National Security Act) which can detain individuals without charge for months on end.
Since Amritpal Singh became the leader of WPD last year, he had garnered widespread support amongst Sikhs across the world for his unapologetic articulation of Sikh suffering in India and the challenge he successfully put forth to established power structures in an ultra-nationalist Hindu majoritarian Indian state.
The recent news of unlawful arrests and suspension of civil liberties has, in many Sikh families, revoked traumatic memories of a known pattern of killing innocents during the Sikh Genocide. Therefore, the current protests emerging in Mohali against Amritpal’s unlawful detention despite internet crackdowns also underline the outrage felt by many Sikhs worldwide.
We, the undersigned, appeal our respective elected officials to hold India accountable of the unfolding situation in Punjab so civil liberties are not infringed, human rights are not suppressed, and democratic norms are regarded. We appeal to the international community for increased oversight over India to ensure that its government upholds the rule of law, including right to due process.
We also take this opportunity to urgently request the Jathedar Sahib of Sri Akal Takht Sahib, the highest political body of the Sikhs, to march in solidarity with the scores of Sikhs gathering in Mohali who are protesting the unjust detentions of Amritpal Singh and his companions.
California Sikh Youth Alliance
United Sikh Movement
Sikh Students Association, UC Berkeley
Sikh Students Association, UCLA
Sikh Students Association, UC Merced
Sikh Students Association, U Michigan
Sikh Students Association, CSU East Bay
Sikh Students Association, CSU Fullerton
Sikh Students Association, UC Riverside
Sikh Students Association, Uni of Southern California
Sikh Students Association, UC Santa Cruz
Sikh Students Association, Cal Poly Pomona
Sikh Students Association, USCF
Sikh Students Association, UC San Diego
Sikh Students Association, University of Texas-Dallas
Sikh Students Association, Ohio State University
Sikh Students Association, Indiana University
Sikh Students Association, University of Pacific
Sikh Students Association, Brown University
Sikh Students Association, UC San Diego
Sikh Students Association, UW Madison
Sikh Students Association, CSU Sacramento
Sikh Students Association, University of Washington
Sikh Students Association, San Jose State University
Sikh Students Association, Fresno State
Sikh Students Association, University of Cincinnati
Sikh Students Association, Dignity for Asia
Sikh Cultural Association, UC Davis
Berkeley Sikh Law Association | Seattle Sikh Federation
Jakara Movement Chapter, UC Berkeley
Jakara Movement Chapter, UC Davis
Jakara Movement Chapter, UC Merced
Jakara Movement Chapter, SF State
Jakara Movement Chapter, Santa Clara University
Jakara Movement Chapter, Stanislaus
Jakara Movement Chapter, Fresno State
National Sikh Alliance | Sikh Youth of Oregon