By Karam Singh
For some he is a Robin Hood like figure, rallying the rural peasantry against increasing power centralization in India. For India’s Hindu nationalist government he is a dangerous fugitive whose poster is now plastered across northern India.
The Indian government has launched a massive paramilitary operation which resulted in mass arrests, internet shutdowns, and hundreds of arbitrary detentions as they seek one man, Amritsar Singh. The Indian government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP party launched a police operation for Singh on March 18th, 2023, Singh who is the defacto leader of the Waris Punjab De, a grass-roots Sikh political organization. The former guest worker in Dubai has become a symbol for those who oppose the centralization of power in India.
“Our Desi James Bond is different. He is often moved but never shaken to action,” tweeted Abhishek Many Singh vi an Indian parliamentarian.
The 30-year-old is compared by many to Sent Jar nail Singh Bhindranwale a hero for Sikhs seeking more autonomy in the region. Sikhs, who account for only 2% of India’s population have a long history of grievances at the hands of Indian government. According to Ensaaf, a local human rights organization some 35,000 Sikhs have been killed by security forces in the past 35 years.
A series of provocations in the 1980s resulted in an insurgency during the 1980s and 1990s between Sikhs advocating for an independent Pakistan from and the Indian government. In the mid-19th century, the Punjab region was captured by the British Empire. Prior to that, the region had been largely independent.. India’s ruling BJP party has favored a one language-one nation policy which has further alienated religious and linguistic minorities.
Amritsar Singh rose to prominence through social media where his interactions with Sikh scholars and western academics drew a large following. A former engineering student, he returned from a decade in Dubai last year. He quickly expanded his Sikh following and among some members of other religious faiths in India— such as Many Singhvi. Amritpal Singh’s messaging has focused on displacement, the ongoing drug epidemic in Punjab, and the Sikh people’s right to self-determination.
A government crackdown led to much of Amritsar Singh’s organization’s leadership being arrested. While armed following Sikh religious practices, Paris Punjab De has not engaged in any sort of violence till date. With rumors that the dragnet includes up to 100,000 Indian government personnel, many expect Amritsar Singh to surrender.
Amritsar Singh released a video asking all Sikhs & human rights activists worldwide to push back against the draconian repressive measures placed by the Government of India on various platforms.
“Amritsar Singh has demonstrated measured and necessary political mobilization [in the Punjab],” said Gursharanjit Singh of the California Sikh Youth Alliance. Watchdog groups such as Amnesty International have continued to pressure the Indian Government to respect international norms in the Punjab.
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