Here's why Canada's Sikh community is sounding the alarm on India's police crackdown
Tensions between India’s government and its Sikh community have trickled into the True North following an aggressive government-led chase for Sikh activist Amritpal Singh.
Over the last week, Canadian politicians and activists saw their social media accounts being blocked due to speaking on the subject and criticizing India’s suppression of rights and information in the Sikh-majority state of Punjab.
Since the search began, reports about internet service disruptions in Punjab have been coming in. In addition, the state police have also reportedly limited the number of people allowed to assemble in public.
Prominent human rights groups are finding all of this very concerning and fear that these tensions may be used to accelerate an all-out attack on Sikhs.
PUNJAB: We are concerned about reports of mass arrests and restrictions on peaceful assemblies, taking place alongside online censorship and internet shutdowns. Certain districts continue to experience an internet shutdown today.
— Amnesty India (@AIIndia) March 22, 2023
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh and renowned Sikh Canadian poet Rupi Kaur had their Twitter accounts withheld in India following legal orders.
I am deeply concerned by reports that India has suspended civil liberties and imposed an internet blackout throughout the state of Punjab.
— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) March 18, 2023
mass arrests of sikh activists are taking place in punjab. at least 78 people taken. internet and SMS have been shut down in areas along with crackdowns on gatherings. sikh media outlets and pages have been blocked. https://t.co/W6nPU8FZax
— rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) March 18, 2023
It isn’t only liberal or left-leaning Canadians who are sounding the alarm.
Conservative MP Tim Uppal also made a statement on Monday, saying he’s worried about Canadian Sikhs visiting India.
“We raised this as a concern, and the response was quite harsh,” he said in an interview. “A number of threats in there as well, and by people who have a very large following.”
On March 19, Uppal complained to Twitter about one of his tweets on the subject being taken down. However, it is unclear if the tweet was withheld regionally in India, as the original tweet can still be viewed in Canada.
Very concerned about reports coming out of Punjab, India. The government has suspended internet services and restricted gatherings of more than 4 people in some areas. We are closely following the situation.
— Tim S. Uppal (@TimUppal) March 18, 2023
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Who is Amritpal Singh?
Amritpal Singh is a 30-year-old Sikh man who, according to several Indian media sources, swarmed a police station close to Punjab’s second-largest city, Amritsar, on February 24.
Indian government officials say Amritpal was stockpiling illegally sourced weapons from Pakistan to create an armed group. Allegedly, swords and guns were seen at the police station attack.
Local news channel NDTV reports that the goal of the police station swarming was to protest the detention of Lovepreet Singh, a Sikh rights activist arrested for assault just days prior. He was released as a result of the siege.
This infuriated the ruling right-wing Indian government and state police, and an all-out chase for Amritpal followed.
Sikh rights groups in other countries have voiced concern and are trying to bring up the matter with their leaders to protect community members.
Today an estimated 1000+ Sikhs gathered outside London’s India Consulate to protest against the ongoing #PanjabUnderSiege situation. Mass support for Khalistan (free Sikh homeland) was shown, as the movement remains the central target of India’s anti-Sikh subjugation efforts. pic.twitter.com/2NQRrEQ9mR
— SikhPressAssociation (@SikhPA) March 22, 2023
World Sikh Organization (WSO) board member Jaskaran Sandhu’s Twitter account was also withheld in India in response to a “legal demand,” as was the Sikh news organization Baaz’s account.
My account has been withheld in India as well. Add it to the list of Sikh journalists, activists, and advocates that have been censored in India as civil liberties and democratic norms come under attack in Punjab.
We will continue our reporting for the diaspora! https://t.co/Sqr3LNjm8G pic.twitter.com/XdkQKmfrWA
— Jaskaran Sandhu (@JaskaranSandhu_) March 20, 2023
BREAKING | Baaz has been withheld in India, as more Sikh journalist accounts have been censored amidst widespread suppression of civil liberties & democratic rights in Punjab.
Reports of widespread arbitrary arrests are growing too. We will continue to report for the diaspora. pic.twitter.com/EawWAUoVpZ
— Baaz (@BaazNewsOrg) March 20, 2023
Amid the chaos, Twitter has been responding to all press queries with just the poop emoji. Indian website Newslaundry’s reporter Tanishka Sodhi shared a screenshot of Twitter’s response to her questions about withheld accounts.
Meanwhile, here’s @Twitter‘s official response to our questions about the legal demands on the basis of which journalists accounts are being withheld in India.
💩, literally. https://t.co/5nT5nhGmY9 pic.twitter.com/V8Qjwlv497
— Tanishka Sodhi (@tanishka_s2) March 20, 2023
The WSO has drawn attention to arrests of Sikh activists and journalists in India under the country’s National Security Act (NSA).
Currently 5 Sikh activists have been charged under the NSA: Basant Singh, Bhagwant Singh, Daljeet Kalsi, Gurmeet Singh Bhukhanwala and Harjeet Singh (uncle of Amritpal Singh).
They have been taken to Dibrugarh, Assam which is over 2700 km away from Punjab.
Share these tweets… pic.twitter.com/0fIFqsuFOb
— WSO (@WorldSikhOrg) March 20, 2023
“NSA is an oppressive law from colonial times which allows for the detention without charge of individuals for 12 months,” the WSO tweeted on Monday.
“This period can be extended indefinitely if there is ‘fresh evidence’ presented by the government. The NSA gives blanket immunity to the government. It cannot be legally challenged for any act intended to be in good faith in pursuance of the Act.”
The situation in Punjab worries me and many other Canadians who have family there. India takes pride in being the largest democracy in the world, yet continues to trample rights and freedoms of its citizens with draconian measures.
While there is Media, Internet and Phone…
— Gurpartap Singh Toor (@gurpartapstoor) March 19, 2023
My colleagues and I have heard from constituents regarding the ongoing mass suspension of internet services in #Punjab, India. Today, I rose in the House to ask Foreign Affairs Minister @melaniejoly for an update on the situation. pic.twitter.com/K4MRBmyrnH
— Iqwinder S. Gaheer (@IqwinderSGaheer) March 23, 2023
Sikh Canadians and their allies have called on the Liberal government to take action ahead of G20 meetings. The conference will draw in many world leaders and is being held in India.