The Indian Government has mobilized over 80,000 police officers to target Sikh activists in the state of Punjab in Northern India. In order to demobilize Sikhs and undermine their right to free speech and expression, the Indian government has cut off the Internet to millions of civilians in Punjab. This crackdown has led to over 200 known arrests, disappearances, and detentions of activists, lawyers, and journalists.
This is all too reminiscent of the Sikh Genocide in 1984, when the Indian government under Operation Bluestar murdered thousands of Sikhs in Amritsar. There are parallels between the struggles of 1984 and the farmers’ protests in 2020 and the current situation in 2023.
Brief history of Sikhs’ fight against capitalism in Punjab
Since 1947, Sikhs in Punjab have been fighting for an independent state and have organized various movements against capitalism. In the last seven years, Sikh activists have organized mass protests and organizing drives, such as the “Sarbat Khalsa,” “Bargari Insaaf Morcha,” “Delhi Chalho,” and, more recently, “Waris Punjab De.” All these recent protests are linked, as they are rooted in economic injustice. Sikhs have been at the forefront fighting for social and economic justice.
The Indian government has a long history of targeting Sikhs in Punjab since independence from Britain in 1947. In the 1970s, under the leadership of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Sikhs and farmers were organized en masse to protest against the “Green Revolution.” The devastating impacts of the “Green Revolution” forced many families into debt and drugs and alcohol addiction. As a result, suicides increased, while companies like Monsanto were profiting heavily from their genetically modified seed sales. Due to the economic injustices being experienced by farmers and workers in Punjab, many Sikh leaders were united in the endorsement of the Anandpur Resolution of 1973.
The Anandpur Resolution included many important statements that were based on the principles of Sikhi and the equality of all regardless of religion, caste, or gender. The inspiration of the economic policies in the Anandpur resolution were based on the secular, democratic, and socialist concepts of Sikh founder Guru Nanak Dev Ji and of Guru Gobind Singh Ji. The economic programme was based on three principles: the dignity of labour; an economic and social structure, which provides for the uplift of the poor and depressed sections of society; and an unabated opposition to the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the capitalists.
In 1982, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderwale launched the “Dharam Yudh Morcha” (“righteous campaign”), with its goal of fulfilling demands based on the Anandpur Sahib Resolution and to create an autonomous state within India. This would have ended the profit-seeking behaviour of corporations in Punjab and would have stopped the exploitation of kisaans and workers. However, what ensued in June 1984 was the Sikh Genocide, where Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderwale and thousands of Sikhs were targeted and murdered by the state.
Waris Punjab De and Amritpal Singh
Waris Punjab De is an organization that gained prominence in Punjab during the 2020 farmers’ protests in India. Although farmers in Punjab have been organizing for decades, the recent farmers’ protest that began in 2020 and lasted over a year, resulted in a victory for farmers in Punjab and in India. Waris Punjab De was organized by Deep Sidhu, a lawyer and an actor, who foresaw the devastating impact that these laws would have, not only on farmers but also on Punjab and Sikhs. The aim of the Waris Punjab De is to put power back into the people and into the communities of Punjab. Waris Punjab De worked to tackle social issues such as poverty, access to health care and education, the release of political prisoners and providing legal aid, and it also advocated for change to local governance systems.
After Deep Sidhu’s untimely death on February 15, 2022, Amritpal Singh was chosen to lead Waris Punjab De. In the last number of months, Amritpal Singh was linking the movement of kisaans to issues of sovereignty and self-determination. This led to a vitriolic response by Indian nationalists and politicians against Amritpal Singh and Waris Punjab De. This vitriol spilled into a smear campaign, unfairly labelling Amritpal Singh and Waris Punjab De as terrorists; the spread of anti-Sikh rhetoric has reached unprecedented levels.
The Indian Government has now put in place laws that not only restrict people’s movement, but also give the police power to detain people for up to 12 months without charges. The actions of the Indian Government are all to eerily familiar to what occurred in 1984; many Sikhs, including myself, are worried that the Indian Government is planning another genocide. These concerns are not taken lightly given that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has history of violence, genocide, and ethnic cleansing.
Why we must condemn India’s draconian measures
Canada has a large diaspora of Sikhs, many of whom emigrated to Canada to escape the violence against them. The Sikh diaspora in Canada and throughout the world are concerned that history may repeat itself and are pressuring governments and organizations to condemn the actions of the Indian government. In response to this, the Indian government and Twitter have been blocking accounts of politicians, journalists and news organizations, both inside and outside of India.
The Indian government must restore the freedom and human rights of Sikh activists and all people in Punjab. It must unconditionally release all activists unfairly arrested and provide support to families whose members are missing. The Indian Government must release all political prisoners who have been detained in Punjab and throughout the country. India must stop unfairly targeting Sikhs fighting against injustice.
Outside of India, solidarity activists must shine a spotlight on what the Indian government is doing, loudly condemn its actions, and rally to support the community as it resists this latest round of repression. So far, solidarity rallies have been held in London and San Francisco (where a protest took place at Twitter headquarters, in opposition to its censorship of Sikh activists). In Canada, rallies have taken place in Brampton, Malton, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, with more planned in the days ahead.
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