Ongoing Arrests of Sikh Naujawan Illustrates Continuity of Indian State Repression
ਦੇਗ ਤੇਗ ਫਤਹ ਬਿਰਦ ਕੀ ਪੈਜ ਪੰਥ ਕੀ ਜੀਤ
Degh Tegh Fateh Bridh Ki Paij Panth Ki Jeet
[With] the Cauldron (commensality), the Sword, [and the praxis] of Sikh Victory, [with] Respect/Support for the elderly and infirm, The Panth (way/community/nation) will forever prosper.
In accordance with the Indian state’s policy to criminalise and repress all modes of Sikh dissent, various security forces, including the Punjab Police and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), have repeatedly violated due process and the human rights of Sikh naujawan alleged to have orchestrated the assassinations of 7 fascist Hindutva leaders. Indian news agencies have claimed these assassinations or “target killings” have been carried out by a new generation of “tech-savvy Khalistan militants” of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) under the Jathedarhi of Bhai Harminder Singh Nihang .
The Indian media’s collusion with the political establishment and security forces is evident in the demonization of these naujawan in their ongoing public media trial. The ongoing portrayal of Sikh activists and the Khalistan Sangharsh completely decontextualises, and demonises the liberation movement of an entire Quam without an ounce of journalistic integrity or objectivity. This demonisation, the automatic equation of Khalistan with “terror” foregrounds oppressive policing tactics. Sikh political dissent, within the political landscape of the colonial project that has evolved into modern day “India”, has been—and continues to be—silenced by state terror, the full extent of which is still to be investigated and documented.
According to estimates published by Inderjit Singh Jaijee, approximately 1 million Sikh naujawan were reported missing or killed as a result of the occupying Indian army’s “operations” throughout Punjab during the period of 1984 - 1992. Shaheed Bhai Jaswant Singh Khalra documented 2097 of these cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial murders in just one district of Indian-occupied East Punjab alone. In 1995, he was abducted and murdered by the Indian State apparatus with complete impunity for exposing these atrocities. A recent report launched by the Punjab Documentation and Advocacy Project has documented and lodged 8257 cases of extrajudicial murder in India’s supreme court—illustrating the widespread use of state terror.
Bhai Jagtar Singh Johal (Jaggi), a Scottish citizen and one of the naujawan arrested recently, contributed to the popular Khalistani website, NeverForget84.com, which archives the history of Khalistani Jathebandia in the liberation movement for Khalistan. Alongside him, the Punjab Police have arrested, harassed, tortured and held without charge Bhai Ramandeep Singh Bagga, Bhai Hardeep Singh Shera and more than 55 other Sikhs. In multiple cases, the wives and the female family members of the arrested Sikhs have been brought into police interrogation centres to be harassed, disrespected, and intimidated.
The laws being used in these trials fall under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), which is a direct successor to the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, known as TADA, which gave police extraordinary powers of arrest and detention. Persons could be kept in custody for up to one year without charge according to the legislation which was condemned by the UN as “disturbing and completely unacceptable”. In the same vein, UAPA has been condemned by human rights lawyers and activists in Punjab for its misuse as a political tool to criminalise and repress any forms of dissent, especially in the case of Sikh activists.
These ongoing arrests do not represent a qualitative shift, but rather a continuation of the Indian state’s genocidal policy against the Sikh panth. While the overall volume has fluctuated over the past several decades, the state continues to use all the tools available to its disposal in order to eliminate Sikh activism.
The case of Jagtar Singh Johal, specifically, has captured the spotlight due to the privilege of his citizenship and the location of his birth whereas countless Sikhs in Punjab have been—and continue to be—dehumanised and subject to gross human rights violations en masse. In a state where Sikh aspirations for Khalistan are conflated with Sikh identity itself and criminalised, it is inevitable that members will be indiscriminately targeted by security forces for violence and annihilation. As anthropologist Joyce Pettigrew observes, “The Army went into Darbar Sahib [in 1984] not to eliminate a political figure or a political movement but to suppress the culture of a people, to attack their heart, to strike a blow at their spirit and self-confidence.”
A report published in 1985 by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, titled ‘Oppression in Punjab’, accuses a “vindictive" Indian government of “inhuman barbarities” in order to suppress the dissent of the Khalsa Panth. The report outlines how the entire structure and machinery of the modern world mobilised, manifested in the India State, through its academia, media, bureaucracy, political establishment and security forces to demonise and target, in particular Amritdhari Sikh naujawan. Through this policy, the Indian state explicitly criminalised Sikh existence and identity as an anti-national act of sedition, treason, and waging war against the state.
It is imperative that Sikh naujawan understand the implications of these arrests in the context of our ongoing freedom struggle and prepare to face these challenges head on. As a naujawan jathebandi committed to facilitating radical expression and mobilisation, we urge Sikh youth around the UK to familiarise themselves with the ongoing situation in Punjab. We must shoulder the responsibilities left to us by our shaheeds and those imprisoned by empowering our local communities to exercise our Guru-granted sovereignty everywhere we exist and work to uproot the tyrannical regimes that seek to subjugate us.
ਖਾਲਸੋ ਹੋਵੈ ਖੁਦ ਖੁਦਾ ਜਿਮ ਖੂਬੀ ਖੂਬ ਖੁਦਾਇ ।
The Khalsa is sovereign in and of itself, just as the beauty of creation is self-evident within creation.
ਅਾਨ ਨ ਮਾਨੈ ਅਾਨ ਕੀ ਇਕ ਸੱਚੇ ਬਿਨ ਪਤਿਸ਼ਾਹ ।
[The Khalsa] pays no heed to worldly honour, reputation or rank, accepting the rule of no other than Sache Patshah.
 The Khalistan Liberation Force was founded shortly after the Sarbat Khalsa of 1986 during which the Khalsa Panth issued Gurmatte in pursuit of Khalistan. The current Jathedar, Bhai Harminder Singh Nihang is currently detained by Indian forces on charges relating to waging war against the Indian State. The Khalistan Liberation Force maintains, along with other Jhujaru Jathebandis, its armed struggle against the Indian State for Khalistan.