Indian police search for Sikh leader, arrest separatist supporters


Indian police are hunting for a separatist leader who has rekindled calls for an independent homeland for Sikhs, raising fears of violence in the northwestern state of Punjab, which has a history of bloody uprising.

Police have accused Amritpal Singh, a 30-year-old preacher, and his aides of creating discord in the state, which is haunted by memories of an armed uprising in the 1980s. for an independent Sikh nation called Khalistan. According to official estimates, the insurgency prompted a controversial military campaign by the Indian government that left thousands dead.

Sukhchain Singh Gill, Punjab’s police inspector general, said authorities have deployed thousands of paramilitary troops to the state and suspended mobile internet service in some areas to prevent unrest. fine. He said police had so far arrested 154 Singh supporters and seized 10 guns and ammunition.

Singh has been on the run since the search for him began on Saturday.

Singh, who has declared his support for the Khalistan movement, gained national attention in February when hundreds of his supporters stormed a police station in Punjab with swords and guns to demand the release of an aide who was fighting. imprisoned.

Little is known about Singh, who was a truck driver for many years in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. He emerged in 2022 in Punjab and began leading marches calling for the protection of the rights of Sikhs, who make up about 1.7 percent of India’s population.

His speeches became increasingly popular among supporters of the Khalistan movement, which is banned in India. Officials consider it and its affiliated groups a national security threat. Although the movement has waned over the years, it still enjoys some support in Punjab and beyond – including in countries like Canada and the UK, which have a sizable Sikh community. big.

On Sunday, supporters of the movement raised the Indian flag at the country’s high commission in London and smashed windows of the building to show anger over Singh’s arrest. India’s foreign ministry condemned the incident and summoned the UK’s deputy high commissioner in New Delhi to protest what it called a security breach at the embassy in London.

On Wednesday, police removed temporary security barricades outside the British High Commission in New Delhi, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. There was no immediate comment from police or the government whether it was retaliation for the London incident.

Supporters of the Khalistan movement also vandalized the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on Monday.

Singh claims to be inspired by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a Sikh militia leader accused by the Indian government of leading an armed insurgency for Khalistan. Bhindranwale and his supporters were killed in 1984 when Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple, Sikhism’s holiest shrine.

Singh also heads Waris Punjab De, or The Heirs of Punjab, an organization that is part of a major campaign to mobilize farmers against controversial agricultural reforms pushed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. The act sparked a year of protests starting in 2020, when farmers – mostly Sikhs from Punjab state – camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi during the harsh winters and brutal rise of Coronavirus. The protests ended after Modi’s government withdrew the law in November 2021.

Waris Punjab De was founded by Deep Sidhu, an Indian actor who passed away in 2022 in a traffic accident.

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