While police look for a Sikh separatist on the run, Indian authorities have cut off internet connectivity for some 27 million people in the province of Punjab for a third straight day, one of the largest blackouts in recent years.
Amritpal Singh, a well-known figure within the separatist Khalistan movement that aspires to create a sovereign state for adherents of the Sikh religion, was the target of the Punjab government’s initial 24-hour internet ban on Saturday.
Singh, a 30-year-old preacher, has gained popularity within a separatist movement that aims to create Khalistan, a sovereign state in Punjab for Sikh believers. Once his followers stormed a police station in February to free one of his prisoners, he quickly gained national attention.
The Khalistan movement is illegal in India and is seen as a major threat to national security by authorities, but it has supporters in the majority-Sikh state of Punjab as well as among the vast Sikh diaspora that has immigrated to nations like Canada and Britain.
Punjab police attempted to prevent violence and stop what they referred to as “false news” by blocking mobile internet service starting at midday on Saturday, not long after they were unable to capture Singh as he travelled across central Punjab with a cavalcade of followers.
The intention to deny Singh’s supporters access to social media, which they briefly used on Saturday to solicit assistance and organise their ranks, was presumably another driving force for the authorities.
Exciting images of Singh’s followers parading through the streets of Punjab with swords and sticks were captured on camera and broadcast on local media. To uphold peace and order, police and paramilitary personnel were stationed across the state’s several districts.
Singh is still on the run, but at least 112 individuals have been detained, according to Punjab police on Sunday.
When the Indian army invaded the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest place for Sikhs, to apprehend armed separatists in June 1984, hundreds were killed and most of the structure was reduced to ruins. In the wake of the bloodshed, Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister of India who had ordered the operation, was slain by her Sikh bodyguards.
Although the Indian government has outlawed the Khalistan movement and regards it as a serious threat to national security, some Sikhs both domestically and abroad continue to support it.
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) expressed its disapproval of the “draconian” arrest of Singh in a statement released on Sunday, expressing concern that “Singh’s imprisonment may be exploited to organize a false encounter and facilitate his extrajudicial murder.”
The Indian High Commission in London was destroyed over the weekend by some of Singh’s fans, which prompted UK officials to denounce the act.
Alex Ellis, the British High Commissioner to India, described the actions as “completely unacceptable” and “disgraceful.”
The UK government is “expected to take urgent efforts to identify, arrest, and prosecute” individuals responsible for the incident, the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in a statement late Sunday.
“This type of behavior has no place in our city. London mayor Sadiq Khan tweeted on Sunday, “The Met has opened an investigation into today’s events.