Ottawa (April 13, 2023): The World Sikh Organization of Canada condemns the overwhelming police and paramilitary deployment by Indian authorities at Takhat Sri Damdama in Punjab ahead of Vaisakhi and calls for their immediate withdrawal from the vicinity of all Sikh sites. Individuals arriving to attend the commemoration of Vaisakhi are being subjected to repeated police checking and harassment in what many believe is an attempt to deter the Sikh community from gathering on this occasion.
Over the past week, Punjab Director General of Police Gaurav Yadav along with other senior police officials have been personally visiting and reviewing security operations at Takhat Sri Damdama Sahib in Talwandi Sabo, Takhat Sri Keshgarh Sahib at Anandpur Sahib as well as Sri Amritsar Sahib. Security forces carried out flag marches in the days leading up to Vaisakhi in all three locations. Flag marches are a colonial tool of intimidation used by occupying forces as a show of force.
Section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code has been imposed at Talwandi Sabo. The colonial-era law allows the administration to prevent the gathering of more than four individuals.
For the past month, Punjab has been under siege by Indian security forces as they attempt to arrest Sikh leader and activist Bhai Amritpal Singh and individuals associated with the Waris Punjab De organization. No clear justification has been provided for the crackdown. Bhai Amritpal Singh, head of the Waris Punjab De (Heirs of Punjab) organization, has recently come to prominence in Punjab with his successful campaign to inspire Punjabi youth to reject drugs and embrace the Sikh faith. Amritpal Singh has also been open and unapologetic in his support for Khalistan, a sovereign Sikh state, as well as highlighting discrimination against the Sikh community in India.
Hundreds of Sikhs have been arrested and nine Sikh activists associated with the Waris Punjab De organization have been transported to the Dibrugarh Jail in Assam, over 2500 kilometres away from Punjab under the provisions of the draconian National Security Act (NSA) which allows the Indian government to indefinitely detain individuals without charges. Those detained under the NSA have not been informed of the grounds of their detention or been provided free access to legal representation.
WSO President Tejinder Singh Sidhu said today,
“The overwhelming police and Indian paramilitary presence around Takhat Sri Damdama Sahib in the lead-up to Vaisakhi is outrageous and unacceptable. Sikhs are being repeatedly searched and harassed as they attempt to attend this yearly gathering. We have also seen reports of similar checking and shows of force by Indian security forces at Anandpur Sahib and Amritsar Sahib.
Similar to events leading up to the 1984 Sikh Genocide, the Government of India appears intent on creating an atmosphere of terror in Punjab and intimidating the Sikh community. Without any justification, Punjab has been put under siege by security and paramilitary forces. Bhai Amritpal Singh and the Waris Punjab De organization have not been implicated in any activity that would justify a crackdown of this magnitude. The security operations accompanied by internet blackouts, harassment and detention of journalists, mass censorship and ongoing targeted disinformation by India’s Godi media have clearly shown that the Government of India sees Punjab as a subject colony, where democratic rights and due process are optional.
The Government of India must immediately withdraw security forces from the vicinity of Sikh sites and stop the harassment of the visiting sangat.
Regardless, we are hopeful that the Sikh sangat will not be intimidated by these security measures and will attend the Vaisakhi celebrations at Takhat Sri Damdama Sahib in large numbers, as they do every year."
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) is a non-profit organization with a mandate to promote and protect the interests of Canadian Sikhs, as well as to promote and advocate for the protection of human rights of all individuals.