Months before the Sikh farmers protesting the centre’s controversial farm laws were branded Khalistani, the Punjab Police targeted Dalit Sikhs under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act with little to show by way of evidence. In July, a group of politicians had addressed this concern to the chief minister, Amarinder Singh, noting in a letter that “more than 16 FIRs have been registered during the recent weeks across Punjab while 47 FIRs have been registered during the 3 years tenure of Congress government.” The accused in these cases are often poor Mazhabi Sikhs, individuals from the Dalit Sikh community, who were accused of involvement in Khalistani activities with little evidence to substantiate these allegations. Despite strong criticism from the Akal Takht—the highest temporal seat of Sikhism—and politicians such as Sukhpal Singh Khaira, the president of the Punjabi Ekta Party, the state police has used rhetoric that creates a false narrative about the bogey of Khalistan and its prevalence in Punjab.
The rise in cases appears to be a response to the call for a Referendum 2020—a non-binding referendum of Sikhs from across the world for the constitution of an independent sovereign Sikh state of Khalistan—proposed by the secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice. As I previously reported, both the SFJ and its founder, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, have little influence in Punjab, the Sikh diaspora, or even among the Khalistani hardliners abroad. Unsurprisingly, no such referendum took place. Despite this lack of support, the Punjab government and the centre have relentlessly pursued Pannun and the SFJ, designating him a terrorist and the group a terrorist organisation. The Caravan has earlier reported that while persistently disavowing the notion of religious extremism such as Hindu terror, the home ministry has continued probing “Islamist and Sikh terrorism.” The recent UAPA cases and arrests suggest that the probes have continued despite little evidence to justify it.
I examined the cases against five individuals who were arrested during the investigation of three different first-information reports registered in June and July 2020—two by the Punjab Police, and one by the National Investigation Agency. Across these cases, the accused were predominantly Dalit Sikhs, and their arrests indicated a misuse of the UAPA and a pattern of false projections by the police. Many of them were arrested without being informed of the FIR or even knowing that they were accused of being involved in Khalistani extremism. In July, Khaira wrote to the Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, that these cases clearly indicate “a well-designed conspiracy by central agencies and Punjab Police to implicate innocent Sikh/Dalit youth to tarnish the image of Sikh community as a whole as terrorists and anti-national.”
On 28 June, in Punjab’s Patiala district, the Samana police station registered an FIR—number 144 of 2020—under the Arms Act and offences under the UAPA pertaining to involvement in a terrorist act and organisation and performing unlawful activities. It was registered against a complaint by the deputy superintendent of police, Krishan Kumar, which stated that an informer approached the DSP Kumar when the latter was patrolling and provided information that led to the FIR. The informer named five accused persons—Lovepreet Singh, Sukhchain Singh, Amritpal Singh, Gavi and Jass.
The informer told the DSP, according to the FIR, that the accused individuals were in touch with “anti-national powers and foreign countries” as well as the Pakistan-based extremist organisation, Khalistan Liberation Front members and “were teaming up with pro-Khalistani people to carry out a terrorist act in Patiala.” The FIR claimed that these individuals were “armed with weapons” and “waiting to cause deadly harm to people from a particular community and thus disrupt the peace and law and order.” Going by the FIR, the informer appeared more efficient than the Punjab Police in keeping track of accused persons, from multiple districts, while keeping a tab on cross-border conversations.