India Cuts Off Internet to 27 Million People to Catch One Man (Vice)

Uncertainty and anger spreads in the Indian state of Punjab after police launched a massive manhunt to catch Sikh political activist Amritpal Singh.

By Pallavi Pundir

Last month, hundreds of turbaned men gathered outside a police station in India’s Punjab state, demanding the release of a man who they said was falsely arrested on kidnapping charges. They were led on by a tall, charismatic and articulate 30-year-old Sikh political activist, Amritpal Singh.

Minutes later, a violent clash broke out on Feb. 22. Police blamed the group for being armed and violent. The group said police charged at them with batons for protesting against the wrongful detention in a state that has a history of arbitrarily imprisoning Sikhs—a minority religious group in India. At the time, multiple protests were taking place around Punjab to release Sikh prisoners, some of whom have been political prisoners for over two decades.

By the end of it, police backtracked on the charges and released the accused man. The incident made national news, but it also put the spotlight on the man leading the group—Singh.

This week, state police and paramilitary forces put Punjab on edge as they swept through the whole state searching for Singh to arrest him. They said Singh is a “national security threat” and named the February incident as the reason for the crackdown.

Authorities blocked internet access, placed restrictions on movement, stopped protests, suspended Twitter accounts and arrested over a hundred people, all in the span of four days.

Singh, in the meantime, is nowhere to be found.

“What’s happening now is a part of a larger process by the state to isolate and target Sikhs,” Parmjeet Singh Gazi, a lawyer in Punjab who runs local news network Sikh Siyasat, told VICE World News. “This atmosphere of fear and uncertainty in the last few days is not surprising to us at all. The [attempt to arrest Singh] is a part of a larger psychological warfare that goes back decades.”

In India, Sikhs make up less than 2 percent, or around 20 million, of the country’s population. India has the largest concentration of Sikhs in the world, but the state of Punjab, which is the only Indian state with a Sikh-majority population at 16 million, has a history of persecution and violence that includes arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances linked to the state. The ongoing crisis, experts say, highlights the fissures between Sikhs and the Indian state.

As protests erupt in some parts of Punjab, many Twitter accounts of those posting about the situation on the ground, especially journalists, are getting suspended...

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