Chandigarh: “Stop hunting and defaming Sikhs” – this was the message from top Sikh clergyman during his Monday address from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, as he served a 24-hour ultimatum to the Punjab government to release all Sikh youth arrested during the police’s hunt for Amritpal. Akal Takht jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh also slammed the national media for branding all Sikhs as ‘terrorists’.
The subtext behind his address was not hard to decode. In serving an ultimatum to the Punjab government, he accused the Aam Aadmi Party, which won state elections a year ago with a thumping majority, of “overdoing police action” in the name of a crackdown against Sikh hardliner Amritpal Singh and his supporters.
This, he believed, gave a handle to the national media to brand Sikhs as terrorists and defame the entire community.
Without naming anyone, Jathedar said while on the one hand, no action is taken against those making provocative statements about a Hindu nation, draconian laws like the National Security Act (NSA) were imposed on Sikh youth who were expressing their views democratically.
His address was followed by a Shiromani Akali Dal statement which claimed that the AAP government had become a party defaming Punjab and playing the politics of polarisation in league with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre to hide its failures on all fronts.
In defence, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann said while there was an ongoing screening of those who had been arrested and many were being released, the action on Amritpal was necessary and as per the law of land.
Mann said Amritpal was trying to disturb harmony and peace in Punjab, which is in line with what the Punjab police claimed before the Punjab and Haryana high court. The police said that Amritpal, now declared fugitive, was professing radical ideologies and secessionist demands, and propagating using all means including violent one for creating a separate nation called Khalistan.
Further, AAP chief spokesperson in Punjab Malvinder Singh Kang, according to the Indian Express, asked Jathedar to ensure that Sikh preachers worked honestly towards propagating the message of gurus and not mislead the youth.
While it remains to be seen if the Amritpal operation hurts AAP politically in the Sikh-dominated border state (the Jalandhar by-election is coming up), the Akal Takht Jathedar’s address appeared to have its own relevance for the community.
The situation is still developing, since the operation on “fugitive” Amritpal is not over yet. Even now, the police are searching for him and also arresting people close to him.
As per the latest news report by te Press Trust of India, Amritpal Singh is believed to be hiding in Nepal. The news report claimed that the Indian government has requested the Nepal government not to allow a pro-Khalistan activist to flee to a third country and arrest him if he attempts to escape using an Indian passport or any other fake passport.
What did Jathedar say during his Monday address?
In a strongly worded message from the Akal Takht, acting Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh said that nearly half of the close to 400 youth arrested during the police crackdown are still behind bars, and they must be immediately released by Tuesday.
He also demanded the immediate withdrawal of NSA charges invoked against Amritpal’s supporters.
He pointed out that symbols and flags recovered from Amritpal’s body guard, which were claimed to be those of Khalistan, were actually linked to Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa Raj and Sikh princely states.
He said during his address that if the deadline is not met, the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee would form a legal team and challenge the police arrest in the courts.
He also gave a call to start Khalsa Vaheer, a religious procession, from Akal Takht to highlight atrocities against Sikhs and to let the world know how Sikhs are being treated.
His address came after members of over 50 Sikh organisations gathered at his invitation to discuss the prevailing tension in Punjab.
While a section of Sikhs raised slogans in favour of Amritpal Singh during the Monday meeting, Giani Harpeet Singh asked security agencies to clarify if Amritpal was in their custody, even as the Punjab police continues to claim that he is on the run and has not yet been arrested.
Giani Harpeet suggested that if he is evading police arrest, he must immediately appear before police.
‘National media defamed us’
Another strong message to emerge from the meeting was on the portrayal of the Sikh community and Punjabis in recent national media coverage .
Giani Harpeet Singh came down heavily on the national media for defaming Punjab and even branding Sikhs as terrorists. “Are we terrorists?” he asked.
He asked the SGPC and other Sikh bodies to take a strong stand on the agenda of national media and drag them to courts for criminal action since their conduct was not only deplorable but intolerable.
He also said that while the national media was defaming Sikhs, Sikh reporters and Sikh channels were censored in Punjab, indicating a deep-rooted conspiracy.
He told the Punjab government to stop targeting and harassing Sikh journalists and their news channels. He said their channels must be immediately resumed.
In his concluding remark, he said that the entire Sikh community stands by the innocent people arrested and will give all possible help to their family members for their speedy release.
After the meeting, SGPC head Harjinder Singh Dhami also released a set of decisions taken by them during the meeting.
He told the media that a Khalsa Vaheer will be carried out against drugs and ‘patit’ lifestyle under the leadership of the Akal Takht to promote the movement of Amrit Sachar.
He added that financial assistance will be given to families whose members have been charged under the NSA by the Punjab government.
He also announced a legal team to challenge the detention and arrests of Sikh youth.