Amritpal Singh is a self-styled preacher who has been advocating for Sikh independence, which has riled the Indian authorities. He was arrested in Punjab state after being on the run for more than a month, evading arrest on 18 March.
Amritpal Arrest and Charges
Singh and his supporters have been accused of attempted murder and attacking police officials. He was arrested under the National Security Act (NSA), which allows individuals to be detained without being charged for up to a year. He will be taken to the high-security Dibrugarh jail in Assam state, where some of his supporters have been kept.
Background and Campaign
Amritpal Singh shot to prominence in February after hundreds of his supporters stormed a police station, demanding the release of an arrested aide. His campaign brought back memories from the 1980s of a separatist insurgency and subsequent crackdown in Punjab in which thousands of people were killed.
Support for Khalistan Movement
Amritpal Singh, who says he supports the Khalistan movement for a separate Sikh homeland, claims to draw inspiration from Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a preacher accused by the Indian government of leading an armed insurgency in the 1980s. Bhindranwale was killed in the Indian army’s storming of the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, in 1984.
Manhunt and Crackdown of Amritpal
The manhunt for Amritpal Singh spanned several parts of northern India, including the capital Delhi and the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Nepal had also put him on its surveillance list at India’s request. After the crackdown, however, it also questioned the government’s arrests and detentions of people for their alleged support of Singh and for Khalistan.
Sikh groups in Canada held widespread protests against the government action in Punjab. Protests were also held outside the Indian High Commission in London, where demonstrators removed the Indian flag. In San Francisco, pro-Khalistan supporters vandalised the Indian consulate, calling for Amritpal Singh to be freed.
Why Amritpal is taken to Dibrugarh jail
Amritpal Singh, the leader of the group ‘Waris Punjab De’ was arrested in the early hours of Sunday from Rode village in Moga, and subsequently taken to Air Force Station in Bathinda by the Punjab Police. Later, he was transferred to Dibrugarh central jail in Assam, along with nine of his aides who were charged under the National Security Act and were already lodged in the same jail.
While the reason behind Amritpal Singh’s transfer to Assam is not clear, some reports suggest that the Dibrugarh jail is highly fortified and has been used in the past to hold top militants during the peak of ULFA militancy in Assam. The prison is known for its strict security arrangements, which make it difficult for any prisoner to escape.
The decision to transfer Amritpal Singh and his aides to Assam instead of being taken to jails in Punjab or Delhi could be due to the presence of other gangsters who are associated with separatist groups. Initially, the Punjab government thought of sending Amritpal’s aides to Delhi’s Tihar jail, but due to the presence of Punjabi gangsters and separatists, the decision was taken to transfer them to Assam.
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a slain militant, belonged to Rode village and Amritpal Singh was appointed as the head of ‘Waris Punjab De’ at an event held in the same village last year.
Amritpal family reacts
Amritpal’s mother, Balwinder Kaur, said that she was proud of her son and called him a “lion” for surrendering. According to a report by News18, Balwinder Kaur stated, “I am proud of my son, he is a lion and he surrendered like a lion.”
His father, Tarsem Singh, claimed that his son was fighting against the drug menace and urged the people to continue with his mission. Tarsem also said that the family got to know about Amritpal’s arrest through the news and that he had not been in contact with his family. “The pictures that have surfaced in the media are not clear. He still dons Sikh attire today. I am with everyone who has been harassed by the Punjab Police,” Tarsem was quoted as saying by India Today.
Amritpal’s uncle, Sukhchain Singh, also expressed the family’s disappointment with the arrest and stated that they would fight the legal battle against it. “We came to know today morning that Amritpal Singh has surrendered. We were thinking he was in police custody. He never contacted his family,” he added.
The family members’ statements come after Amritpal and his nine aides were lodged in Dibrugarh jail in Assam and charged under the National Security Act. The reason behind Amritpal’s transit to Assam is still unknown, but some reports indicate that the Dibrugarh jail is heavily fortified and was used to hold top militants during the peak of ULFA militancy in Assam.