Counterinsurgency in Punjab: Call to Action
Teer Kaur writes on the underlying potential of Sikh resistance.
On March 18, 2023, India’s carceral apparatus attempted to subdue the ongoing insurgence and rise in Sikh consciousness as heavily deputized Indian police officers barricaded Punjab and captured Sikh activists. As of March 21st, India’s carceral apparatus continues to block internet services, the congregation of multiple people is banned in entire regions of Punjab, and Sikh dissent continues to be criminalized. This time, the Indian State is outwardly asserting its power and authority to suppress an era of growing Sikh uprisings that have awakened Sikh consciousness.
While the Indian nationalist propaganda machine encourages disinformation through misleading headlines about Bhai Amritpal Singh, Indian police gather intel on longtime Sikh activists, scholars, and everyday people through surveillance, house raids, and arrests. This type of paramilitary operation takes meticulous planning. The state deployed thousands of Indian police officers and paramilitary troops into Punjab, many in full tactical gear.
In the face of tyranny and suppression, Sikhs rise. We are, once again, forced to confront our dard for the Panth. Glued to our phone screens and messages, we await to learn and anxiously discern what is truly happening on the ground. The internet blackout makes it challenging to access details about the ground realities. Other internet accounts, profiles, and pages are blocked and shadowbanned. In the meantime, Godi media propels fake news and wages info wars to shift the narrative to once again demonize Sikhs as terrorists and extremists. The internet ban and the inaccessibility to Sikh journalists’ pages are a method of counterinsurgency that limits our access to the ground realities. These misinformation campaigns further confuse and subdue the urgency and overwhelming sense of frustration, anger, and longing many of us feel – the longing to see our Panth flourish.
For some, the dard for the Panth translates into direct action. However, direct action is condemned not only by the Indian State but our own sangat who want to find ‘legitimate’ and ‘non-violent’ responses. Regardless of how Sikhs respond to gulaam conditions, and the means undertaken, the state maintains the monopoly on violence. While appealing to politicians and circulating hashtags is one strategy, the internal policing about ‘legitimate’ actions only further hinders our commitment to confronting the direct violence of the state that is continually mounted against us.
In these moments, it is essential to examine the carceral apparatus that attempts to hinder Sikh resistance and power by instilling fear into the Sikh psyche. Over the course of a few days, the Indian State launched a full-on counterinsurgent attack on Punjab.
The counterinsurgency goes beyond one person as it targets the entire Sikh Panth. Sikhi, as fully embodied by our Guru and shaheeds, poses a threat to the Indian State and world ordering. The rise of Sikh consciousness and the underbelly of Sikh resistance, especially as seen in the last three years, indicates that the Sikh Panth is alive.
By limiting what information is accessible to Sikhs and banning congregations of more than four people, Sikh rebellion is under attack. This swift restriction of the internet and communication, including Whatsapp, SMS services, Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, demonstrates a truth that Sikhs have known for a long time – the Indian State will suppress any indication of Sikh resistance or rebellion through the multi-layered carceral apparatus. This includes the state’s relationship with tech companies that do not grant liberatory access to their platforms. While many of us take our access to mobile communication, social media, and phones for granted, this moment calls us to move beyond social media, hashtags, and sensational posting as the primary source of informing and organizing our sangat.
Despite the many attempts to depoliticize and separate Sikhi from its radical commitment to sovereignty and patshahi, Sikhi continues to flourish. The Khalsa Vaheer’s mission, to empower Sikhs who use drugs to cope with the ground realities, threatens the Indian State because of the Khalsa’s promise and radical commitments to this duniya (world). The Sikh struggle is antagonistic to the current oppressive structures that are antithetical to Sikh being and existence. We cannot appeal to the moral sense of our oppressor or its allies. We must move beyond the narrative that India is “not a democratic country.” India was and never will be a democracy. The Khalsa is not invested in preserving or maintaining the Indian project.
Let us be clear. Khalistan is being criminalized at this moment; the assertion of the right to self-determination is being criminalized; the desire to live in Guru’s hukam is denied and criminalized; Sikh refusal to engage in shoddy electoral politics is criminalized; and Sikhs’ willingness to fight for Khalsa raj by any means necessary is being criminalized.
Our generation has been bestowed a responsibility to serve the Panth in a time where the Indian State and neoliberal values enclose Sikh being and existence. As Sikhs, we follow in the shadows and sacrifices of our Guru and shaheeds to rise up in these moments. Maharaj has tasked our generation with building a political and spiritual revolution rooted in ਮੀਰੀਪੀਰੀ (MiriPiri). Regardless of the attempts at censorship, threats of imprisonment, and violence, Sikh sangat will always come together. We must draw on Gurbani, Itihaas, and the strengthen and words of our Guru and shaheeds who embodied ਮੀਰੀਪੀਰੀ.
Today, the Kaumi Insaaf Morcha continues to organize to free Bandi Singhs amidst counterinsurgency and ongoing terror in Punjab. Amidst the Morcha, hundreds more have been made political prisoners. Surveillance has intensified, houses raided, and Punjab Police and the Indian State are gathering more intel on those who have dedicated their lives to the Panth. Yet, the names and stories of these political prisoners are challenging to uncover.
This is a moment for naujawan to come together, put egos aside, and work toward building prem with Maharaj and Maharaj’s sangat. Prem is central to Sikhi and Sikh revolution. Thus, pathologizing and excluding our own sangat only harms us as it prevents us from reaching our Guru’s vision for the Panth. There are active attempts to depoliticize, dilute, and prevent Sikhs from truly embodying Sikhi. We live in a world that awards one for attaching with maya, greed, and status, which is antithetical to Sikhi. Thus, to proactively learn about our Itihaas and Shaheeds, sit in sangat, and center Gurbani, is an act of resistance.
In these moments, we must center the dard that becomes heightened in these times and build with sangat. Sikhi is not an individual practice and centers collectivity and sangat. Guru ki sangat holds the power, thus we must come together.
What is to be done in this moment of mass Sikh displacement and crises? Naujwawan in the diaspora can work toward building prem with Maharaj and Maharaj’s sangat and engage in deep study and struggle-- organize reading groups, read Shaheed Sukha Singh and Shaheed Jinda Singh’s letters, watch Shaheed Bibi Bimal Kaur’s speeches, start collectives and jathebandia to build grounded power outside of the non-profit industrial complex, connect with local sangat by attending local gurudware regularly, speak to elders, local granthis and kathavachaks.
For Sikhs, the spiritual and political struggle tethers together like the interwoven branches and leaves of a veil that grow wildly through and over the crevices of a fence. Regardless of the fence’s material, quality, and boundaries, the veil grows profusely. The fence will inevitably deteriorate over time, as will these empires, while the veil continues to flourish. Similarly, Sikhi will continue to blossom amidst oppressive regimes. Maharaj has bestowed a grand responsibility to embody Sikhi, carry on the Guru and Shaheeds' vision, and come together. The sangat holds the power.
“When nations wake, even history begins to shiver. During such momentous movement a Banda Bahadur bids farewell to his peace-dwelling and destroys a state of oppression like Sirhind, a Che Guevera turns down a ministership of Cuba, loads a gun, and entrenches against the enemies in the forest of Bolivia, a Nelson Mandela rejects the ideology of apartheid and prefers to spend his life in a dark prison cell.
…And we have the privilege of being in the loving care and companionship of that unique general of the Panth, Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, blessed by the valiant and transcendental visionary Guru Gobind Singh. We are tiny particles of dust of the numberless heroic jewels of the Sikh nation who walked on the sharp edge of the Dagger, the Khanda, given to us by Guru Gobind Singh. Only the chosen few get the honor of laying down their lives for the nation. We are proud of this honor.” -Letter of Shaheed Sukhdev Singh Sukha and Harjinder Singh Jinda to Indian President 1992
Teer Kaur is a Ph.D. Candidate who studies the criminalization of space and state violence. She’s an incoming assistant professor where she will continue build her research on carceral apparatus and geographies. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org