Repression in Punjab: A Discussion with Bhai Parmjeet Singh Gazi
We met with Bhai Parmjeet Sigh Gazi last week to discuss the counter-insurgency operations launched by Indian security forces on March 18, 2023.
The conversation delves into a nuanced understanding of what exactly has transpired over the past few weeks in terms of the actual arrests of Sikh naujawan, the widespread censorship and intimidation of government critics, and most importantly, the psychological aspects of the operation.
Rather than a simple recounting of events however, Bhai Parmjeet Singh takes listeners beyond the immediate moment in order to actually understand the deeper layers of the Indian state’s intentions and modus operandi, the nature of the threats on our immediate horizon, and how the Panth and Punjab need to organize in order to confidently confront these challenges.
The full episode can be listened to here.
Some of the key takeaways have been summarized below:
The changing nature of Indian fascism and containment of anti-Hindutva/Delhi resistance
The BJP has a different approach altogether to nation-building and containing resistance in contrast to earlier Indian administrations. It is imperative that we understand this context properly in order to prepare for the next onslaught and proactively organize towards our own goals.
By polarizing and fragmenting opposition groups while simultaneously spreading confusion through selective censorship and coordinated disinformation, the BJP has successfully neutralized the ability of those impacted to respond effectively, let alone mount meaningful resistance to its attacks.
While this has been seen clearly in Kashmir, this is the same strategy playing out in Punjab in recent months.
Polarizing and fragmenting radical leadership and resistance groups and undermining their credibility by fuelling internal conflict
Discrediting even nationalist political parties in Punjab as corrupt, malicious, and ultimately ineffective (this has already occurred with the Shiromani Akali Dal, Indian National Congress, and is currently occurring with the Aam Admi Party as well)
As a result, people demonstrate guarded suspicion or resign their trust in any institution or power centre altogether leaving them largely powerless and directionless. By foreclosing the possibilities of meaningful dialogue and consolidation internally, those impacted on the ground are unable to achieve consensus on 1) what is happening and 2) how to respond.
As seen in Kashmir, the BJP is subsequently able to violently impose its diktats with minimal or no resistance at all.
Controlling bodies, but most importantly controlling minds
March 18 was not about physical violence and containment as much as it was about exerting unchallenged control over minds in Punjab and the diaspora.
The use of force was transformed into a spectacle of violence with the consent and cooperation of nationalist media outlets. While security forces were given free reign to arrest scores of grassroots activists, an integral part of the strategy was also to intimidate vocal naujawan who even expressed support for panthic causes. In a widespread process that remains largely undocumented, security officials summon these naujawan to police stations and threaten repercussions if they continue speaking out or participate in any anti-government mobilization.
Alongside this, independent and critical media outlets or journalists were censored and repressed while jingoist outlets were given free reign to disseminate sensationalist headlines to sow discord and spread fear. Panthic social media handles (including those of the Panth-Punjab Project, Sikh Siyasat, and Bhai Parmjeet Singh’s personal account) were censored while those stoking internal conflict remained unhindered.
The aggressive arrest of grassroots activists alongside widespread repression and disinformation were deployed in a psyop (psychological operation) to achieve three key aims:
Intimidate Punjab’s populace, especially naujawan, who had become emboldened and motivated to mobilize and advocate for their demands. By exerting calculated force across Punjab, the Indian state sought to rekindle the fear of repression and genocide that had been imposed in the mid-1990s.
Provoke and promote internal discord and confusion to neutralize the ability of independent activists or resistance organizations to mount an effective response. By arresting a number of activists and censoring others’ ability to communicate, the Indian state gave free reign to and promoted those narratives and actors who turned their aggression towards attacking panthic activists of all stripes to stoke internal conflict and harden internal faultlines.
Demonize Sikhs and Punjab in general in order to provoke and justify genocidal violence, exactly as was done between 1977-1984 and the days immediately following the Kisaan march in Delhi on January 26, 2021. By effectively dehumanizing Sikhs and instilling widespread fear across the country, Indian forces seek to isolate Sikhs to manufacture widespread consent to justify genocidal violence. This can be seen in the coordinated trickle of exaggerated news stories in recent weeks that openly called for a violent crackdown against Sikhs in a variety of media outlets.
HOW DO WE RESPOND?
Bhai Parmjeet Singh provided three spheres of action that Sikh naujawan and organizations can focus on in order to prepare and respond to future attacks.
Ensure our narrative is fact-based and rooted in chardi kala rather than victim mentality
Combatting the Indian state’s disinformation campaign requires a sober approach rooted in the facts on the ground that centres the spirit of chardi kala rather than reinforcing a victim mentality. Promoting sensationalist or conspiratorial talking points may encourage mobilization in the immediate term, but over time prove to be detrimental by creating an outsized sense of what is happening–disconnected from the ground realities.
Our understanding of unfolding events must be connected to ground realities in Punjab and not limited to social media activism. It is imperative that we step outside of our homes, interact face to face, and build meaningful relationships with Punjab to ensure our activism is rooted in reality and concrete action rather than aspirations alone.
Take steps to build solidarity and coordination with potential allies
Solidarity with other resistance organizations and communities also in open conflict against Delhi and authoritarianism in this region is imperative. Simply tactically speaking, building alliances and coordination across various fault lines in any context is an intelligent step to avoid being isolated and singled out for violence.
This does not mean altering who you are to appease others, nor is it about depending on others to fight your battles or only emphasizing apolitical “charity” over politics and sangarsh. It is simply a strategy to forge connections that simultaneously decrease your vulnerability to Indian violence while multiplying your capacity to execute your own strategic objectives. Attacking small (and individually insignificant) opponents may give us a sense of accomplishment but does not contribute to building an effective movement against authoritarianism or towards independence.
The Kisaan Morcha and various collective struggles in Punjab since then (Matewara, Zira, Mudki, and others) all demonstrate the effectiveness of this strategy. It is possible to maintain ideological and strategic disagreements while still ensuring some degree of cooperation to advance a common agenda against a common enemy. It is still possible to continue those internal disagreements after our larger enemy is vanquished. This is a basic precept of every movement.
Focus on developing collective leadership
The central point of all of this is to establish confident, long-lasting and credible leadership structures and decision-making processes. Sikh leadership—especially in our current circumstances—is not about individuals. Individuals can be killed, jailed, bought off, intimidated, or misled. Collective leadership processes functioning through decentralized organizational structures ensure that Sikh collective wisdom dictates future steps and cannot easily be crushed or repressed by force.
Referencing the efforts of the Panth Sewak collective over the past year, Bhai Parmjeet Singh indicates that the former jujharoos who initiated this process have highlighted four key areas of focus that outline our immediate priorities:
ensuring the independence of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib from all political parties by rejuvenating Sikh traditions like gurmatta;
strengthening our foundations by reforming the administration of our local gurduaaray which are our grassroots power centres;
consensus-building around those who wish to participate or influence domestic politics for short-term victories; and
consolidate and advance the ongoing sangarsh for the establishment of Khalistan.