Sandeep Singh: Nanded Sikhs Allege Arbitrary Arrests and Police Abuse
State authorities are allegedly taking a heavy-handed and indiscriminate approach in punishing the Sikh youth of Nanded for the Hola Mohalla incident of March 29
April 14, 2021 | 3.5 min. read
“They are arresting innocent people” a message read on my phone.
The anonymous tip came from Nanded and was referring to Sikhs being picked up by Maharashtra police after the March 29 Hola Mohalla event at the historically significant Hazur Sahib Gurdwara, one of the five Takhts of the Sikh world.
The event is famous for the traditional Halla Bol procession, in which Sikhs display their martial skills with shastars on a run down a road outside the Gurdwara.
In what is now a viral video, a group of Sikhs is seen breaking through police barriers at a Gurdwara gate, which had been set up to keep them off the road due to COVID. Some officers were injured as a result.
Locals told me that state authorities are allegedly taking a heavy-handed and indiscriminate approach in punishing the Sikh youth of Nanded. So, I took a flight from Delhi to Nanded to see exactly what is going on.
Police have since registered FIRs against over 400 identified and unidentified Sikhs under charges of attempt to murder, and assault or criminal force to deter public servants from the discharge of their duty.
Locals shared with me that arbitrary police raids have been used to instill fear in the minds of Sikhs, with many reluctant to go outside their homes for two to three days after the event over fears of police abuse.
Some even shared that the police took their historic shastars from their homes. This has caused considerable grief and anger as Sikhs in Nanded are incredibly devout. You will be hard-pressed to find a Sikh home in Nanded without shastars, which are kept with the highest respect and regard. You will also seldom come across a Sikh that does not keep their kesh here.
Police have arrested 21 people with more still avoiding arrest. Family members claim that many of those arrested are innocent, and are being arbitrarily arrested and framed by the police.
Amandeep Singh Shah is one of those named in an FIR. He has been charged with an attempt to murder, and assault or criminal force to deter public servants from the discharge of their duty. However, he claims that he was not even in Maharashtra, let alone Nanded, on March 29. On the day of the Halla Bol incident, Shah shares he was in Anandpur Sahib celebrating Holla Mohalla.
“As wheat harvesting had begun in Punjab, I left with four other Gurdwara sevadars on March 18 to collect donations of wheat for our Gurudwara. I have my own videos of me celebrating Holla Mohalla in Anandpur.”
His experience of the alleged police abuse of the process is similar to what others have shared with me in Nanded.
“On March 30 someone sent me a copy of the FIR against me. The police have targeted Sikhs on the basis of their identity. I arrived here in Nanded and till now I have not gone back to my home fearing a police raid and arrest.”
Like Shah, the family of Abhijit Singh, a young Sikh now in police custody, also claims that their son was innocent and framed by authorities. The photographer got married only a month ago.
Abhijit Singh’s mother, Charanjeet Kaur Dukandar, shared with Baaz the details of his arrest.
“My son had got an order from the Gurudwara to cover Holla Mohalla. He had gone there with camera and drone to cover the event. At 7 PM, he had come home after covering the event, and police came and took footage from him. The same night at 11:45 PM, Police said they need Abhijit just for 10 minutes only to play the footage for them. Since then he has been in jail.”
Dukandar shares that it has escalated beyond that now, with fears of torturing taking place.
“On April 5 we received a call from someone saying that my son has been admitted to hospital. I went to the hospital but my son did not talk. His eyes had turned white. Whenever I asked him a question he only cried. I told the police that my son needs a CT scan and I want a copy of the scan but the police refused. ”
Baaz reached out to the investigative officer, Jagdish Rajanna Bhandarwar, and asked him about the arrests. Bhandarwar replied that the “investigation is going on.”
Dukandar had a simple message for the police and the spate of alleged arbitrary detentions.
“My son is innocent. He was at the Gurudwara, without any sword, doing only his duty as a photographer. Punish those who may have committed a crime. I have only one son who was on his duty and trying to make a living.”
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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