Another ghastly chapter has been added to the history of the world’s so-called largest democracy after 21-year-old Lovepreet Singh committed suicide in Punjab.
Singh was being hounded by the Indian police under draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
He killed himself under mysterious circumstances last week following an interrogation by the National Investigation Agency. His family is asking for an independent enquiry and has alleged he was tortured in custody.
The news of Singh’s death was revealed on the day when the Canada-based World Sikh Organization (WSO) issued a report exposing a pattern behind Indian authorities' political witch hunt of Sikh activists.
Released on July 20, Enforcing Silence: India’s War on Sikh Social Media offers a detailed account of Sikh activists being targeted under UAPA and thrown in jails for raising their voices through social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Incidentally, the report mentions a Sikh man with same name who was arrested in June after being branded as a terrorist seeking to create a separate Sikh nation of Khalistan. It's believed that he was merely framed for supporting Khalistan through social media because he had served langar (community meal) to peaceful protesters against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in Delhi.
The passage of the CAA, which blatantly discriminates against Muslim refugees coming to India from neighbouring countries, has sparked angry demonstrations across India and outside the country.
Critics believe that it was part of a scheme by the ruling right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) to eventually transform India into Hindu theocracy.
The WSO report links these arrests with the broader issue of the BJP government's continued suppression of voices of dissent by applying antiterror laws such as the UAPA.
It is not surprising to see how this act is being selectively used against minorities, including Muslims and Sikhs, as well as against leftist activists. This enables the state to detain people in jails for indefinite periods of time without trials to instill fear in the minds of political opponents and members of civil society.
In the meantime, the current government continues to patronize Hindu extremist groups that are openly spreading hatred against others, whereas a simple expression in support of Khalistan through social media can invite trouble.
The UAPA is hardly ever invoked against Hindu supremacists yet is being freely applied against non-Hindus and some Hindus opposed to BJP’s authoritarian and divisive policies.
Singh’s untimely death is the culmination of these injustices. The world needs to wake up before it’s too late.