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Dramatic Manhunt For India’s “James Bond”, Civil Rights Activist, Ends In Punjab

 Amritpal Singh has been sent to a remote prison near the Indo-China border while his political movement remains in its infancy.  

For some he is a Robin Hood like figure, rallying the rural peasantry against increasing power centralization in India. For India’s Hindu nationalist government he was a dangerous fugitive whose image was plastered on posters across northern India. 

Amritpal Singh turned himself at Pind Rode on April 23rd. The choice was symbolic. The village is the birthplace of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale (1947-1984) a hero for Sikhs seeking more autonomy from the central government. 

The Indian government had launched a massive paramilitary operation which resulted in mass arrests, internet shutdowns, and hundreds of arbitrary detentions as they sought Singh.  The Indian government led by the Hindu nationalist BJP party launched the manhunt on March 18th, 2023.  Singh’s evasion of Indian authorities drew wide attention in Indian and beyond.

“Our Desi James Bond is different. He is often moved but never shaken to action,” tweeted Abhishek Many Singhvi, an Indian parliamentarian while Singh was on the run.

Singh is the de facto leader of the Waris Punjab De, a grass-roots Sikh political organization. The former guest worker in Dubai  has become a symbol for those who oppose the centralization of power in India.

Amritpal Singh Amritpal Singh enters a Gurdwara. in Punjab, India on Dec 14, 2022, (Unmasking.India/Unmasking.India) Amritpal Singh enters a Gurdwara during his religious tours of the countryside.  © Z News Inc.

Sikhs, who account for only 2% of India’s population, have a long history of grievances at the hands of the Indian government. According to Ensaaf, a human rights organization some 35,000 Sikhs have been killed by security forces in the past 35 years. 

A series of provocations in the 1980s resulted in an insurgency during the 1980s and 1990s between Sikhs advocating for an independent Khalistan from and the Indian government. In the mid-19th century, the Punjab region was captured by the British Empire. Prior to that, the region had been largely independent. India’s ruling BJP party according to analysts favored a “one language-one nation” policy which has further alienated religious and linguistic minorities. 

Amritpal Singh Amritpal Singh addressing the congregation.  in Punjab, India on Dec 14, 2022, (Unmasking.India/Unmasking.India) Amritpal Singh looks out into the crowd during a religious congregation in the Punjab countryside.  © Z News Inc.

Amritpal Singh rose to prominence through social media where his interactions with Sikh scholars and western academics drew a large following. A former engineering student, he returned from a decade in Dubai last year. 


He quickly expanded his Sikh following and among some members of other religious faiths in India— such as Many Singhvi. Amritpal Singh’s messaging has focused on  displacement, the ongoing drug epidemic in Punjab, and the Sikh people’s right to self-determination. Amritpal Singh has reportedly been sent to a remote prison near the Indo-China border. Its unclear what how his arrest will impact his political movement, which is still in its infancy. 

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