“When we heard that people are unable to access our website, initially, we thought it was a technical problem and we started approaching it in that manner. But, after three days, it became clear that this had been done deliberately,” Parmjeet Singh, editor of Punjab-based news website Sikh Siyasat, told The Quint.
Singh suspects that this could be an act of “unofficial blocking” by the government.
The English website of Sikh Siyasat has been blocked since 6 June, the Punjabi site is still functioning.
This isn’t an isolated case of a Sikh-oriented online platform being blocked. The hashtag #Sikh was found to be blocked on Facebook and Instagram and the homepages of Sikh oriented Akaal Channel, KTV and TV84 were blocked on YouTube.
As a result, many are seeing this as an attempt to “silence Sikh voices”.
The timing is also important here as this has taken place when Sikhs across the world were marking 36 years of Operation Bluestar, that was carried out by the Indian Army between 1 June and 8 June 1984.
While from the perspective of the army and Indian state, this was an operation to “flush out militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from the Darbar Sahib complex in Amritsar,” for many Sikhs, it is a deeply traumatic event.
They see it as part of the Teeja Ghallughara (Third Holocaust) that involved the destruction of their highest temporal seat – the Akal Takht – and continued up till the anti-Sikh pogrom a few months later in 1984.
International civil rights and non-profit organisation United Sikhs found the timing of the blocking of #Sikh “suspicious”.
“The timing of this censoring by Facebook is suspicious as the hashtag in question has been taken down when the world is expressing solidarity on the 36th anniversary of the June 1984 Sikh genocide.”United Sikhs
The reason given by Facebook was, “Posts with #sikh are currently hidden here. Some content in those posts goes against our Community Standards.” Instagram said that it was due to “unusual activity that may not meet Instagram’s Community Guidelines”.
While Facebook and Instagram withdrew the ban saying that it was a “mistake”, many say that the ban was either under government pressure or due to mass reporting by right-wing social media users. In the case of Akaal Channel, the request for its banning came from Congress MP from Ludhiana Ravneet Bittu.
While Akaal Channel is live again, the ban on the YouTube homepages of TV84 and KTV continues. Sikh Siyasat’s English website also remains blocked.
Why Sikh Platforms are Important
According to political commentator Tridivesh Singh Maini, the Sikh media is trying to fill the gaps left by mainstream media.
“Several Sikh media publications and channels are countering this silence over the events of 1984 in mainstream circles,” Maini writes.
Maini says that Operation Bluestar and Ghallughara are both two sides of the same reality, but it is only the former that has become the dominant narrative.
He further points out that Sikh outlets have faced reprisals in the past as well, for putting forward their perspective.
“Some of these channels were banned on 6 June. Even in 2015, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) government in Punjab, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ally, had requested New Delhi to ban ‘provocative’ Sikh channels, websites and social media pages,” he writes.
Sikh Siyasat was also briefly banned in 2015.
“This isn’t the first time we have faced such a ban. In October 2015, we were blocked and asked to appear before a government panel. Apparently, this was because we carried an article critical of police atrocities, calling them a result of a colonial baggage,” Sikh Siyasat Editor Parmjeet Singh told The Quint.
This ban came on the eve of another traumatic event – the anti-Sikh pogrom that began on 31 October 1984.
In October 2015, the Punjab Police and the then SAD-BJP government was facing a lot of flak in Punjab for its handling of the sacrilege incidents at Bargari and the killing of two people in police firing at Kotkapura.
Parmjeet Singh feels that such cases of blocking aren’t just a Sikh issue.
“This could happen to anyone, particularly those belonging to minorities, who talk about justice and try to bring out the truth. This is a way of suppressing independent voices,” he said, while asserting that he will keep trying to restore the platform.