In what is being called one of India’s most extensive blackouts in recent years, the government has locked internet access for about 27 million people in the state of Punjab for a third straight day. The ban on the internet as well as texting services will be suspended till at least Tuesday, according to the authorities.
The ban has been brought in place as a statewide manhunt is launched for a Sikh separatist Amritpal Singh. He is a popular leader within the separatist Khalistan movement. Initially, a 24-hour internet ban was announced on Saturday. It has been extended by the government for a third time under a law that allows the connection to be cut to “prevent any incitement to violence and any disturbance of peace and public order.”
What is the Khalistan Movement?
The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement seeking to establish a sovereign state for followers of the Sikh religion in the Punjab region. The proposed state would consist of land that currently lies in Punjab, India, and Punjab, Pakistan. They also wanted Lahore, currently, in Punjab, Pakistan, as its capital. 

The demand for a separate Sikh state began immediately after the fall of the British Empire. In 1940, the first explicit call for Khalistan was made in a pamphlet titled “Khalistan”. The movement flourished in the Indian state of Punjab, funded by the Sikh diaspora. It continued through the 1970s and 1980s and reached its zenith in the late 1980s.

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A point of climax was reached in June 1984 when the Indian army stormed the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which is considered the holiest shrine of Sikhism to capture armed separatists. The structural damage was massive and the death toll reached thousands. The raid angered the Sikh community and in its aftermath, India’s former prime minister Indira Gandhi, who ordered the operation, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

In the 1990s, the insurgency petered out. The movement failed to reach its objective for multiple reasons. For starters, there was a heavy police crackdown on separatists, including factional infighting, and disillusionment from the Sikh population. Violent clashes have erupted between followers of the movement and the Indian government over the years.

The Khalistan movement is considered a grave national security threat by the Indian government. However, it still attracts a level of support among some Sikhs within the country and overseas.