A 25-year-old from Khanna, a member of a little-known organisation called Sikh Youth Power who has been vocal on community issues for the last five years, felt a wave of panic wash over him when he got a call from the special branch of the Khanna police on Thursday. “I thought I was in big trouble,” he says. To his surprise, the police officers present there just wanted to quiz him about his social media posts.
ASI Parminder Singh, who questioned him for around five hours, said, “We called him here in connection with Referendum-2020. But he told us that he is opposed both to the concept and the organisers.”
This is just another day at one of the many deradicalisation cells of the Punjab police. Members of the cell keep a close watch on social media posts and track down youngsters with separatist leanings who are then counseled by senior officers.
As ASI Singh said, “We first question them to learn about their mindset and associations. Some of them don’t know how certain Facebook posts reached them. Most of the youth have little idea of what is going on. There are very few who are intentionally getting involved in it (Referendum 2020).”
Recently, DGP Dinkar Gupta told a British news agency that such district-level cells have deradicalised around 400 youths.
DSP Sharma says counseling almost always yields results. “There are hardly any cases of youths getting radicalized in Khanna. They understand our point of view when we counsel them. Often, we find that they had liked a page by mistake or without going into it,” said Sharma, who was tight-lipped about the procedure used to choose people for counseling.
Commissioner of Police, Amritsar, Sukhchain Singh Gill admitted that such cells exist in every district but resfused to disclose more details.