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HomeIndiaInstagram reels, Facebook videos & more — how Barjinder Parwana became Patiala...

Instagram reels, Facebook videos & more — how Barjinder Parwana became Patiala clash ‘mastermind’

A self-styled religious leader and ‘influencer’, Parwana has been accused of inciting Sikh mob to fight radical Hindu groups who took out an anti-Khalistan march last week.

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Patiala: “Khalistan zindabad hai, Khalistan zindabad rahega” — this is a common refrain in the social media videos posted by Barjinder Singh Parwana, a self-styled Sikh religious ‘influencer’ who was arrested Sunday by the Punjab Police and dubbed one of the “masterminds” of last Friday’s communal clash in Patiala.

Parwana, 38, was nabbed at Mohali airport and sent to four-day judicial remand two days after the violent altercation, which resulted when members of Hindu extremist outfits leading a pre-planned ‘Khalistan Murdabad’ march in Patiala were confronted by radical Sikh groups.

According to police sources, Parwana was one of the main leaders of the Sikh protesters and had rallied them days in advance through his Instagram Reels as well as Facebook and YouTube videos.

“Parwana had come under our scanner due to his posts on social media via which he was inviting more and more people to reach Patiala — how he managed to mobilise crowds that day will be disclosed once the investigation is over,” a police official told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.

ThePrint has viewed videos in which Parwana can be seen exhorting his social media followers to protest against the anti-Khalistan march organised by members of Hindu groupsincluding allegedly the Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray), the Punjab unit of the Maharashtra party.

For instance, in an Instagram Reel posted on 24 April, five days before the incident, Parwana urged his followers to “be ready” for 29 April — the ‘Khalistan Foundation Day’, on which the Hindu groups had planned their march.

Expressing his confidence that Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nanak Singh (now transferred) would prevent the march, Parwana nevertheless laid out a contingency plan: “If we have to unite, we will do a parikrama (circumambulation) around the Dukh Niwaran Gurudwara. We will make these monkeys (referring to the alleged Shiv Sainiks behind the rally) run, we will ignite flames in their tails,” he said.

Parwana’s arrest has been criticised by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), an important body that manages gurdwaras. The SGPC has maintained that had the police taken preventive action, the clash would not have occurred.

So, who is Barjinder Singh Parwana and how much of a following does he really command? ThePrint visited Parwana’s family members and neighbours in Patiala district’s Rajpura town, and combed through his social media posts to find out.

Founder of a jatha, aspiring religious ‘influencer’

Parwana is the leader of a jatha (religious group) called the Damdami Taksal Jatha Rajpura. Its Facebook page, which has more than 3.7 lakh followers, features numerous videos of Parwana presiding over devotional events and talking about Khalistan.

In the days leading up to the march, however, Parwana made some posts against the local Shiv Sena and asked people to unite against anti-Khalistan forces.

On his personal social media channels, which have a much smaller following, Parwana shared similar content.

He was particularly active on Instagram, where he has about 40,000 followers, and used Reels — short videos featuring visual effects and music — to ask Sikhs to unite and protest against the upcoming march. He also shared a similar video on YouTube.

 

Parwana, whose ambit of influence doesn’t seem to extend much beyond Rajpura and Patiala in Punjab, has been promoting his ideas on religion for a few years on social media. He also organised a quiz show named ‘Kaun Banega Pyare Da Pyara’, in which kids were tested for their religious knowledge and rewarded accordingly. Many of his videos feature him saying “Khalistan Zindabad”.

According to Gurmeet Singh Sidhu, professor of religious studies at Patiala’s Punjabi University, Parwana is one of many fringe leaders that operate in the state and rely on rabble-rousing to garner attention.

“Both the Right-wing Hindus and Sikh hardliners have a low fan following among the common people — they are not taken seriously here,” Sidhu said. “These guys keep fighting each other, post provocative posts on social media just to garner the instant fame they want.”


Also Read: As the dust settles, festering differences that led to Patiala violence come to light


Did ‘seva’ during farmers’ protests, but under police scanner

When ThePrint visited Parwana’s family members and neighbours in Rajpura, they were shaken about his arrest and reluctant to say too much about him.

Under the condition of anonymity, however, a family member shared that he was born in May 1984, weeks before Operation Blue Star, in which the Indian Army opened fire in Amritsar’s Golden Temple complex to flush out militants.

The young Parwana, like other children in the neighbourhood, enjoyed a devout but peaceful childhood and performed ‘seva (service)’ from a very young age, his family said.

“He would visit the gurdwara daily. He would do seva there and was always involved in the sangat. After his schooling, his father brought in forms for enrolling him in the police, but he refused, and instead left our home for religious studies and preaching,” a close family member said.

Parwana got his religious tutelage from the Damdami Taksal, a Sikh educational body located near Amritsar. This seminary was once known as a nursery of militancy but has since shed that reputation. In January this year, its chief Harnam Singh Dhumma joined the BJP ahead of assembly polls in the state.

According to news reports, Parwana went on to briefly live in Singapore, from 2007 to 2008, but returned to set up his own religious outfit.

In his Rajpura neighbourhood, most residents spoke of Parwana in positive terms and said he did a lot of seva during the 2020-21 farmers’ protests. His neighbours also found it hard to believe he could have incited violence, with some expressing surprise he had enough of a following to do so.

Distraught over his arrest, his family members said they wished he had used his oratory skills to spread a message of peace rather than conflict.

However, this is not the first time that Parwana has been engaged in conflict with the local Shiv Sena or come to the notice of the police.

In July last year, the Mohali police arrested him based on a complaint from a local Shiv Sena leader. At that time, when members of the Shiv Sena (Punjab) — one of the many outifts in Punjab with the same name — organised an event to celebrate the anniversary of Operation Blue Star, Parwana allegedly tore down one of their posters and said it would ignite hatred in Punjab. Following a complaint, he was then booked under different sections of the IPC, including intent to cause riots.

In the case of the Patiala violence the police have so far arrested Parwana, Shiv Sena (Bal Thackeray) leader Harish Singla, and at least seven others.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


Also Read: Patiala clash highlights Punjab’s many Shiv Senas — ‘no political weight but not to be ignored’


 

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