Why no one wants to talk about the marginalised Kashmiri Sikhs
The voice of the minority community has remained unheard since independence and Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India.
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In any debate on the Kashmir conflict, the voice of one important stakeholder is always missing. That voice belongs to the Kashmiri Sikhs. Leave aside their stand, many people in Delhi are surprised to know that Sikhs also live in Kashmir.
The conflict in Kashmir often takes away space from discussions on social issues, including the rights and safety of the Sikh minority community.
Unheard and dejected, Sikhs constitute 0.5 per cent of Kashmir's 70 lakh population. Without any representation in political space, the voice of Kashmiri Sikhs has remained unheard since independence and Jammu and Kashmir's accession to India.
Things have worsened. Almost every year, young Sikh girls reportedly converting to Islam becomes a topic of discussion in every Sikh home in Kashmir. While which religion to follow is a matter of choice, the reported pattern followed by such alleged conversions is scary.
Why do only these women convert, or are allegedly made to convert?
The Sikh community fears repeat of a Chattisinghpora massacre like incident.
Only a few days back, a Sikh girl pursuing a diploma at the Islamic University of Science & Technology, Awantipora, was reportedly attacked for complaining about the misconduct of fellow students to the administration. The teenager alleged that a few students were forcing her to convert to Islam.
The university has apparently taken no action against the erring students, but issued a statement blaming the victim instead for declining the hostel facility where apparently she would have been safer.
Ironically, the statement further discusses the academic record of the victim.
"While going through the records of the girl, it has been found that she has some health issues and around three backlogs in first semester and very poor attendance in the second (current) semester," the university statement said.
The administration and police have taken no strict action against the students allegedly involved in the crime.
It all started with deception.
Unlike other parts of our country where minorities have special rights, the plea of Sikhs in Kashmir for reservation in government jobs and admission in universities has been repeatedly rejected by the state government.
Kashmir-centric regional political parties, like the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have cashed in on the vulnerabilities of Kashmiri Sikhs.
Before every election, they promise a lot. Safety, extension of the national minority act to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, introduction of Punjabi in schools, are regularly promised.
In 2014, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed heard the grievances of the minority community during an election campaign. The party included issues of safety, jobs and education with regard to Sikhs in its election manifesto.
But, in keeping with the trend, all promises were forgotten after the election results were declared.
Sikhs in Kashmir have faced hostilities since 1947. The first casualties of the tribesman invasion post-1947 in Kashmir were Sikhs.
The former BBC journalist Andrew Whitehead in his book A Mission in Kashmir writes about the tribesman raid. With specific mention to Sikhs, he quotes survivors of the invasion which took several lives. One story is that of Gunwant Kaur. She speaks about her three teenaged cousins who were apparently abducted by invaders. The male members of the family were killed and their houses plundered. One teenage invader quoted in the book said, "My work isn't to shoot people, but to set fire to Sikh homes."
Sikhs, who then had the best of lands and a share in the state's transportation business, faced the first major setback to them during this raid. They failed to cope since then.
Over 70 years down the line, the state, separatists and civil society in the region have not paid any heed to the issues concerning Sikhs. Several instances go on to prove how intolerant the state government has been on the question of Sikhs. In 2008 and 2010, when letters were dropped in gurudwaras asking Sikhs to leave the Valley, the separatists issued a statement blaming Indian agencies. Any instance of threat and violence against Sikhs is dubbed the handiwork of the same agencies. How would that suffice? What if something like a Chattisinghpora massacre is repeated?
The trail of threats and fear, which no Kashmiri Sikh ever speaks about, is mistaken as a sign of 'communal harmony'.
Two years back, a Sikh teenage girl went missing in Srinagar. The police failed to trace her. The case could never be solved. The response of the state on cases like this raises serious questions over the safety and security of Sikhs in Kashmir.
The list of incidents that have led to the communal marginalisation of Sikhs is long. The pain could have been mitigated if everyone would have spoken in one voice against the injustice to the community.
But Sikh lives apprently don't matter and so, members of the minority community continue to live in a painful silence - a silence that even civil society doesn't want to disturb.