Kashmir has historically been a multi religious society, where Kashmiri Muslims, Kashmiri Hindu Pundits and Kashmiri Sikhs have lived with each other for centuries maintaining cordial, harmonious and brotherly relationship. Sikhs of Kashmir, who actually are not historically from Punjab but are believed to be Brahmin and Rajput converts from neighboring Jammu region and even Kashmir valley are very much an integral part of Kashmiri society.
After the exodus of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits, the Sikhs of Kashmir are now the largest religious minority of Kashmir valley, distributed equally among Baramulla in North, Srinagar in Central and Tral in south Kashmir valley. The bond between Kashmiri Sikh and Kashmiri Muslim communities is as old as the history of Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is home to some of the most important and sacred Gurudwaras located in Srinagar and Baramulla cities. So why is that the Sikh community of Kashmir is suddenly up in arms?
The recent controversy over alleged cases of forced conversion and marriage of Sikh girls has not only been widely publicized and politicized, but it has also ruptured the cordial relation between Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Sikh communities. Since there are various conflicting views and information circulating on the details and facts of these cases, I would not like to comment upon merits of these individual cases, but would rather focus on the wider picture of the status of Kashmir’s non-Muslim minorities.
The problem lies in the fact that Kashmir’s majority Muslim population loves to remain in complete denial of how their image is perceived outside Kashmir valley but sooner or later they are confronted with the bitter reality, which is never debated or resolved and therefore the problem continues to persist.
Regardless of what the majority Muslim population of Kashmir may think about themselves, the fact is that Kashmir valley is not only a conflict region but is also recognized as one of the most radical Muslim enclaves of the world, where religious minorities (Kashmiri Pundits and Sikhs) have been persecuted for their religious beliefs. No one outside Kashmir believes in the so called “Jagmohan” conspiracy theory for facilitating forced exodus of Kashmir’s largest religious minority of Kashmiri Hindu Pundits. The dark episode of 1989 of the forced and violent exodus of Kashmiri Pundits has remained a biggest blot on the former secular credential of Kashmir’s majority community, whether or not they want to believe.
The subsequent rise of religious radicalism, orthodoxy, social conservatism and proliferation of puritan Islamic school of thoughts has further dented the image of Kashmir as an enclave of moderate, tolerant, secular Muslims, who followed their own unique syncretic Sufi Islam called “Rishiyat” that was an amalgamation of Central Asian Sufi traditions and Kashmir’s own Hindu Shaivism.
Those of us from majority community of Kashmir, who have had friendship and acquaintance with Sikh community of Kashmir would tell the truth of the life that Kashmir’s Sikh community has been living since last three decades in a highly brutalized, violent and religiously radical and intolerant Kashmir. Beyond the slogans of “Sikh – Muslim” bhai chara lies a suppressed story of religious harassment, religious taunts, stigmatization of Kashmiri Sikh community, which has only grown worst.
I have been regularly hearing stories of Muslim community pressure on Sikhs to convert to Islam, which happens both expressly and indirectly. It is a fact that Kashmiri Sikh girls are special target of religious harassment. My Sikh friends would regularly tell me how their Muslim acquaintance would ridicule their Sikh faith and practices and would encourage them to visit mosques and learn about Islam. Kashmiri Sikh girls would be pressured to be “girlfriends” with Muslim boys. Few years back A Kashmiri Sikh girl in South Kashmir was stabbed over her refusal to wear Islamic hijab. The Sikh community of Kashmir, which already knows about the misery of Kashmiri Pundit community has been living in fear. They know that their presence is misused to exhibit an example of secular credential of Kashmiri Muslims but they can’t say anything due to fear of being stuck in an overwhelmingly Muslim majority region, where they have substantial financial and economic interests.
It is a fact that non-Muslim girls are groomed not just in Kashmir but in almost all Muslim majority countries and regions for marriage with a Muslim man and conversion to Islam. We all know that seeking conversion (not forced one) is an important part of the religious culture of Muslim societies, which has unfortunately been twisted to force non-Muslim girls to marry a Muslim and then compulsorily convert to Islam. Kashmir is no different.
Sikhs in Kashmir are angry because they have been facing and quietly suffering the religiously driven onslaught of converting to Islam for a long time, accelerated by the rise of the new generation of radicalized, orthodox puritan Muslims of Kashmir. These radical Muslims don’t even spare Sufi Islam following Kashmiri Muslims and regularly taunt and harass them of following a “corrupt” faith and indulging in “shirk” and “biddah” and worshipping graves, one can only imagine the plight of Sikh minority, who can’t even express their misery and suffering that they endure on daily basis out of fear of their security. The latest incident, even though politicized by a Sikh politician from Delhi has finally broken the patience of Sikh community of Kashmir valley and emboldened them to tell their tale of suffocation and suffering.
As a majority community of Kashmir, it is our religious Islamic duty to protect our religious minorities, which we have unfortunately not done and it is a fact. We must acknowledge the toxic effect of religious radical elements, who have been harassing Sikhs of Kashmir are also parallelly harassing Kashmiri Sufi Muslims and Kashmiri Shia Muslims. It is not a question of Islam versus Sikhism, but of radicalism and intolerance versus Kashmir’s glorious religious tradition of tolerance, Kashmiriyat and Sufi Rishiyat, which is at stake. We must understand and acknowledge grievances of our Sikh brothers and sister and strive to address them and make Kashmir once again a mecca of peace, tolerance and secularism.