'Kashmiryat is the bedrock of our society and that’s facing a severe challenge.'
'There were provocations from certain quarters asking us to leave Kashmir but we did not.'
'Violence and extremism have not and will not fetch anything. Dialogue is the only way out.'
According to the 2011 census report, Sikhs account for just 1.87 per cent of the population in Jammu and Kashmir.
After the mass exodus of Pandits at the onset of the militant violence in the early 1990s, Sikhs chose to stay back, even after the gruesome massacre of Chattisinghpora in which 36 members of the community were gunned down.
Currently, Sikhs are the only religious minority in Kashmir valley, which continues to be in the grip of violence and mired in political uncertainties.
The last time the J&K Sikhs’ grievances were officially acknowledged was in the final report of the group of interlocutors appointed by the United Progressive Alliance government on October 13, 2010, which noted the community’s regional demands, including the “demand for granting of minority status and benefits on par with Kashmiri Pandits in terms of housing colonies, free education, rehabilitation measures and preferential employment”, require “urgent and sympathetic considerations.”
However, since 2008, the community has been striving for “economic empowerment” under the All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee, an amalgamate of more than a dozen political, social and religious groups, including the Shiromani Akali Dal-Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal-Maan and All India Sikh Students Federation.
So far the APSCC is the only representative face and political voice of the Sikhs of J&K.
In this conversation with Pervez Majeed/ Rediff.com, APSCC Chairman Jagmohan Singh Raina, image, below, talks about the Sikh community in a politically surcharged region.
Why are the Sikhs of Jammu & Kashmir politically dormant?
Actually, Sikhs in J&K are scattered in various (assembly) constituencies.
Collectively they are consolidated in five constituencies of Kashmir and 10 in Jammu province.
Since the two provinces of Kashmir and Jammu have two different political thoughts, hence Sikhs as a community can’t express their political view collectively, particularly on the Kashmir issue.
Moreover, inherently in our political system, the minority view is either ignored or not heard at all.
Do you think Sikhs of J&K need to assert themselves politically?
There we have a complex situation.
If you see the history around Partition, the Sikhs of the valley were with Sheikh Abdullah’s movement, and in Jammu also a majority of Sikhs, under the leadership of Budh Singh Tyagi, supported it.
I mean the Sikh community favoured the political opinion of the National Conference which fought against autocratic rule of Maharaja Hari Singh.
But after the death of Sheikh Abdullah and eventually the new nomenclature of the Kashmir issue, the state’s political landscape got divided among so many groups -- there is a mainstream camp and separatist camp; then among separatists some want Azadi and some are pro-Pakistan... so there is no unity of political opinion among the majority community, resultantly in this scenario it is difficult for Sikhs to form their political view especially about Kashmir issue.
At the APSCC, what are the major issues of the Sikh community that you demand a solution to?
The biggest one is minority status. The National Commission for Minorities Act is applicable throughout India and Sikhs are demanding its extension to J&K.
We have several serious economic issues and to address them we need economic empowerment. But that is not possible without the granting of minority status.
The second major issue is unemployment of Sikh youth.
Due to certain socio-economic reasons, educated Sikh youth don’t get their dues in the current system of government jobs. So some kind of reservation is needed.
Please don’t deem it my grudge against my compatriots when I say that people not residing in the state are getting direct employment packages from Delhi while as the majority community living in the state get their share because of the local leaders and political parties.
But Sikhs are totally ignored. Isn’t it injustice with a significant population of the state?
Nobody is hearing us. See the 2001 census, it shows us at 1.87 percent of the population. But we are not less than 2 percent. Our population is scattered and it needed serious approach for a census.
We had offered the census authorities our support for the correct enumeration of our population. But they didn’t pay heed. This shows how insensitive the administration is towards issues of the Sikh community.
Which political party in the state has been sensitive to Sikhs?
Honestly, none! Sikhs in J&K are politically disempowered and no party has been sensitive about it. Imagine that in the last nearly three decades, there has been no Sikh MLA, no Sikh minister!
Sikhs are the biggest sufferers in the 1947 tribal invasion but the issue of refugees is not being attended by any party’s government.
The Sikh refugee camps and colonies in Jammu, like Bhour camp, Simbal camp, Gole Gujral camps, Gadigarh camps are testimony to the betrayal political parties have meted us.
The National Conference governed the state for long time, but didn’t bother to settle the issues including those of the refugees.
Sikh leaders like Sant Singh Tegh, Bachan Singh Panchi, Harbans Singh Azad and Budh Singh Taygi were senior NC leaders but still could not make the party act on Sikh issues.
The Congress has been part of the government, but it too turned a deaf ear to our issues.
In the last assembly election the Peoples Democratic Party promised in its manifesto to extend the National Commission for Minorities Act to the state but so far no step has been taken towards that end.
So, in this scenario, will the APSCC assume a political role and fight elections?
No. Because we don’t want to position ourselves in a way that segregates us from the common people.
The majority community has been our strength. We live together in an atmosphere of absolute amity and mutual trust. It would be insensitive on our part if we fight elections on the slogan of a community.
Some people are working to polarise our society, we don’t want to contribute to their devilish deeds.
As a Sikh leader, what do you think is the ideal solution for the Kashmir issue?
I think the Kashmir issue is a reality and calls for immediate solution. But any solution should lead to peace in the state.
The greater the delay, the more the political and societal division. The continued cycle of propaganda and counter propaganda from both Pakistan and India is a war of nerves but at the cost of the youth of Kashmir.
The state’s economy is in shambles. Political parties are wasting time in dubious politics. Kashmiryat is the bedrock of our society and that’s facing a severe challenge.
Sikhs are a significant minority and we have our own share of tragedies because of the Kashmir issue.
In a state where the majority community has political representation in all the political parties and the Hindus are very close to national political parties, but Sikhs don’t have political presence.
Some groups in Punjab still raise the slogan of Khalistan. Do you think there is a possibility of an ideological association between them and the separatists of Kashmir?
I personally don’t support extremist political or religious movements.
I remember in 1984 when Punjab was in the grip of turmoil and militancy in Kashmir was showing its shadow, the late Indira Gandhi told me in Delhi that India cannot afford to lose her border states.
Then we saw what happened. India fought the insurgencies with all her might. So I strongly believe violence and extremism have not and will not fetch anything. Dialogue is the only way out.
Is life scary for the leader of a religious minority in a conflict zone?
Certainly not. The majority community may have a different political view than ours but we have not confronted them.
Not because we are scared but because we understand the context. The governments, political parties and leaders have abandoned us but it’s the people who we have been reckoning with.
We don’t have any societal or religious predicament; rather our issues are economic and administrative in nature. And governments and political parties are responsible for that, not the people.
All these 25 years of mayhem, the majority community endured pain and suffering. But it continued to be sensitive and caring towards Sikhs.
Several times, particularly in the aftermath of Chattisinghpora massacre, there were provocations from certain quarters of the country asking us to leave Kashmir but we did not.
Because we are the minority of a place where the majority is taking care of us, we do not and need not to be scared.
Moreover, the Sikhs' place in Kashmir is tied to the origin of Sikhism, since Guru Nanak Devji had visited Kashmir and established Sikhism in Kashmir.
We have our historical, revered religious places here. We live with the blessing of these holy places.