By Ashish Kumar Singh and Wakar Amin:
While the status of Jammu and Kashmir has been changed, there remain various issues yet to be redressed by the current Modi-led NDA government. One among them is to maintain the peaceful co-existence of different religious communities in the state. As per the 2011 census data, Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim majority state in India, with about 68.31 percent of state population following Islam as their religion. Hinduism is the second most popular religion in the state, with approximately 28.44 percent of followers, while Sikhism is followed by 1.87 percent, Buddhism by 0.90 percent, Christianity by 0.28 percent and Jainism by 0.02 percent. The percent of Sikhs in the valley is a mere 1 percent. New data about the population post-August 5 decision of abrogation of Article 370 is currently not available.
The post-1989 period in Jammu and Kashmir saw an abrupt massive sociopolitical change. This has been the phase of an armed insurgency, especially in the Kashmir valley which was supported by Pakistan. In this situation, the religious minorities, such as Kashmiri Pandits (Hindus), Sikhs, and Christians, felt insecure and started leaving the valley. This period has witnessed a large scale exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley. This onset of the armed insurgency also witnessed the migration of some Sikhs and Muslim families from the valley. But by and large, it is reported that most of the Sikh families had stayed back in the valley despite the turmoil. The mainstream media, political narratives, and academic research have been mainly focused around forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits, not the other affected communities. This issue has also been mostly untouched by civil society organisations.
Largely, Kashmir did not see a wave of friction between Muslims and Sikhs. However, there were events such as Chittisinghpora massacre, (20 March 2000- in which 35 Sikhs were killed by Pak-supported extremists) and Mehjoor Nagar killings, (Feb 2, 2001- 7 people were killed, 16 wounded) that shook the inter-community bonding. There were other individual events in which one or a few Sikhs were killed; warnings were issued against Sikhs to leave the valley, (2008 and 2010) and discrimination against Sikhs was on the rise. To date, there have been very few studies trying to show the life of Sikhs as a religious minority group in Kashmir.
In a study, conducted by the scholars of the University of Kashmir (supported by Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR)), we looked into the lives of Sikhs staying in all ten districts of the Kashmir valley, i.e., Srinagar, Baramulla, Kupwara, Budgam, Bandipora, Ganderbal, Pulwama, Anantnag, Shopian and Kulgam. We tried to understand the sense of alienation among Sikhs after the emergence of armed insurgency post-1989, to check existing policies addressing Sikhs as a religious minority and to recommend policy interventions. Sikhs as compared to Pandits, have shown their firm resistance to leave the valley. They have faced multiple economic, as well as psychological challenges, resulting from the conflict.
The conflict has affected their earnings and psycho-social well-being. Lack of information about government policy interventions has also been reported. Though there were promises by the successive governments after the Chittisinghpora massacre, and Mehjoor Nagar killings, on the ground, not much has been done leaving the community to survive on its own.
We would be able to share the detailed findings in our upcoming research article, though we felt necessary to give a glimpse of the situation, as any such discourse on Kashmir will be looked through the lenses of ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘Kashmiriyat’. It has become even more important after the recent status change of Jammu and Kashmir.
About the authors:
Dr. Wakar Amin is an Asst. Professor at the Dept. of Social Work, University of Kashmir, Srinagar, headed this study.
Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate at National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow worked as a research consultant.)