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Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Caught between fake news and ‘real worries’, Kashmiri Sikhs walk on edge

Talking to The Indian Express, Kashmiri Sikhs said they have struggled to present their real concerns over alleged forced conversion as the narrative in popular media is often dominated by fake news.

Written by Kamaldeep Singh Brar | Amritsar |
July 9, 2021 4:11:07 am
The Kashmiri Sikh community was in the eye of a storm last month after an alleged forced conversion of a Sikh girl and her subsequent marriage to a Muslim man. (File)

A FAKE memorandum praising the abrogation of Article 370, CAA and demanding a law to stop alleged forced conversions in lieu of marriage, that went viral on social media, has created ripples not only in Kashmir’s political circles but also within the Sikh community.

Initially assumed to be the original submitted by a delegation led by the chairman of All Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee Baldev Singh Raina to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, the memorandum provoked strong responses from the Kashmiri Sikh community, including senior leader Jagmohan Singh Raina, who criticised the Sikh delegation and the demands made in the document.

It has now come to light that the original memorandum submitted by the delegation had no mention of section 370 or the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

“The fake copy is intended to mislead the people of J&K and create social disharmony. It is most egregious and wrong on the part of those who are deliberately circulating incorrect information to create misunderstandings about the Sikh community in the public domain,” said Baldev Singh Raina.

The Kashmiri Sikh community was in the eye of a storm last month after an alleged forced conversion of a Sikh girl and her subsequent marriage to a Muslim man. However, police sources had told The Indian Express that the girl told the magistrate she had married of her own free will. A few days later, she was sent back to her family, and later married off to a Sikh man in Srinagar.

Talking to The Indian Express, Kashmiri Sikhs said they have struggled to present their real concerns over alleged forced conversion as the narrative in popular media is often dominated by fake news.

Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee president Manjinder Singh Sirsa, and his rival in Delhi gurdwara politics, Paramjit Singh Sarna, had gone to Kashmir in the last week of June to investigate “allegations of a Sikh girl being kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and marry”.

Jagmohan Singh Raina said, “There was no gunpoint abduction in that case. The facts of the case were manipulated to stir tension. It is Kashmir not Afghanistan.”

“Kashmiri religious leaders like Mufti Nasir-Ul-Islam have condemned the incident and said that no nikaah is possible without the presence of the girl’s parents. So such statements are in themselves law against forces conversions and marriages. Defaming Kashmir is neither in the interest of the nation nor the Sikh community,” he added.

“There were some false reporting and claims in this case. It has hurt the Sikh community inside and outside Kashmir. There was no abduction at gunpoint. The age of the girl too has been misreported…But we wanted investigation into the allegations of forced conversion,” said Dr Kulbeer Singh Badal, a Kashmiri Sikh who has completed his PhD from Punjab University, Patiala, on the topic ‘State, Society and Economy in Suba-I-Kashmir Under Sarkar-i-Khalsa’ (1819-1846).

Dr Kulbeer said he has been moderating discussions on social media platforms after the recent case in Kashmir.

“There is another aspect involved also. Local Kashmiri Muslim religious leaders spoke on the issue and condemned such marriages only after Sirsa’s entry, which made locals realise that Sikhs can’t be taken for granted. Earlier, there was hardly anyone in Kashmir paying attention to the voices of the Sikhs. At the same time, Sikh leaders should be very careful and any effort to milk the situation for political or personal gain may hurt the community in the long run,” he added.

When contacted, Sirsa said he was not from the BJP or RSS: “It is very easy to blame someone. I am not a BJP man when I support the farm protests. But I become a BJP man just because I visited Kashmir? On Tuesday, two more Sikh families from Kashmir have approached me with allegations that their daughters were taken away. What should I do now? Should I refuse to meet them? Not only this, I know of a similar case from Haryana where an upper-caste Hindu man allegedly abducted a minor Sikh girl. Such allegations against me don’t make any sense. I am just standing with my Kashmiri Sikh brothers.”

Komal J B Singh, a Kashmiri Sikh who has done her PhD on the topic ‘Sikhs in Kashmir: a study of key moments in the identity formation’, said: “Sikhs of Kashmir represent the plurality and diversity of Kashmir. They have stood here despite all. They have genuine concerns, and it’s time that their struggles are recognised. Their demand of investigation shouldn’t be snubbed. However, vilification of an entire community needs to be condemned.”

Insecurity can’t arise from just one incident: Akal Takht Jathedar

Akal Takht Jathedar Giani Harpreet Singh said: “These were the Kashmiri Sikhs who had reached me with a demand for an anti-conversion law. The Sikh community in Kashmir cannot feel threatened by just this one incident. There must be some history and ground to this fear. It is not difficult to understand that the unrest over the recent incident within Kashmir has its roots somewhere else.”

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