A Tale of Two Communities 

"Outsiders are trying to exploit the situation between the two communities in the region": Jagmohan Singh Raina, local Sikh leader
"Sikhs part and parcel of Kashmiri society, no place in Islam for ‘forcible conversion": Grand Mufti

AS the dust settles, it has become clear that the Zoya (Manpreet Kaur) affair was an orchestrated political drama whose purpose was to polarize communities and prepare ground for the upcoming elections in Punjab and Delhi. This was Shiromani Akali Dal’s experiment with the right-wing model of electoral success. The main protagonist of this political drama flew from New Delhi with a bunch of his supporters, sat in a protest in Srinagar against a fabricated case of forcible conversion of Sikh girls and went away, for his supporters, as savior of the Sikh community.

No doubt the Delhi Sikh leader got a lot of political mileage out of the Manmeet Kaur affair. But while he made a triumphant return to Delhi – parading gloomy Manpreet (Zoya) before the media and declaring victory “against forced Nikah and Conversions happening in Kashmir”, he and his supporters left behind them a trail of ill-feelings. By invoking the bogey of ‘Love Jihad’ and resorting to Islamophobic tropes and remarks, the Delhi Sikh leader and his supporters (from outside and within Kashmir) have inflicted damage on the cordial relations between Muslims and Sikhs in Kashmir.  In one stroke, the political opportunists have sowed seeds of mistrust between the two communities who have for long maintained inter-community harmony and solidarity because they both have been at the receiving end of the majoritarian state.

When the case of two Sikh women emerged for the first time around 28 June, there were discussions on the Club House on the issue. I found some of my Kashmiri Muslim friends and acquaintances trying to reason out with the members of the Sikh community, assuring them of unconditional support and solidarity. ‘We stand with our Sikh brethren’ was a common refrain/hashtag in many social media posts of Kashmiri Muslim netizens, who reminded each other that Sikhs supported and helped in February 2019 when Kashmiri Muslims were targeted in Indian cities and towns and we must reciprocate at this moment, though full details of the case were not known. On 29 June, social activist Mohammed Afaaq Sayeed wrote in his Facebook post, “I reiterate, we stand in solidarity with our Sikh brethren. Their daughters are our daughters. We as a society shall never allow anyone to exploit their daughters.” He and other social media influencers also extended their solidarity to Sikh community directly on Club House and at the same time cautioned against outside elements who were trying to create a wedge between the two communities.

Club House discussions were fruitful to some extent. I heard a diasporic Sikh acknowledging that his misconceptions were cleared through direct communication with Kashmiri Muslims on CH where he was apprised of the facts of the case. That was the good part of the story. But the bad part was that some heated arguments were also exchanged when discussion veered off to religion and history, and when a few Sikhs made objectionable remarks. Soon a CH room was created with the name “Unapologetically Muslim”. The moderators of this room emphasized that solidarity was a two-way process, and it was not acceptable that despite offering solidarity and support some members of the Sikh community continue to indulge in Islamophobia and parrot the right-wing narratives by targeting Kashmiri Muslims. So, through a few political opportunists, the Sangh successfully managed to trigger ill-feelings between the two communities which soon boiled over into a series of vicious exchanges.

Nonetheless, while Sirsa and the gang hogged the limelight (with the help of right-wing aligned electronic media), there were voices from within the Sikh community who understood the larger political game and took a stand against Sirsa’s communal politics and politicization of a marriage between individuals belonging to two different faiths. On 30 June, Khushhal Singh, general secretary of Kendri Singh Sabha (KSS), an organization of Sikh intellectuals, took exception to Sikh leaders in Delhi intentionally stoking “a religious frenzy over the issue.” On 2 July, KSS issued another statement where the organization called out Delhi Sikh leaders for becoming willing instruments of the Sangh’s sectarian agenda. The KSS statement criticized the involvement of the Jathedar in the issue and said that “Most Sikhs feel their religious sensibilities have been hurt as some self-proclaimed Delhi Sikh leaders aligned with the ruling BJP made the Jathedar write the letter which fits into the Sangh Parivar’s political programme of projecting a certain minority as an ‘aggressor’ and pitting other minorities against that.”

Jagmohan Singh Raina, president of All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee, also condemned Delhi Sikh leaders, whom he accused of using Kashmiri Sikhs for elections.  Describing Kashmir as a sensitive state, he cautioned against politicizing the issue which can burn Kashmir once again. In a press statement on 30 June, he said “The Sikh community in Jammu and Kashmir has been living in harmony with the majority Muslim community. Over the years many attempts were made to create a wedge between the two communities by the vested interests. However, the nefarious designs got defeated due to the strong bond that exists between the two communities.”

While Raina displayed moderation and condemned communal politics, his twin demands of implementing Inter-Caste Marriage Act and Anti-Conversion Law in Jammu and Kashmir was problematic. His rationale was that these laws “would stop the forcible conversion of people belonging to any religion whatsoever.” This statement implies that there were forcible conversions in J&K. But is there any evidence to back up the claim? Also, has he weighed in the implications of these laws for Muslims who are the target of the right-wing? At present, three BJP-ruled states have promulgated anti-conversion law which criminalizes conversion during marriage: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. Is it too difficult to understand which particular community is the target of this law? Is it not clear what they imply when the law is projected as anti-Love Jihad?

In her investigative report published in The Print (12 Jan 2021), Ananya Bhardwaj shows that under Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020, “86 people have been booked in 16 cases involving allegations of conversion for love or marriage among Hindus and Muslims. In all, 54 people have been arrested — including friends and family members of the main accused. The key accused in all the cases are Muslims.”

Senior advocate and executive director of Centre for Law and Policy Research, Jayna Kothari, has termed UP’s anti-conversion law as “draconian” and violative of fundamental rights because it imposes onerous requirements on the couples who seek inter-faith marriage. Another problematic aspect of the anti-conversion laws (currently in operation in BJP-ruled states) is that they put burden of proof on persons who facilitated the conversion. In case a magistrate is not satisfied with the proof, the facilitators or those who caused the conversion can be booked for criminal offence. Facilitators could mean family members, friends, relatives, a religious cleric who solemnized the marriage or the conversion. Thus, asking for a law that could potentially be used against a specific community is not wise.

Raina’s demand for Inter-caste Marriage Act has been criticized by some members of the Sikh community. Research scholar Preetika Nanda wrote on her Facebook: “Kashmiri Sikh leaders are now demanding an anti-conversion law and inter-caste marriage act to uphold caste endogamy which is in direct contravention of Sikh ethos and principles. Ironically, they want new laws but refuse to accept a woman’s statement in Court.” Similarly, National Vice-President of All India Students’ Association, Kawalpreet Kaur, has termed the demand for anti-conversion and inter-caste marriage act as “obnoxious, unjust and inhuman.” She further wrote on Twitter (2 July) that those asking for inter-caste marriage act are doing “major disservice by going against its [Sikhism’s] fundamental tenants of casteless society. Sikhism doesn’t believe in Caste.”

While there are forces that seek to harm the Muslim-Sikh relations to consolidate their ideological project, there are also brave voices of moderation and resistance which seek to build a society based on fairness and justice and create solidarities across caste, religion and gender. The fascists will try to sow discord, pit communities against each other and exploit situations to justify their ideological project, those on the right side of history will resist in multiple ways. There are genuine grievances of Kashmiri Sikhs that must be heard and addressed, but one thing needs to be understood: the binary of majority-minority does not follow neatly in the context of Kashmir. Muslims despite being in numerical majority do not possess any real power. The power lies elsewhere, in New Delhi. New Delhi is the majority. Muslims have been politically disempowered, subjected to an array of unjust laws and legislations. Any new law that contributes to their further marginalisation and persecution (from the backdoor) should be resisted and opposed by those who believe in justice. In the future, if origination of any unjust law is traced to the demands of the Sikh community, that is bound to create hard-feelings among those who are at the receiving end of that unjust law.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Muhammad Tahir

The author is an independent researcher

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