By Haneen Farid
Last month, Jammu & Kashmir witnessed 12,000 pilgrims leave for Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. Among these thousands of people were two of my family members who were preparing to leave from the city of Baramulla. As is the custom in our hometown, several friends, relatives, and neighbours paid us a visit during the days leading up to the pilgrimage. Whilst this tradition of loved ones visiting us as a show of emotional support was a common courtesy, what was not as common a sight- at least for me- was the active participation of Sikh individuals in this tradition.
For instance, on the eve before the date of travel, we hosted a get-together in our locality when our Sikh neighbour, wearing a Khalsa band over his turban, walked into the house and joined in on the gathering. Not long after, our local imam also entered the living room and his face lit up with happiness upon spotting our neighbour. Not only this, it was undoubtedly him, amongst all the Muslims, who got the biggest hug from imam sa’ab. It was precisely this show of love that drew my attention to the harmony which exists in certain Kashmiri communities and is surprisingly left out of mainstream discussions on the valley.
So in our locality again, there lives a single Sikh family, one of the other members of which is Geet*. I had the opportunity to speak to her about her experience living in an all-Muslim locality; in a nutshell she says, ‘pyaar bohot hai. Agar humein Kashmir na ho, hum kahin nahi reh sakte. Main toh reh nahi sakti, mujhe toh Kashmir itna achha lagta hai’ (there is lots of love here. We cannot stay anywhere else but in Kashmir. I, for one, can definitely not stay elsewhere, that is how much I like Kashmir).
And there are several examples of how we appreciate each other’s identities, where even the smallest of gestures strengthen the bond between us.
On Eid, for example, our elders visit Geet and her family to give their children Eidi. Then on their festivals, they distribute sweets in the neighbourhood. We live as one big family, not once stopping to differentiate between our religious and cultural differences, which truly dissolve in the face of brotherhood that we share. And this sentiment of goodwill is unwavering- so much so that even during the peak of militancy, there was not a single moment when Geet or her family felt unsafe.
It was at this time that hundreds of people would march and raise political slogans, still no one ever made them feel unsafe. As a matter of fact, not very far from the Mohalla is the Baramulla old town, known for protests in the past.
Geet shares that her in-laws lived in the old town during this tumultuous time, and no one ever tried to harm them: ‘Aaraam se rehte the, kabhi kuchh kaha nahi sardaaron ko’ (they lived peacefully, no one ever said anything to the Sikhs).
A similar experience is shared by Roop*, a Sikh who grew up in Batpora, Baramulla. Overall, she describes Kashmiri society as mostly inclusive. In fact, the people of Baramulla felt so secure around each other that a lot of houses did not have any walls or barricades separating them from each other. When questioned about any negative episodes in context of her religious identity, she struggles to think of many but recalls that in 2008, certain protestors verbally assaulted Roop and her father in their locality by calling them ‘kaafirs’, saying that they should leave Kashmir. In spite of this dreadful occurrence, Roop states that she does not look at these people as representatives of the general Kashmiri society. Besides, she confidently says that her feelings towards the valley and its people are mostly pleasant, and that is what must be focused on in sensitive times- the goodness. Because it is only this goodness that can overshadow any evil that plagues our beautiful valley.
So while we seek to address some instances of the persecution of religious minorities in Kashmir, it is important for us to simultaneously study portions of the valley which remain a safe haven for people such as Roop and Geet. This would enable not only an understanding of the conditions of tolerance in this region but also ensure that a single narrative does not unjustly come to define the valley. Looking at Kashmir from this objective lens in addition to conceptualising the dynamics that allow for peaceful coexistence would pave the way for long-term harmony.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a student at King’s College London and is an intern at Kashmir Observer
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