by Farzana Versey
Countercurrents, August 20
Has anyone asked this crucial question? Before it can be voiced in cogent terms, the government ’swings into action’ to protect the Sikhs. Let us not forget that the Congress party had done no such protecting of the community in the capital city and the rest of the country in 1984. Those who were indicted and held responsible for the carnage managed to hold important portfolios and stay in power for years. People are still waiting for compensation.
Therefore, the central government’s prompt action – and it is rather surprising that not only does it come from the home minister, but also the finance minister and the external affairs minister – reveals that it has found a new ruse to deal with the people’s movement in the Valley.
Unlike the Kashmiri Pandits who were systematically made to ‘flee’ by vested interests, the Sikhs are not an extremely wealthy or powerful group and decided to stay back. As the largest minority group comprising 60,000 people, they faced problems just as the other locals did. Now there is news that they have received letters asking them to join the protest or convert to Islam. Some of these letters state: “When you are enjoying the joys here, why can’t you share the grief and sorrow of Kashmiris as well? We know you are afraid of bullets. Hold protests inside gurudwaras or leave Kashmir.’’
In these notes there is no mention of conversion. There is a call for joining forces and fighting in their own religious places. The coordinator of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (ASCC), Jagmohan Singh Raina, said, “Our community members have received unsigned letters at various places. Some letters have asked Sikhs to embrace Islam.’’
He said his people would not leave and much rather fight the “evil designs’’. It must be noted that these are unsigned letters. Whose evil designs are these? If members of the community do decide to convert, will it not alert the authorities? Will their converting to Islam not become an even greater hindrance to the civilian war taking place?
Why did Raina choose to appeal to separatist organisations like the JKLF, the Hurriyat and rather incongruously the PoK-based United Jihad Council to ensure peace and amity? Why did he and his organisation not address the issue to the chief minister Omar Abdullah?
The issue reached Parliament and, as reports say, the government “held out an assurance that Sikhs had nothing to fear in Kashmir in the wake of reported threats to the minority community from militants to convert to Islam or leave the Valley”. There is no mention of the letters that asked them to join the protest movement. The NDA members, always on the lookout for such ‘communal’ concerns, had to be placated; Chidambaram told them, “nobody will be allowed to harm the Sikh community”.
Indeed, the community ought to be protected but this verbal heroism is senseless when the local population is being harmed everyday. Has there been such immediate sympathy expressed for the ongoing war and killings of civilians and security personnel? A shoe thrown at Omar Abdullah gets more mileage than the street protests.
Pranab Mukherjee became magnanimous: "Not only Muslims of Kashmir but the whole of India would rise as one to stand by the Sikh community.” When was the last time the whole of India stood as one to stand by a community, and how could it when the establishment orchestrates such harm?
Has anybody informed the whole of India about where those letters have come from? Why did the Sikh representative in Kashmir talk to the militant groups? Why was the PoK organisation informed? Assuming these threats are coming from the Pakistani side, why would they be interested in “peace and amity”? It just does not sound right.
While Syed Ali Shah Geelani has called these letters fake and had on an earlier occasion dramatically stated that the Sikhs could not be forced to join the protests and harming them would be like inflicting a wound on his body, it conveys the impression that his body has a great deal of importance. And if the JKLF and the Hurriyat do have a say in every such matter, then it begs the query as to what is the status of an elected government in the state?
It is a known fact that when militant groups send out threats, they like to flash their credentials. Since this is an upsurge from the ground level, it would be presumed that the locals are sending those letters. This is damaging to them as well as to what they have held important all along – the coexistence with minorities. This is reminiscent of the planted fliers posted on walls during the exodus of Pandits.
This time both the central and state governments do not know how to deal with the uprising in the Valley. Omar Abdullah can only give assurances when he knows well that there is nothing he can do because there is nothing he has done to salvage the situation. The separatist organisations are also riding on the wave rather than taking responsibility for it.
Instead of assurances in Parliament and smart talk, the government should find out where the mischief is taking place and the origin of those letters. The Sikhs who have received them should file FIRs in the police station. That will be the first step towards getting the government involved rather than the government just standing from afar and issuing homilies.
There is far more here then appears evident and the shoe could point in any direction. It’s time for the establishment to talk on its feet.