Once Kashmir of the Sikhs

D S Sodhi
The title may surprise some of the readers but I have specifically chosen this to help the readers relive an intrinsic but forgotten chapter in the history of Kashmir that throws light on the contribution and sacrifices made by Sikhs.The recentPulwama attack and its aftermath took Kashmir narrative to a different level. Though the national outrage after the dastardly attack on the paramilitary forces was justified, this outrage had its ill effect in that some innocent students and businessmen of Kashmiri origin were attacked and humiliated in various parts of the country. It was only when the Supreme Court intervened that the government came out with directives for protection of the students and Kashmiris working outside Kashmir. A question that is very relevant today is that “Who is a Kashmiri”? unfortunately people in general have been connecting a Kashmiri to a person of only Muslim Faith.
Kashmir had the distinction of being a multifaceted secular state with a unique cultural blend.The Divine Connect of Kashmir and various religious faiths as well as beliefs like Sufism, Rishism and Sufi Mystical Music of Kashmir (SAMA) enriched the Valley. Kashmir witnessed transitions from Hinduism to Buddhism to Kashmir Shivaism and finally Islam, however, what continued to influence the lives of the people was the concept of the “composite culture.” Considered as the Land of Rishis, Munis and Sufi saints who believed in the magnanimity of God and spread the message of universal brotherhood, Kashmir today is in focus for all the wrong reasons.
The Sikh community too is an integral part of Kashmir and a Kashmiri Sikh has always felt proud to be called a Kashmiri.The connect of Sikhs with Kashmir goes back to the visit of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev Ji who travelled extensively in Jammu and Kashmir during his Third Udassi (1514-1518 AD) entering the state from Damchock, Ladakh.
The Sikh community played a very important role in protecting Kashmir against the Kabali invaders in 1947 making huge sacrifices.During the watershed years in Kashmir and despite threats, Sikhs of Kashmir showed courage and determination and continued to stay in Kashmir. When the Quit Kashmir movement started in 1940s, the Sikhs played their role, before the ensued period of turmoil in the run up to the 1947 events left them strife-stricken. The partition and the ensued bloodshed distressed the community to an extent that they became silent minority. But even after they stayed put in the tumultuous years of militancy, the massacre of year 2000at Chattisinghpora in which 35 Sikhs were brutally killed badly rattled the community once again. The slaughter coming on the heels of the visit of US President Bill Clinton to India was the first time when the Sikh minority was targeted. This incident not only shook Kashmir but the entire nation. The Sikhs were once again confronted with the thought that “Should the Sikhs migrate from Kashmir”? This massacre had a great impact on the psyche of the Sikhs, but they continued to stay put in Kashmir.
Though settled in different parts of Kashmir,they share the common cultural space with the majority community. The Sikhs of Kashmir are vibrant minority who continue to play a proactive role in Kashmir’s political, economic and cultural theatre by always rising above hate and hostility. The Sikhs have stood by the entire Kashmiri community in trying times and 2014 floods come to my mind as one of the examples when each and every Kashmiri irrespective of faith stood united to fight the calamity.The Sikhs opened the doors of the Gurdwaras for the affected people providing them food, medicines and shelter.Subsequent to the Pulwama attack when some Kashmiri students studying outside were assaulted as also the time when the national Highway remained closed for quiet sometime with many Kashmiris stranded in Jammu and Udhampur, the Kashmiris from various parts of the country expressed their gratitude to the Sikh community who came forward and provided them with protection and shelters in the hours of distress.
14th October 1586 could be considered as the darkest day in the history of Kashmir when Mughal forces finally entered Srinagar in triumph through treachery and what followed were miserable conditions for the people. Kashmir was reduced to lowest depths of poverty, degradation and slavery. Also, the reign of terror in Kashmir by Afghans broke the patience of peace-loving people of Kashmir. Fed up with atrocities of Afghans, Birbal Dhar(revenue collector) along with his son Rajakak Dhar approached Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab for help. Maharaja Ranjit Singh who desired to extend his rule to a larger territory and having failed in 1814 to concur Kashmir, decided to annexe Kashmir.The Sikh Rule was established in Kashmir in Jun 1819. Kashmir was governed by 11 Governors from 1819 to 1846. It was unfortunate that Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself could not visit Kashmir. Maharaja Ranjit Singh never forced Sikhism on his subjects. He created an atmosphere of religious tolerance in which Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were all appointed to high offices. The official language used in Kashmir was also not changed. During the Sikh rule (which lasted for27years), the circumstances and the environment were difficult and providing the much-awaited healing touch was a herculean task. I agree with the views of Walter Lawrence who has stated “I do not mean to suggest that the Sikh Rule was benign or good, but it was at any rate better than that of the Pathans”.
The nation has been celebratingaccession of Jammu and Kashmir to India however, no mention of the supreme sacrifices made by the Sikhs of Kashmir is made. People have completely forgotten that from 22 oct to 26 Oct 1947 till the time Indian forces landed in Kashmir, it was the Sikhs who resisted the invasion of the Kabali’s. Thousands were massacred and equally displaced. Whereas, a memorial of Maqbool Sherwani has been built in Baramulla and is being protected by the security forces, the government has conveniently forgotten to remember the martyred Sikhs.After Balakot strikes, various TV channels debated filling of the 7 Parliamentary seats and 24 Assembly seats reserved for Refugees and displaced Migrants. Kashmiri Pandits having faced the seventh exodus from Kashmir have raised the issue of nomination of seats for displaced Pandits and rightly so. Whilst participating in such debates I noticed that no one even remembers that the Sikhs too have suffered and got displaced (fearing threats to their lives) from their villages leaving behind their sources of income and livelihood. The Sikh community also needs to be given due representation whenever the issue of nomination of such seats is considered.
The Sikh community in Kashmir has been raising the issue of grant of minority status, representation in Government,discrimination in jobs for migrants under the Prime Minister’s packageand other such welfare programs however,the general impression is that neither the state nor the government at centre has paid any heed to their requests. Under the present circumstances one is pained and I have no hesitation to say that “OnceKashmir of the Sikhs” is now a region where the Sikh community lives as a neglected minority.
(The author is a commodore, NM)