April 2000 News

Sikhs determined to stay in Kashmir despite massacre

2 April 2000
News International

Chattisingh Pora: The Sikh community in held Kashmir is determined to stay in the troubled region, despite being shattered by a massacre of Sikh villagers last month. ''I will continue to live in Kashmir with my Muslim brothers. Initially I was adamant to leave Kashmir, but the sympathy of the majority community leaders made me change my mind,'' said Raju Singh, who lost four close friends in the massacre. ''For the moment, the general feeling among Sikhs is that they want to stay. But if there is another incident like Chatisinghpora, Sikhs will have no other choice but to leave,'' said Kanwaljeet Singh, a government employee. Since the massacre, the Sikh leaders have rejected the government offers to help arm their community and set up ''self-defence'' groups in Sikh-dominated villages. ''The guns only look good in the hands of the security forces. The majority community is our best protection,'' said Charan Singh Bali, spokesman for the influential Sikh forum, Kashmir Sikh Joint Action Committee. He said: ''We are totally against any Sikh migration and our forum has succeeded in restoring confidence to the shell-shocked community.'' The massacre was the first such attack on Sikhs in held Kashmir, who make up just over one per cent of the state''s eight million population. ''Having guns would only make us more vulnerable,'' said Joginder Singh, who advised Sikhs to try to put the massacre behind them in the continued belief that ''our future is in Kashmir.'' The Sikh leaders held a meeting following a collective prayer ceremony in Chatisinghpora on Friday, during which they endorsed a three-point memorandum. The memorandum stated that Sikhs should continue to live in Kashmir, appealed to Sikhs both inside and outside the state to maintain communal harmony, and demanded a judicial probe into the massacre. Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has added his voice to those warning against a knee-jerk migration. Badal recalled the Sikh migration to Punjab from various parts of India in the wake of a wave of anti-Sikh violence that followed the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984. ''Initially the migrants were welcomed, but after some time they were left to fend for themselves. Please do not take a hasty decision regarding migration,'' Badal said. Kashmir police chief Gurbachan Jagat said that some 100 police posts had already been set up in Sikh villages across Kashmir to help restore the community''s confidence. ''The massacre has shattered our confidence. Who knows what is in store for us,'' said Preeti Oberoi, a schoolteacher in held Srinagar.


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