May 2017 News

Kashmiri Sikhs Tell Tale Of Neglect

8 May 2017
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
M Aamir Khan

Srinagar: Amid a whole lot of issues surrounding the Kashmir region after the eruption of militancy more than 27 years back, the Sikh community of the Valley is feeling neglected and discriminated against. The Sikhs feel that the focus has mostly remained on issues facing the majority community and migrant Kashmir Pandits but there has hardly been a mention of the problems they are facing. The minority community having a population of around 80,000 in the Valley is facing several issues for which they are seeking attention. Migration but 'internal': Even as the majority of Sikhs did not migrate out of Kashmir after militancy, many of them got internally displaced for around two decades. As a good number of Sikhs live in rural areas, especially in Baramulla and Pulwama districts, they had moved to safer areas in the 1990s but were then left to fend for themselves after return to native places. 'Eighty per cent of Sikhs of Kashmir live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and horticulture activities. After militancy, a large number of them shifted to cities and towns due to safety concerns for around 20 years. However, they are now struggling to make ends meet after returning to their original places. Their cultivable lands, which had remained unattended for two decades, has been ruined. We urged the government to extend similar benefits as given to Pandits for returning to Kashmir, but there was no positive response,' said All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC) chairman Jagmohan Singh Raina. No political representation: Raina's concerns were seconded by Dr Jaipal Singh Bali, a resident of Baramulla in north Kashmir. He said the Sikhs, especially from rural areas, were suffering because the community had 'no representation.' 'Forget the Cabinet, we do not even have representation at the tehsil-level. We are just living by the grace of God and just spending days and locked up in our own circle. No one talks about us. Sikhs are facing unemployment issues but we have few options,' he said. Raina said the Sikhs who returned to villages after 'internal migration' needed a package similar to that of migrant Pandits. Caught between two regions: While some returned to their original homes, many are shuttling between Kashmir and Jammu and are not settled properly. 'After militancy, around 30,000 Sikhs went to Jammu but many did not permanently settle there. Around 15,000 are now shuttling between Jammu and Kashmir. They may gradually settle down in Jammu. This slow migration too is a concern,' said Raina. Besides, he said those Sikhs who returned to the villages were facing problems while applying for state subject certificates. 'They are asked whether they are migrants when they apply for it,' he added. The APSCC said the population of Sikhs in the Valley was close to 80,000 but it had been put at 55,950 as per the census 2011. Raina claimed that the internally displaced Sikhs were not counted during the census exercise. Struggle to keep Punjabi alive: Whenever the Valley Sikhs protest or invite media attention, they always rake up the demand of filling of vacant posts of Punjabi teachers and lecturers in the schools and colleges besides setting up the Punjabi Department at the University of Kashmir. 'Before 1989, nine colleges had lecturers for Punjabi. However, now Punjabi is taught only at two colleges and one of the teachers is ad hoc. Even though the number of colleges in Kashmir has increased over time, no effort has been made to fill posts of Punjabi teachers and lecturers at a time when our community is facing unemployment issues,' Raina said. Promise not kept: The Sikhs said former Chief Minister (late) Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had promised them minority status, a long-pending demand, but then the present ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) 'betrayed' them like past governments. 'We faced many problems related to our security, economy and preserving our language. We feel if we get minority status, our community will benefit to some extent. While the previous governments did not pay attention to our demand, the present PDP government too betrayed us. Before the Assembly election, Mufti Sayeed had promised us minority status. Unfortunately, the present PDP government then forgot the promise and we faced betrayal yet again,' said Raina.