Interfaith Unity in Kashmir
Kashmir is a Muslim majority territory with 96% Muslims and only 1 lakh Sikhs, who form a minority. However, religious persecution is almost unheard of in the past two decades; rather, the various socio-political conditions have cemented the bond between these diverse communities. Internet bans, curfews, and forming a minority in mainland India are the commonalities that the Sikh, as well as the Muslim community, withstand, and hence they have a lot in common despite the religious differences. Every adversity and affliction that the citizens of this region face, they work together to overcome it and to lessen the consequences of the defilement. Here, we’ll look at some of the instances where the solidarity of Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Sikhs has served as an example of interfaith unity and strength in diversity.
During the devastating 2014 floods in Kashmir, floodwater did not spare any community. Thousands of people had to be rescued, houses were destroyed, and entire neighbourhoods had to be displaced. Hundreds of flood victims found shelter at various Gurudwaras across the state and were grateful to the Sikh community for their contribution in the rescue efforts. Relief camps were set up by the Shri GD Prabandhkar Committee which set up a 24-hour free langer (community kitchen) and provided packed food to more than 7000 people. Medical treatment was provided to over 20000 people of all religious communities at these camps.
Sikh organisations internationally and nationally also extended help and provided donations and reliefs for the rehabilitation of the flood-affected residents. Khalsa Aid, United Sikhs and Australian Sikh Support were among the first charities that rushed their men and provided equipment to carry out the relief work in the valley. A Kashmiri Sikh used his turban to rescue people from drowning and saved many precious lives. Though the damage caused by the floods was catastrophic, the interfaith unity and solidarity reduced the deleterious impacts to an extent and made the recovery and development of the people facile and rapid.
The political situation in Kashmir has been adverse and execrable for decades. The Pulwama Attack that happened in 2019 and the removal of article 370 in Kashmir has had its consequences not just on the people living in Kashmir but also on the Kashmiris living in India.
The internet was filled with hateful messages and defamatory remarks about Kashmiris. There were various instances of verbal abuse and discrimination against the Kashmiri Muslim students studying in various parts of India; this hostility lead to a large number of students returning to the valley till the situation ameliorated. Sikhs in Jammu made arrangements for the safe escorting of these students, with the help of Sikh volunteer group, Khalsa Aid; they helped evacuate about 300 students from Dehradun and Haryana. Local Sikh taxi drivers and residents also guarded the hostels where Kashmiri Muslim students stayed. Local Gurudwaras were thrown open for these students where they were provided with food and shelter.
To show gratitude to the Sikh community in Kashmir, for helping out their Muslim brethren in distressing times, the Muslim community from all sectors left no stone unturned. Local newspapers and social media surged with offers and discounts for Sikhs. Doctors announced that they will be providing free medical checkups to Sikh patients, along with providing discounts on medicines. Various educational institutes offered free admission to Sikh kids. As a mark of respect, legal firms such as M/s N.M. associates provided free legal services to Sikh clients. The perpetuation of communal harmony was also given a tribute by the cartoonist Suhail Naqshbandi in the local newspaper. In Anantnag, Mudasir Ahmad, a local mechanic decided to waive labour charges for washing or repairing automobiles owned by Sikh customers. To show gratitude to international Sikh organizations, hotels offered free stays for Sikh tourists; offers and discounts on snow bike rides were also announced.
Jagmohan Singh Raina, chairman of the All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee was touched by these gestures and professed that Kashmiri Muslims distribute food and other items to their minorities first, in times of crisis. “Our secularism is undisputed. People may say anything but the brotherhood and love in our Kashmir is nowhere else” he said.
The ratio of Muslims to Sikhs in the valley is not comparable, but instead of letting the differences in their religious beliefs cause enmity and hostility, both the religions continue sticking to the principles of their religion and treat each other with the utmost respect. They are accommodative and courteous to one another and work together in times of crisis to ensure the safety and well being of all the citizens, regardless of their religion. The diverse religions coming together to fight against every calamity that befalls them can serve as an example of interfaith unity and the power of solidarity.