The details of Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Superintendent of Police Davinder Singh’s alleged involvement with militants and purported role as a ‘double agent’ are still not clear, and perhaps will never be. But the incident has opened familiar and painful wounds for the Sikh community in the Valley.
A notification issued by the Narendra Modi government on 22 July 2019 illustrates the point. Issued in response to Referendum 2020, a non-binding vote proposed by the British non-governmental organisation Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) to see whether people wanted an independent Punjab, the notification declares SFJ an “unlawful association” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
The notification further confers powers on eight states and Union Territories (including Delhi and Kashmir), which have a “sizeable Sikh population”, to exercise UAPA as a preventative action against Sikhs who might be brainwashed by SFJ in favour of Khalistan, as explained by a senior home ministry official.
Implicit in this notification is the underlying assumption that each Sikh is plausibly a Khalistan supporter, or at least a sympathiser, and it is in the interest of the Indian state to treat every Sikh as such.
For almost two decades, Punjab and Punjabis suffered the horrors of violence, caught between a Sikh militant movement that demanded loyalty in the name of upholding the Sikh faith, and a counter-insurgent response that tested Punjabi Sikhs’ allegiance to India. While many would say that the Khalistani movement is a thing of the past in India, and Sikhs are by all indicators well-integrated into the country, the assumed association between Khalistan and the Sikhs continues to be a festering wound in the Sikhs’ relationship with India.
Among the many devastating impacts of the Punjab militancy, this is perhaps the most enduring — in India, Sikh loyalty will always be suspect.
Today, there are approximately one lakh Sikhs living in Kashmir. Settled there for generations, Kashmiri Sikhs have borne witness to the political violence in the region since Partition. They have even become its target — on 20 March 2000, armed assailants who remain unidentified gunned down 35 Sikh men in Chitti Singhpora village of Anantnag district.
With trust in Kashmir
Despite this violence, Sikhs resisted migrating en masse from Kashmir. Both Kashmiri Sikhs and Muslims have worked hard to keep the communalisation of their relationship at bay. In my interviews with Kashmiri Sikhs, they describe their official position on Kashmir’s freedom movement as one of ‘neutrality’. They neither support, nor oppose the movement.
The difficulties of being a minority, and the similar fate of Punjab and Kashmir have generated solidarity, and Sikhs sympathise with the struggles of Kashmiri Muslims. Yet, they clearly articulate that any decision for the future of Kashmir should take the Sikh position in consideration.
As a visible minority, the ability to maintain safety, among other important factors, has gone a long way in ensuring Sikhs’ non-displacement from Kashmir. Integral to the lived experience of this safety is the trust that both communities have been able to build, especially in mixed localities, where Sikhs and Muslims live in close geographic proximity. “Yeh militant hamein kuchh nahi kehte hain .Na hum kuchh kehte the, jab hum inhein dekhte the (The militants never say anything to us. We didn’t say anything either when we saw them [in the 1990s]),” P. Singh, a Kashmiri Sikh had told me when I asked him to describe his experiences of the militancy, during the course of my PhD fieldwork in 2018.
A catch-22 situation
The Davinder Singh episode risks upending not only this trust, but once again puts Sikhs in a familiar catch-22 situation. If he was indeed working as a covert government operative, then that stands to shake the carefully built trust between Kashmiri Sikhs and Muslims. If, on the other hand, he was working with militants, then it risks Sikhs being seen as supporters of another militancy against India. Underpinning both scenarios is the unwillingness to trust a state that both communities say has failed them repeatedly.
If the last few years are any indication, then for any citizen to live a life of dignity, proving loyalty to the state — regardless of legitimate grievances — seems to have become of paramount importance in an increasingly majoritarian India. As Indian Muslims can well attest, despite their many contributions to the country throughout its elongated history, their only choice seems to be to fit within the binary of ‘national’ or ‘anti-national’.
Jagmohan Singh Raina, chairman of the All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (APSCC), reminded me of this over a recent phone call, “Jinnah had said [that] the Muslim who leaves Pakistan for India will always have to prove their nationalism. Now, Sikhs will also have to, even though we have sacrificed so much for the nation.”
The author is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Geography and Urban Studies at Temple University. Views are personal.