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Davinder arrest threatens the fragile trust Kashmiri Sikhs enjoy with Indian state & Muslims

Kashmiri Sikhs describe their official position on the Valley’s freedom movement as one of ‘neutrality’.

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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.

Also read: How a phone call led to arrest of J&K cop Davinder Singh & two Hizbul terrorists

Loyalty test?

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.

Also read: NIA looking into Pakistan, ISI link with arrested J&K cop Davinder Singh

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.

Also read: MHA gets bigger role in picking J&K Police days after DSP’s arrest for ‘aiding militants’

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.

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  1. Very immature article. Sikhs are clearly seen as kafir by the radicalized Kashmiri. Look at the murder yesterday of Bhupinder Singh the Block development officer in Budgam.

  2. Sikh would be suspect in India 🤦🏽‍♀️🤦🏽‍♀️ seriously print…I have never seen any Hindu who thinks like that…the suspect is only for the the people who are visible in the seperatist movement , nice try

  3. I argue against your statement “Sikhs settled in Kashmir over many generations..” leave politics aside… I’m a kashmiri sikh…. my forefatjers didn’t arrive from…. any part of punjab neither did any of the majority sikh population… in J&K… we’re native kashmiris and potoharis… we are convertees not settlers…

    • Dear Gunjot,

      If you are converted then why you people speak Pahari instead of Kashmiri. Pahari speakers have connections outside Kashmir valley and are spread upto Mingora in Pakistan. But local Kashmiri language in not spoken outside the valley. Sikhs might be settled in Kashmir from generation or from Guru Sahib times but they are not native ..

  4. This iis the kind of identity politics of a leftard projecting it to India. She says “in India, Sikh loyalty will always be suspect”. Madam, our last prime minister was a Sikh, who ruled for 10 years and was relected. Our last AirChief and another Army Chief was a Sikh. What non sense are you writing. Are you delibrately trying to mislead Sikhs

  5. Being a true Sikh I believe he should reveal every truth without any fear because Pulwama attack was happened when he was posted there. He should reveal all links to various terrorists attack etc.

  6. Replies to article underline the divide taking place in India. Any nation to sustain itself long has to create just society, accept its diversity, particularly country like India the most diverse country religious, language & culture. But present ruling party wants it to transform into one Language faith & culture followed by Hindus Dominates on rest of minorities. While Hindu them selves are divided among them selves on cast language culture barriers erected. If there is such diversity, there has to be diverse interests too. Only liberal thought on all matter can create just society as our constitution makers imagined & prescribed.
    But present ruling class is totally against it, it see either come under its umbrella & support its view or you will be treated suspect, as every suspect is treated you will be feel ficriminated & lonely within your country. That create danger to country unity.

    • It is only media I see this. At ground level people are united . It is the media narrative that is divisive .
      Just because someone is Sikh or Muslim or Parsi or any non Hindu does not give them a free pass to collaborate with terrorists.
      Don’t fall for such BS narrative

  7. Your liberal contributors are becoming sillier by the day. Should Devinder been let off in the interest of Amity between Sikhs and Kashmiri Muslims. Probably, this was how Kashmir problem was managed between 1990 to 2014. Secondly, issue of notification empowering use of UAPA is the most apt thing to do. As it is proverbial – All terrorists are Muslims, though all Muslims are not terrorists. So is there any point in issuing such notification for say Tamil Nadu or Karnataka or MP which are not likely to have Khalistani separatists? Generally, I felt that quality of articles in the Print was better. In a single day, two trash articles have appeared: this one, and one on supreme court’s involvement in Shaheen Bagh protest.

  8. The author of this article should be aware of the facts that post 1947, India has betrayed the Sikhs at every step. Not only they were not given the autonomous state in the North of India, they were even denied statehood of Punjab, there has been denial of their religion and denial of language. The armed struggle for Khalistan was India’s own creation. For Sikhs And all the Punjabi’s independent Punjab is the only option. Dr Sandhu

  9. Article seems to be trying to sow distrust where none exists. One bad cop turning over due to whatever personal and financial reasons is not an indication of where the entire community is headed. No Indian can forget that Sikhs have always served in the armed forces and police far beyond their numbers. What breaks trust is overwhelming support for foreign militant organizations from Pakistan, waving the green flags in every rally and repeatedly support violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. No prizes for guessing which community in Kashmir is into this and paying for it.

  10. As a Sikh from Kashmir I’m surprised you are a PhD scholar on this issue. Your facts are wrong. Firstly the population of Sikhs in the valley is less than 60k not 100k. Secondly if being over represented in the police and agencies in Kashmir is a sign of neutrality then I don’t know your definition of neutrality. We are proud to be Indians but the problem is both Kashmiris as well as the government treats us like second class people.

  11. Such a vile article. Bordering on the lines of advocating separatism to Sikhs. The author doesn’t outline how they are let down by the country though. I or my friends and family have never seen Sikhs as an outsider, neither have Sikhs acted in that manner. Also, I have not witnessed or heard about any friction between Sikhs and Hindus (as the author is alluding to as the state) except for the riots orchestrated by Congress in the aftermath of Indra Gandhi’s assassination.

    Why is The Print encouraging articles from such divisive thinkers like this author?

  12. one person doesn’t represent the whole community. What he did was his personal choice and nothing to do with the Sikh community at large. It’s same as saying ‘fragile trust with all men broken’ coz Devinder was a man.

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