On February 14, when people all over the world were celebrating the day of love, more than 40 paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir.
Those dead were mostly from marginalized segments of society and were deployed in a Muslim-dominated area where an armed insurgency has been going on for years for independence. When it became known that the bomber was a Kashmiri youth, right-wing Hindu groups began targeting Kashmiris all over India.
Those harassed and assaulted were traders and students settled in other states.
While anger over the deaths of soldiers who left behind wailing widows and orphaned children is understandable, there is no justification for punishing the entire community for the action of one individual.
The bomber, 22-year-old Adil Ahmed Dar, joined the militant ranks after being humiliated by security forces in 2016 for no fault of his own. He was detained and forced to rub his nose on the ground as he was heading home. Authorities suspected him of being involved in stone throwing by protesters, who continue to resist Indian occupation of their traditional lands.
Neighbouring Pakistan continues to stake its claim over Kashmir and has been supporting the armed conflict. Kashmir has remained a bone of contention between the two nations ever since India and Pakistan were divided along religious lines in 1947.
Dar’s story was similar to others who took to separatism because of state repression in the name of national security. According to media reports he was once a die-hard fan of Indian cricketer M.S. Dhoni. This simple fact is a slap on the face to right-wing Hindu groups that often question the patriotism of Kashmiri Muslims and see them as Pakistani agents. They frequently accuse Muslims in India of siding with Pakistanis during Indo-Pak tournaments, even though this is more of a myth than a reality.
Dar’s recruitment by a Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), reflects how Indian aggression is fuelling more violence by alienating the people of Kashmir and further strengthening the hands of enemies across the border. Instead of reflecting on this question and using diplomatic channels to pressure Pakistan to act against JEM, supporters of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) began calling for revenge and war.
Not to be left behind, hawkish leaders of the opposition Congress Party—which claims to be a secular alternative to the BJP—also incited people. After all, both parties have been insisting that Kashmir is an integral part of India and won’t budge on that.
But the way Kashmiris are being targeted outside Kashmir proves the contrary. It only shows that the Indian leadership merely cares for the land of Kashmir and has absolutely no compassion for its people, whom they wish to keep under the boots of the army.
Nevertheless, these ugly developments culminated into a happy ending of sorts.
A Sikh humanitarian group Khalsa Aid came to the rescue of Kashmiris who were stuck because of impending threat of mob attacks.
They plucked them from the troubled areas and relocated them back to their home state. In return, Kashmiris have expressed their gratitude to the Sikh community.
Khalsa Aid has truly abided by the Sikh philosophy of Sarbat Da Bhalaa (Well-being of Everyone). In the past too, it has helped people across the world caught up in conflict zones or in areas ravaged by natural disasters across the world—without discrimination!
In the meantime, right-wing Hindu groups have started attacking the humanitarian organization over social media. They did the same when Khalsa Aid organized relief camps for Rohingya Muslims who were forced to leave their homes in Myanmar by the military and Buddhist chauvinists.
Even otherwise, the kind of solidarity Kashmiris have received from the Sikhs shouldn’t surprise anyone. Sikhs too have faced such backlash in the past.
In the first week of November 1984, Sikhs faced well-orchestrated violence following the assassination of the then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards. The entire Sikh community endured collective punishment for the action of two Sikh security men.
The Congress and the BJP joined hands back then as well to terrorize a minority community. Whereas the slain leader’s Congress party was directly involved in the Sikh massacre, BJP supporters joined the gangs as foot soldiers.
Khalsa Aid obviously understood the gravity of the situation as its CEO, Ravi Singh, had warned over Twitter that his group won’t let the Sikh genocide be repeated. Singh had once refused to accept “Indian of the Year” award from a British Indian group, citing injustice to victims of 1984 carnage.
Those not aware of the Sikh history need to know that their ninth master, Guru Tegh Bahadur, laid down his life for the protection of Kashmiri Hindus who were being persecuted under Islamic rule.
By doing that, he set an example when humanity demands us to stand up for others and not just for ourselves. Today, his followers stood up to defend Kashmiri Muslims for the same reason—even as the ruling Hindu nationalists have replaced the Islamic rulers of the past and are mimicking their predecessors in history.