“Forced marriage and conversion” of Sikh girls : Some facts By Muzamil Jaleel

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The controversy surrounding the marriage of a Sikh girl and the politics around it needs to put in proper context.

First, inter religious marriages/ elopements have been happening and will happen always in every society. Kashmir is no exception. In majority of the cases, the families of these inter religious couples and even the society at large disapprove such relationships/ wedlocks particularly across South Asia and Kashmir is no exception in that.
Most of the times when such things happen, it isn’t even reported and people in general don’t know about them. The families – mostly the girl’s family – approaches police. They look at two aspects – Whether these two people are adult and whether they have married etc out of free will. Most of the times, the girl is produced before a court where she gives a statement and the outcome of this investigation etc concludes the case. If there is any force/ coercion used, it becomes a case of abduction and the man faces the brunt of the law. If it is established that the marriage etc has taken place with mutual consent (especially the girl’s free will), the police allows the couple to go home. At times, the courts order the administration to provide security to such a couple if they face threat from the families.

In the recent cases involving a Sikh girl, the facts were distorted and a politician who parachuted from Delhi ( Manjinder Singh Sirsa ) created a vicious narrative by making highly objectionable remarks, targeting and demonising the entire Kashmiri Muslim community.

The girl is 19 (as per court records) had eloped with a 29 year old man. The girl’s family approached the police, who picked up the couple for investigation. The couple gave a statement before the police and subsequently, the girl was taken to a court where her statement was recorded. During her statement, she has said that she married the 29-year old out of her own free will and has faced no coercion at all. The leader, who flew from Delhi to organise a protest in Srinagar, claimed that the girl’s family were not allowed to be present inside the court when the girl was making a statement. The law is clear that whenever such a statement is recorded, the person (the girl in this case) has to be alone to avoid any pressure. No one is allowed to be present during the recording of such a statement. There are enough evidence in the media saying that in her statement, the girl has categorically said that the decision to marry was her own without any coercion/ force.

The police took the couple to the Srinagar district court to record their statements on 26 June. While the girl’s statement was being recorded, agitators gathered outside who were led by president of Budgam and Srinagar Gurudwara Committee Santpal Singh and Jaspal Singh. According to Kashmirwalla, Santpal casted aspersion on the judiciary and described the woman as “mentally unstable”.

Though the girl told the Court that she has taken this step (conversion and marriage) out of her own free will, the police decided to hand her over to her parents. Local Sikh leader Jagmohan Raina has said that it was possible only after the intervention of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha’s advisor Baseer Khan. Sirsa too explained it later. Addressing a gathering at a Gurudwara in New Delhi after his return (along with the girl and her new Sikh husband), he said. “A place like Srinagar where one does not know when bombs and bullets will go off. In Srinagar, the city was brought to a halt. The administration kneeled and the SSP and IGP reached the spot. They said give us some time. We said take time today but we want an answer from the Governor in yes or no. The Governor [Manoj Sinha] called us at 4 pm. The administration was directed to do anything but this kind of lawlessness will not work here. I salute my brothers.”

Sirsa, who has joined Akali Dal (SAD) after quitting the BJP, came to Kashmir with a purpose and it wasn’t limited to the issue of this inter religious marriage. The local Sikh community had complaints against the administration especially police, saying they are not listening to them. Sirsa, however, started a venomous discourse, invoked “love jihad”, a conspiratory reference hatched by the Sangh against Indian Muslims, and accused the entire Kashmiri Muslim community to have aided what he falsely claimed forced conversion and marriage of Sikh girls. Sirsa also lied to make it convenient for his venomous anti-Muslim campaign. He claimed that the girl had been “abducted at gunpoint and married to a 60-year-old [Muslim] man.” He also demanded that the anti-conversion law which is the flagship project of RSS must be implemented in J&K.

Here are Sirsa’s statements:
On June 26, Sirsa said: “I request @OfficeofLGJandK to address this issue of Srinagar in which a Sikh girl (mentally disturbed) has been given to the family of a Muslim guy in the name of love by the Court. The family of the girl wasn’t even allowed to attend the court’s proceedings while the boys whole family was inside the court. This is biased action towards the minority Sikhs and this is not the first case of conversion of Sikh girls in the name of love. The girl’s family seeks her custody for a week and after that she can choose to take the decision as she wants. It is important to ensure that the girl is given freedom to take her decision which seems to be missing in the way court has behaved today.

Here is another statement: “Sharing more details in the case with Hon’ble @OfficeofLGJandK – Sikh girl was kidnapped on gunpoint. It is not a case of love; but the court has ignored it and given the girl‘s custody to man‘s family. The case of Sikh girl’s conversion is not of love but stinks of forced conversion. The girl’s age is 18 while the boy is 60. We urge Hon’ble LG, Jammu and Kashmir to kindly give DSGMC delegation some time tomorrow. We wish to meet him to seek justice for the girl & her family”.

On 27th, Sirsa issued the following statement – “DSGMC delegation going to Srinagar today to ensure Manmeet Kaur gets justice. She was kidnapped on gunpoint and forcibly married to an elderly. Despite police assuring Manmeet’s parents that the girl will be handed over to them; no action has been taken in their favour yet”.

In a next statement on the same day, Sirsa said: “I am at Srinagar joining the protest with local Sikh community against forced Nikah and conversions of Sikh daughters who are forced to marry elderly of different religion. I urge Govt of India to take stern action against such kind of Nikah happening in the valley. I request local leaders of Srinagar and Mullanas & Muftis to come in support of Sikh daughters. Sikhs were at the forefront ensuring Muslim daughters reach home safely during CAA protests but no Muslim leader has come to raise voice against forced conversions of Sikh girls.”

In another statement, Sirsa said: “We will not tolerate forced Nikah and conversions of Sikh daughters living in Kashmir who are forced to marry elderly of different religion. I urge Govt of India to take stern action against such kind of Nikah happening in the valley. Sikhs living in J&K urge Amit Shah Ji for a law that mandates permission of Parents in inter-religion marriages.”

Soon after meeting Lt Governor Sinah, Sirsa said: “Thanking Hon’ble LG, Jammu & Kashmir Manoj Sinha Ji for immediately issuing directions w.r.t the issue of forced Nikah of Sikh daughters in Srinagar. He has assured us that the Sikh girl who was forciblyconverted would be returned back to her family. He addressed our concerns related to the safety of Sikh girls in the valley and this harmful trend of religious conversion. We also expressed the demand of having an inter-religion law which would mandate parents’ permission. We also handed him the letter of Giani Harpreet Singh Ji, Jathedar, Sri Akal Takht Sahib. We also discussed the issue of Local Gurdwara Land in the meeting to which he readily agreed upon. He also agreed on setting up a Minority Commission in the state to address the issues of minority Sikhs. Thanking him once again for assuring that stern actions will be taken against those forcing Nikah or conversions on minority Sikh girls.”

Sirsa also said: “A few months ago, Kashmiri Girls were safely escorted to their Respective Homes across Kashmir by the Delhi Sikh Youths. But look at how daughters of Sikh families are being treated in Kashmir now. Sikh girls are forcibly married and converted in Kashmir but no local leaders, Muftis or Mullahs have come forward to Support Sikhs and ensure justice for Sikh daughters.”

On June 27, Sirsa said: “Just had a tele-conversation with Home Min Amit Shah Ji w.r.t to the issue of Sikh girls forcibly married and converted in Srinagar. He assured us that he is monitoring the situation closely. He has taken details of the case from @OfficeofLGJandK also. He has assured us about the safety of minority Sikh girls in the valley and the girls would be soon returned to their families. He has given time to meet the Jammu& Kashmir Sikh delegation soon to discuss the ground issues and address the minority’s concerns.”

On June 28, Sirsa met J&K DGP Dilbag Singh. Here is Sirsa’s statement: “Met up with Sh Dilbag Singh Ji, DGP, Jammu & Kashmir Police w.r.t issue of Sikh girls’ forceful conversion. He assured us Sikh girls’ safety would be given utmost priority and stern action would be taken against culprits. He reiterated Sikh Girl would be returned back to her family soon.”
On June 29, the girl was hurriedly married again and this time to a Sikh man. This marriage took place in a Gurduwara in Pulwama. While announcing this marriage, Sirsa said that the girl along with her husband have accompanied him to New Delhi. And when Sirsa came out of the airport along with the girl, a crowd of supporters was already waiting. Here are Sirsa’s statements after reaching Delhi.“We have succeeded in raising our voice against forced Nikah and Conversions happening in Kashmir. With the blessing of Guru Sahibs and thanks to the support of Sangat, Sikh daughter, Manmeet Kaur from Srinagar, who was forcefully converted is now back to her family. She is coming to Delhi with us today”.

Sirsa didn’t stop. He took the girl and her new husband to Bangla Sahib Gurdwara. Here is his statement:

“Paying obeisance at Gurdwara Sri Bangla Sahib with Manmeet Kaur, the Sikh daughter from Kashmir who was forcibly converted. But her family fought for faith and justice and got her back. Manmeet Kaur has come to Delhi to take Guru Sahib’s blessings and thank the Sangat for their support.”

The way Sirsa projected this case of inter religious marriage and targeted the entire Kashmiri Muslim community, his aim is very clear. He and few Sangh affiliated men from Sikh community in Kashmir that includes a businessman (a known wheeler dealer) and few others (who have been accused of embezzling donations in a gurudwara by their own community) were primarily on mission to defame and demonise the entire Kashmiri Muslim community and ride over the Sangh’s bigoted wave against Indian Muslims across India so that they can harvest petty political benefits out of it. This is clearly linked to SGPC elections and also the upcoming polls in Punjab and UP. Sirsa is falsely positioning himself as the saviour of Kashmir’s Sikh minority and demonising of Kashmiri Muslims is part of that narrative. Sirsa was till recently with BJP and he is using the Sangh playbook here.

The fact that the Muslims of J&K and particularly Kashmiri Muslims have been crushed and completely disempowered especially after August 5, 2019, this oppressed community is now seen as a fair game by everyone. “Lie. Creat a fake narrative. Further demonise Kashmiri Muslims” is the new mantra. There are no costs for doing this. Sirsa did exactly the same. There were few local Kashmiri Sikh leaders who understood the game behind this and tried to distance themselves from Sirsa and his local supporters but their voices were drowned in the din. The leader of Kashmir’s All Parties Sikh Coordination Committee Jagmohan Singh Raina questioned the falsehood spread by Sirsa. He told me that once Sirsa’s motive became clear to them, the Srinagar Gurdwara committee distanced itself from him. He categorically saw the Sangh foot print in it and cautioned that they won’t allow any outsider to sow seeds of distress between the Sikhs and Kashmiri Muslims who have maintained cordial relationship.
The role of the administration and police has been extremely problematic in all this. They issue statements on every small incident but this time they maintained a strategic silence. The police too didn’t speak at all. First, if there was any truth in Sirsa’s vicious propaganda, why didn’t the administration take any action. The police investigated the case. They know the facts. Why didn’t they issue a statement? Why silence? The reason is clear. The facts of the case don’t match the propaganda initiated by Sirsa and they don’t want to contradict him. And once the girl has made a statement in court and categorically denied any coercion, how did police hand her over to her parents and Sirsa? Is it in accordance with any law? Jagmohan Raina, in fact, spoke about his conversation with Advisor, saying he intervened to make police handover the girl to them. Sirsa too has spoken about how they pressurised the police and administration.

It is a fact that way this narrative was built to demonise the entire Kashmiri Muslim community by Sirsa and his supporters, it didn’t concern the administration. It actually fits well with their own narrative.

Sirsa and his supporters in Kashmir accused the entire Kashmiri Muslim community for what they falsely term ‘’marriage and forced conversion of Sikh girls”? They are publicly asking as to why was the civil society/ religious leaders etc of Kashmiri Muslims silent over the issue? First such cases where a woman decides to marry/elope with a man from a different religious isn’t confined to one community alone, it happens in all societies where different communities live together. Here are extract of two complaints filed by Kashmiri Muslim parents before police this week only.

“As reported by Gh Mohd Rather s/o Gh Mohi u din r/o Chararipora Pakherpora that his daughter namely Murafat Jan, age 20 yrs, left home 25/06/2021 to be on picnic with her would be husband Muzaffer Ahmad Malla r/o Tharuna Shopion. Since then she did not came back. Reportedly she has eloped with one JCB driver namely Ankush singh r/o Ghavo Jaladhar Punjab. In this regard FIR no. 79/2021 U/S 366 IPC has been registered in PS Chf.”
“Application received PP Mirgund from one person namely Fayaz Ahmad Maglo S/o Gh Ahmad Maglo R/o Mirgund that his daughter namely Junofer fayaz (17) has been kidnapped by one Pankaj Dogal S/o Raju Dogal R/o Delhi. In this regard case Fir no 196/2021 u/a 363 Ipc registered in police station pattan.”
So accusing an entire community of a “conspiracy” because a youngster from among them decided to marry/ elope with the girl from a different community. Although the act is well within the confines of the law, how is the entire community involved in it. There is hardly anyone other than the relatives and neighbours of these two individuals who knew about it till it was made public. But once the civil society/ religious leader of Kashmiri Muslim community came to know about the protests by members of the Sikh community in Srinagar, almost all the major groups visited or spoke to the Sikh leadership, assuring them help and solidarity.

There is hardly anybody from among the Kashmiri Muslim community who holds any important and decision making post in the police and administration. No one among Senior Superintendent of Police, Srinagar, DIG, central Kashmir, IGP is Kashmiri Muslim. The DGP is himself Sikh. There is no Kashmiri Muslims among the top officers of the civil administration. Thus it is ludicrous to even think that anybody from within the administration would have stayed silent if it was a case of abduction.
The other bizarre and disrespectful comment was to tell Kashmiri Muslim community that their children were helped when they were being attacked for being Kashmiri Muslim across India. Sirsa repeatedly said this, so did his supporters.

Kashmiri Muslims are going through challenging times. They have been systematically demonised without they getting a chance to respond to the false and concocted allegations levelled against them. They are unable to open their mouth in protest because of the oppression. A Kashmiri Muslim is jailed for saying he doesn’t have expectations from non-local bureaucracy. Kashmiri Muslims have not demanded solidarity from anybody while they face worst kind of oppression, individually and collectively.
The cordial relations between Muslims and Sikhs in Kashmir have survived difficult times because both communities acted wisely and compassionately each time any outside force tried to vitiate the atmosphere. In fact, Kashmiri Muslim community cherishes this relationship and has always stood up for their Sikh brothers and sisters. This is exactly why people without knowing the facts of this case or understanding the politics played around this case came out in full support of the Sikhs. In fact, there is hardly anybody who came out to support the 29-year-old from their own community. People disregarded the facts of the case to come out in support of the Sikh minority because they value the cordial relationship and are aware that there are forces who are making every effort to vitiate the atmosphere and create a wedge between the two communities. Fortunately, Sirsa’s venomous words and actions didn’t impact Kashmir. There is a need that the politics played around this issue by Sirsa and his supporters (hidden and public) is questioned strongly so that it doesn’t achieve its goal outside Kashmir.

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Disclaimer: “Forced marriage and conversion” of Sikh girls : Some facts By Muzamil Jaleel - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view

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