Is the fear of militancy reducing in Kashmir, with a semblance of religious tolerance? In Tanmarg, 40 km north of Srinagar, a tumble-down, 90-year-old gurdwara (place of worship for Sikhs), with just two rooms, is giving way to a new one, being built by Sikh men, women, and children, who have come voluntarily from villages around the place to erect the three-storey structure.
The place falls on the way to the world-famous resort of Gulmarg, 52 km north of Srinagar.
The fact that this activity is going on with mountains and dense forests behind, where once the threat of militancy was ever present, indicates that the fear factor is ebbing.
After this gurdwara is completed, another will come up in Tral, a Sikh-dominated place in the south of Kashmir, about 30 km from Srinagar.
In Kashmir old gurdwaras are being renovated and new ones are coming up as the nearly 90,000-strong Sikh community is now again finding its feet in the place. Many had fled the Kashmir valley, along with Hindus, in the 1990s.
“There is no fear now. We are constructing this gurdwara to keep our religious traditions alive and identity intact,” says Aaya Singh, 45, joint secretary of the Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Baramullah, 50 km north of Srinagar.
Surjit Kaur, 38, a resident of Dardpora village, about 10 km from here, has come to do voluntary service (kar seva).
“It is my faith that has brought me here,” she said, pointing at more than 70 others engaged in kar seva. Many of them take food from their community kitchen.
The project will cost more than Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million). An elderly Sikh sitting on a cot has before him a basket, in which donors put their offerings.
“It’s just a token offering that we accept,” says Baba Jasbir Singh, associated with the kar seva organisation run from Delhi, which helps in building gurdwaras all over the country.
Baba Jasbir Singh says that his organisation has been visiting the valley since 1986, but in some intervening years it didn’t because of the militancy. “We have constructed the gurdwara of Chevi Badhshahi (in honour of Har Gobind, the sixth Guru) in Uri (a border town 100 km north of Srinagar), and will be completing this (Tanmarg) one by early next year, he said.
“Most of our funding comes from Sikhs across the country, especially Punjab,” he added.
The valley has 80 villages where Sikhs have a presence.
Kashmir had been part of Maharjah Ranjit Singh’s Sikh empire in the first half of the nineteenth century.
The community’s scriptures say that the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, and Guru Har Gobind had travelled extensively in Kashmir.
There are gurdwaras in places they visited — Bijbehra, (45 km south of Srinagar), Mattan (57 km south of Srinagar), Awantipora (30 km south of Srinagar), Uri and Baramullah.