Almost 75 years ago, when India and Pakistan broke free from the British, large swaths of the Punjab province across the newly created borders witnessed bloody riots between Sikhs and Muslims, forcing the one of the greatest migrations in history.
The scale of the animosity and riots was such that the Muslim population on the Indian side of Punjab was drastically reduced from 33% to 0.5%. A similar story played out in West Punjab also became part of newly created Pakistan.
A field trip to Indian Punjab reveals that a lot has changed in the past 75 years.
In village after village, the predominantly Sikh population has helped revive mosques abandoned seven decades ago due to migration or the killing of Muslims.
In June last year, a Sikh family from the village of Jitwalkalan donated their ancestral land to build a mosque for a small number of Muslim families living in the Sikh-dominated village. The mosque is now in the final stages of construction.
“We used to visit nearby villages to offer prayers. Thanks to the Sikh brothers, we now have a mosque in our village. It means a lot to everyone here and we are extremely grateful to our Sikh brothers,” said said Mohammed Anwar, one of the Muslims in the village, told Anadolu Agency.
He added that the number of Muslim families is around a dozen and it was the Sikhs who helped fulfill their dream of building a mosque.
“90% of the contribution came from the Sikhs. First land, then financial as well. They made it possible to have a mosque for a few Muslim families living here,” Anwar said.
The village of Jitwalkalan is not an isolated example. There are similar stories in different parts of the state, indicating a new impetus in communal friendship and relations between Sikhs and tiny Muslim minorities – in India’s Sikh-majority state.
Mosque Renovation and Recovery Project
Talk to Anadolu AgencyShahbaz Ahmed Zahoor who is associated with Punjab-based Idara Taameerey Masaajid (Mosque Building Organization) said that since 2017 they have been undertaking a project to renovate dilapidated mosques that have been left derelict since 1947. He said than many mosques that were under the custody of the Sikh community are also referred to Muslims.
“We have renovated more than 200 mosques in different parts of the state. About 100 new mosques have sprung up,” he said.
“Several mosques, which belonged to Sikh brothers after 1947, were handed over to us. I think without the support of our Sikh brothers, this would not have been possible,” he said.
A mosque is also being built in Bhaloor village in Ludhiana district with the help of Sikhs.
“We have five Muslim families living here and they did not choose to go to Pakistan at the time of partition. A religious place was needed for them and the whole village came forward and decided to build a mosque” said village chief Sardar Pala Singh. Recount Anadolu Agency.
Several mosques have come to life in many neighborhoods, abandoned since 1947.
In 2010, in the Samrala district of the state, a mosque in the village of Sarwarpur was renovated for just two families.
“Two families remained during the partition and the Sikhs helped rebuild the mosque,” said Gurdeep Singh, the village chief. Anadolu Agency. “Our village is an example of people’s great values and their belief in communal harmony,” he said.
Against the politics of division
As North Punjab state elects its provincial assembly on Sunday, Sikhs and Muslims speak with one voice that they are against the divisive politics propagated by politicians.
“These parties that spread hatred and divide people are not welcome here. In Punjab, Sikhs, Muslims or others, vote for secular parties,” said Maulana Mohammad Usman Rehmani Ludhianvi, the religious leader of Punjab. Anadolu Agency.
“I believe that in Punjab the relationship between Sikhs and Muslims is like an older brother and a younger brother. This will continue and we have often seen examples of communal harmony,” he said.
Unlike the populous state of Uttar Pradesh, India, where anti-Muslim rhetoric has found its way into the election campaign, Punjab stands out as an exception.
Experts say the growing relationship between Sikhs and Muslims has helped keep divisive forces out of power.
“Politicians try to invoke religion in elections, people don’t fall for it,” said Jaspal Kaur Kaang, a Chandigarh-based Sikh studies expert who attributed Punjab’s communal harmony to the secular characters of Sikhism. .
“The Sikh gurus gave a concept of communal harmony to the people. Punjab is secular and they rejected the politics of division and hatred. They focused more on universal brotherhood,” she said.
The municipal card will not work
India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has alleged large-scale religious conversions are happening in rural areas and vowed to introduce an anti-conversion bill if elected to power in the province. .
Zahoor said Muslims and Sikhs had joined hands to keep communal forces out of power.
“We have seen over the years how people mainly bring to power these parties, which are secular in nature,” he said.
In the state’s Malerkotla district, Nazeer Rawat, who works for the welfare of Muslims, echoes Zahoor’s views.
“Any party that plays the communal card here is never elected… people have been living happily with each other in the state for many years now,” he said.