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Govt vows to protect Sikhs in Kashmir

Militants have reportedly threatened Sikhs living in Kashmir to either convert to Islam or leave.

New Delhi: Amid an uproar in both houses of Parliament, the government said on Friday that it was committed to the safety of the Sikhs in Kashmir Valley where some Sikh families have reportedly received anonymous letters from extremists asking them to either embrace Islam or pack up.

The Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned for half hour when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded a clarification from the government. The Lok Sabha saw heated scenes. While External Affairs Minister SM Krishna made a statement in the Rajya Sabha, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke in the lower house.

"The government is fully aware of (the threats). Not only the Muslims of the valley but whole India will rise to protect Sikhs. It a small section of terrorists and extremists (that has threatened them) and I assure you that nobody is with them," Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha after an uproar.

"The protection of minorities is a concern of the government and we will strive to see that minorities, wherever they are, remain protected. It is a fact that Kashmir is a part and parcel of India, there is no ambiguity and we are not open to any talks on this issue," said Krishna in the upper house.

Home Minister P Chidambaram said he had spoken to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who has assured him that every effort would be made to provide adequate protection to Sikhs in the valley.

"We are aware of the so-called threat. There is nothing to fear or nothing to worry," he said in the Rajya Sabha.

Terming as "absolutely unacceptable" the reported threat to Sikhs in Kashmir from militants, Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur today asserted the community would continue to stay in the Valley.

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Rattan Singh Ajnala raised the issue in the Lok Sabha when the house met at 11 am.

Ajnala referred to media reports about the letters threatening Sikhs if they did not join the protests against civilian killings in the Valley.

The SAD member said Sikhs had "offered maximum sacrifices in the India-Pakistan battle and this is what we are getting in return".

National Conference MP from Kashmir Mehboob Beg condemned the incident and said the "entire Kashmir Muslim community was with their Sikh brethren and will ensure their safety at any cost".

"After I read the report, I feel we are as much hurt as you are. Every Kashmiri Muslim will fight against it. This is a conspiracy by a few extremist elements to damage the communal harmony in the valley," Beg said.

In the Rajya Sabha, which had to be adjourned, the issue was taken up by the BJP soon after question hour. As Deputy Chairman K Rehman Khan called for laying the papers, BJP members rose from their seats demanding a reply from the Prime Minister on the situation of minorities in Kashmir.

"The Prime Minister has said Kashmir is a part of India, then why are Sikhs being forced to leave the valley," BJP member SS Ahluwalia asked.

They said the Pandits and now the Sikhs were being forced to leave the Kashmir Valley.

Amidst the din, the house was adjourned twice for 15 minutes consecutively making it a half hour adjournment.

The 60,000-strong Sikh community is the single largest minority group in the Valley after Hindus fled in the early 1990s when the armed separatist war backed by Pakistan erupted in Jammu and Kashmir.

The All Party Sikh Coordination Committee (ASCC) has alleged that several community members have received these letters.

Hardline Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani has reassured the Sikhs saying they should not feel threatened and ignore the "fake letters". He has assured the community that nobody would force them to join the protests.


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