Check out the images section for new album of photos from Afghanistan by Pritpal Singh.
Bayat Foundation Winter Aid Program in 2013, assisted “Ahl-Honoud community” in Karte-e-Parwan Daramsal – Kabul.
More than 100 families were granted foodstuff and winter clothes by Dr. Ehsanullah Bayat – Founder of Bayat Foundation and Mrs. Laya Bayat – Co Chair of Bayat Foundation.
“Sarbat Sangat Kabul Guru rakhega….
Sarbat Sangat uppar Meri khushi hai…”
– Paatshahi 10 Samat 1756.
The above quotation is from a Hukamnaama of Guru Gobind Singh of 1699 CE, blessing the Sangat of Kabul. The opening and concluding lines of the Hukamnaana (edict) read: “Sangat of Kabul, the Guru will save you…. I am pleased with the Sangat of Kabul.” (Reproduced by Giani Kartar Singh Sarhadi, “Kes Philosophy”, 1960 p.189)
Today, there is fear and desperation in their empty eyes. They have no livelihood and no work; and their growing children receive no education. Their daughters do not have much hope of finding suitable matches; and they are not certain where the next meal would come from. Many women and children live in Gurdwaré, Sikh place of worship relying on Free Kitchen
And so, a young adventurous Afghan Sikh, Pritpal Singh, who had left Afghanistan 2 decades ago, set out from the UK to document the suffering of fellow Afghan Sikhs and Hindus communities in Afghanistan. The film “MISSION AFGHANISTAN by an Afghan” portrays “the life and hardships of minorities in War-torn Afghanistan.”
Those who could afford it, left the country. Those left behind have hardly any means of support. They have no present and no future.
These are Sikh women with children, widows and families left behind in a war-riven Afghanistan. Together with the Hindu community, their numbers are dwindling, as they live from day to day in many towns in Afghanistan. The situation of women is made worse because this is an conservative country where women are confined to walled enclosures and cannot go out to work.
They cannot even dispose off their dead with dignity. Cremations are done with stealth in fading light and away from the sight of local communities.
Even Gurdwaré of great historical significance are in a state neglect and disrepair.
The country has been torn apart by war for decades and peace is not in sight when the Americans, British and other foreign troops leave. For minorities like the Sikhs and Hindus, the situation is quite hopeless. As a Sikh lady points out in the documentary, they cannot just depend on short term handouts by generous Sikhs from abroad.
The need is for sustained support projects which set up schools and also provide work for the poorer Sikhs in Afghanistan. Much can be done by the more prosperous business Afghan Sikhs who are doing well in Sikh diaspora countries like the UK, Germany, India, UAE & US.
Funded by Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Southall (UK), Pritpal had only a very limited budget. The main advantage of this low budget but professionally produced documentary was that, with one local cameraman, and dressed as an Afghan fluent in Farsi & Hindko, Pritpal was able to merge and mix with communities, and keep a low profile in a highly dangerous environment. Travelling on mined countryside roads, strewn with destroyed army vehicles, he was able to film remote places and intermingle with communities in a war zone. This is a country where tourists make attractive targets for hostage-taking by terrorists, and filming crews have to travel with convoys.
Pritpal returned from this dangerous mission with, in his words, “The treasure of well over 1500 photographs and films of key historical Gurdwaré, Mandir & Mosques of Afghanistan – something which has never been done in past!”
He travelled to Kabul, Jalalabad, Sorkhrod, Agh Sarai, Charikar, Salang and Ghazni.
Truly, his mission to bring out the truth about the desperate condition of his fellow Sikhs in a country where their forefathers lived for thousands of years, is a remarkable achievement. He loves his country of origin and is concerned that “if they migrate to other countries, our history and our historical sites will vanish”.
It is a highly informative journalistic documentary. In Hindko, English, Farsi, Panjabi & Pashto with English subtitiles.
Written by Gurmukh Singh
UK Civil Service
Source: Deutche Welle - 3-Dec-2012
For hundreds of years, Hindus and Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan. But even after the fall of the Islamist Taliban regime, they face growing discrimination, forcing many to leave.
Sometimes you can recognize them on the streets, usually because of their black or wine-red turbans and opulent beards. Others look no different from the rest of the pedestrians, aside from the fact that they may be homeless.
Hindus and Sikhs are a religious minority in Afghanistan. But, despite being there for centuries, they are discriminated against for their beliefs. The war years forced many people belonging to these two non-Muslim minorities to leave the country.
Some, however, returned after the Taliban were overthrown. Arandar Singh is one such person. The 50-year-old Sikh was born in Kunduz. He owns a shop and wears a black turban and a long, black beard. Other than that, he wears typical Afghan clothing. Singh sees himself as a part of Afghan society and calls the local residents his brothers.
“We are treated well by the government and the locals. Work and daily life are satisfactory. We also pursue our religious obligations,” says Singh.
People of a different faith, he says, are welcomed as neighbors by the Muslim majority. In Afghanistan, Muslims make up 99 percent of the population. Most people see Hindus and Sikhs as Afghans and appreciate that they stay out of all the political machinations.
According to Ahmad Farid, a resident of Kunduz, the Hindus and Sikhs are “very simple people who do their work and don’t cause trouble.” He says they are very open and friendly and that he has never experienced bad behavior on their part. “We have to respect that they have a different religion because that is an Afghan tradition – and they respect ours,” Farid points out.
Singh says that he has friendly relations with his neighbors and, despite religious differences, no problems have cropped up. But the actual problem for both minorities is that they have no property and no houses, he says quietly. For this reason, they have to live in temples, the so-called daramsaal. This is also where their children go to school.
“Even today, no one in Kunduz has offered us a house or property. We have complained about that often and still demand that people who live in temples get land, but we have no private property,” says Singh.
Hindus and Sikhs do not belong to the same religion, but due to their small numbers, they visit the same temples and belong to the same community. They are also viewed as one and the same group by other Afghans. And one problem unites them: the fact that they own no property. Mid November, they organized a protest march to demand a piece of property to build a crematorium. They chanted “Down with the government. Aren’t we also Afghans?”
“When you don’t even get a cemetery, that means you’re not welcome in your own country,” says Darniwar Singh, a Sikh.
“We have no crematorium to cremate our dead and perform our rituals. When someone dies, we have to burn them in a temple,” he explains. “But then, our Muslim neighbors complain about the smell and the smoke.
“The mayor of Kabul has promised to make land available for rituals and a park and build homes. Something that is urgently needed.”
‘Over our dead bodies’
The property, which the government has promised, however, already belongs to the Afghan Karokhail clan, and they have reacted sharply to the government’s concession. A visibly outraged clan leader said he possessed the official title to the property and had no intention of giving it up.
“We do not accept this. Ten thousand families live here and you can only get the land over our dead bodies, even if we have to fight to the death. The president personally decreed that we may live here,” he said.
The clan leader refers to rights granted to himself and to clan members.
As long as Hindus and Sikhs are guaranteed the right to shelter and to practice their religion on the one hand, and the residents of Kabul refuse to sacrifice their property on the other, it seems unlikely the row can be resolved.
Many of the country’s minorities feel singled out as the number of Hindus Sikhs continues to drop. Arandar Singh says there were once 120 minority families living in Kunduz before the war started and they fled the country. And while many have returned since the Afghan War, many of those people are leaving again as they face poverty and homelessness.
Singh is one of the lucky ones. He spends most of his days at his store. He says that means a lot for someone who has no roof over their head.
KABUL (PAN): Members of the minority Sikh community rallied against residents of the Qalacha neighbourhood of Kabul for opposing the cremation of their relatives’ bodies.
Dozens of protestors in Pashtunistan Ward also accused the Afghan police and army of preventing them from burning their dead in line with their religious tradition.Afghan News they wanted to burn their dead relatives in Qalacha.
But area people and security forces did not allow them to perform the cremation ceremonies, he complained, asking the governme
They also carried a woman’s body in a vehicle and sought a place for cremating it. One protestor, Raji Singh Dilnawaz, told Pajhwok nt to drive Sikhs and Hindus from the country if it could not resolve the problem.
With his collar torn and a loudspeaker in his hand, Dilnawaz chanted: “Down with a government that can’t give us our rights. Aren’t we Afghan citizens, aren’t we sons of the soil?”
As the protestors wept and tossed bottles in the air, one of them, Darwand Singh, blamed Qalacha residents for opposing the cremation of Sikhs’ bodies in the area.
“Afghan police and soldiers slapped me and said we will never be allowed to follow our tradition,” warning of continuing their protest and blocking the road.
According to another demonstrator, Avatar Singh, the Ministry of Religious Affairs has failed to keep a 2003 promise regarding the creation of a crematorium. The problem needed to be addressed on a priority basis, he said.
A Sikh member of the Senate, Anar Kali Honaryar, also participated in the protest. She explained residents, not security forces, had prevented the cremation ceremony in Qalacha.
The lawmaker claimed winning a promise from the security personnel regarding an early solution to the problem. She demanded the arrest of the elements stopping Hindus from burning their dead relatives.
Every day, Ariana Afghan Airlines, Safi Airways, Kam Air, SpiceJet and Air India bring as many as 650 Afghans to New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport from Kabul – students, traders, asylum seekers, tourists and, most of all, patients looking for treatment that is not available in their country.
Once the winter sets in, and the Delhi weather becomes more amenable to the Afghans, this number will rise to 2,000.
Such is the rush for seats that flying to Kabul (it fetches Rs 9 per kilometre per seat) has become more profitable for airlines than flying to London, Singapore or Dubai (Rs 4 each).
As a result, there is a community of Afghans taking shape in Delhi, around which has sprung a small but thriving economy.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reckons there are 9,000 Afghan residents in Delhi and its suburbs (which are home to over 10 million people) – 90 per cent of these are Hindus and Sikhs who began to move to India in small batches after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in larger groups after the Taliban came to power in 1996.
But there is an even larger floating population that comes for a few days, weeks or months. The Indian embassy in Kabul issued 65,000 visas last year.
After he lands at the airport, an Afghan’s fate in the city is in the hands of the tarjuman, literally a Dari-English-Hindi (Dari, a variant of Persian, is spoken by almost half of Afghanistan) translator but also a guide, confidant and facilitator.
Hiring a tarjuman can cost him Rs 500 a day. (The tips at the end of the assignment, before the visitor boards the flight back to Kabul, can be as high as Rs 10,000.)
In his blue checked shirt and fitted jeans, Haroon, 40, has the air of a seasoned tarjuman.
He came to India barely a year ago and has picked up a smattering of Hindi and English, but that’s good enough for him to be in business. In fact, he operates at the top end of the market. “I deal with only the VIP category – mainly patients – for Rs 1,000 a day.”
And then there’s his other “job”. Located off a bustling street frequented by Afghans, Haroon’s office in South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar is a cubby hole with dark-blue walls, shaded by a tree that blocks its signage: FRRO Registration.
This is just one of the many local counters where facilitators help Afghan nationals register online with FRRO, or the Foreign Regional Registration Office, on their arrival in India for a fee of Rs 100-150.
“Every day our office helps as many as 30 to 40 Afghans register with the FRRO,” says Haroon. There are hundreds oftarjuman in Delhi.
Freelancers such as Haroon have competition these days. Dheerendra Singh Tomar, 38, a Mumbai lad who relocated to Delhi in 2006, was quick to sense the opportunity.
He has raised a corps of 50 translators, called Afghan Helpline, who receive the Afghan at the airport, help him find accommodation, show him around, and also see him off.
“Since I had heard that some translators were fleecing international patients, I decided to bring a few trusted interpreters under one umbrella and let them work after due identity checks,” says he.
Tomar has priced his services too at Rs 500 a day – the same as a freelance tarjuman. If all his translators are engaged, Tomar’s venture can yield Rs 25,000 a day, Rs 7.5 lakh a month and Rs 90 lakh a year.
But his agency has begun to hit the freelancers – mostly displaced Hindus and Sikhs. “I often get intimidating calls from some translators, who feel threatened by the transparency I’m trying to bring into the business,” says Tomar.
He hasn’t stopped with Afghan Helpli#8800 he also manages CureMax, a month-old medical tourism company that runs a swanky multi-specialty clinic tucked away in a basement on Delhi’s Siri Fort Road. Most of his patients, of course, are Afghans.
What Tomar does on a modest scale, larger hospitals are doing in grand style. At Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, 30,000 international patients came for treatment in 2011, of which 36 per cent, or over a third, were Afghans.
According to a spokesperson of the hospital, most Afghans come to the oncology, cardiology and orthopedic departments.
Other South Delhi hospitals such as Max Devki Devi have also gained from the influx of Afghan patients.
These hospitals, thus, have dedicated desks for Afghans, free translation services, and even information centres in Kabul. The chemists aren’t far behind. In South Delhi markets, drug stores with bright green and red signs in Dari have sprung up along bustling lanes.
“They buy medicine in bulk for three or six months, till they come back again for treatment. They have been coming in such great numbers that I’ve picked up Dari from them,” says a chemist in Lajpat Nagar, who also stocks Olay beauty products, which finds more customers among Afghan men than women.
The flood of Afghan medical tourists has also meant a thriving rental accommodation business.
Ironically, in Hindu- and Sikh-dominated South Delhi, where most homeowners are wary of renting their property to local Muslims, the Afghans face hardly any problem.
On a muggy Sunday morning in Hauz Rani – a village in South Delhi overlooking Max Devki Devi Hospital – a sleepy-eyed Afghan tarjuman in floor-sweeping pajamas sloshes his way through a sludge-covered narrow lane squeezed between several tall tumbledown houses.
He stops outside a three-storey house and cranes his neck to peep through its slightly open front door. A salwar suit-clad woman swings the door open, gives him a knowing look, and leads the way to an apartment inside.
“[It's available for] Rs 900 a day, with geyser and TV, electricity extra,” she says. It’s a two-room apartment, painted in tacky green, with a kitchen off the main bedroom and a bathroom.
Another two-bedroom apartment in the locality is getting a makeover. Inside an en suite bedroom, wires dangle from the ceiling; below, on a floor strewn with wood chips, sits a bed on which lies a dusty fan.
“(It’s for) Rs 1,200 a day; there’s woodwork, a TV, AC, kitchen. It will be rent-ready in one day,” informs an Indian facilitator who also runs a grocery in Hauz Rani.
“This shopkeeper will get a cut of at least Rs 300. During winter months [when the trickle of Afghans becomes a flood], a decent apartment worth Rs 1,500 a day costs Rs 3,000. Let’s walk further. I’ll show you more, better houses,” says Amin Ibrahim, a 20-year-old Afghan from Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan.
This is Ibrahim’s sixth visit to India; since 2009, he has flown to India for his gastroenterology treatment, has accompanied his mother for her orthopedic surgery, his elder brother for neurological treatment, and is again visiting for his brother’s aesthetic surgery.
On Saturday evening, a hesitant Ibrahim had agreed to be part of a house-hunting expedition the next day and was badgered into posing as spouse.
His preliminary advice: “Wear a kurta, not too short, not too long, hair tied up, wrap a dupatta around your head, put on a pair of jeans, avoid eye contact, and conceal your pimples. You could pass yourself off as an Afghan woman in Delhi. Just do not speak – that will give the game away.”
The steady stream of Afghans in the national capital has also spawned a burgeoning restaurant scene, but mildly-spiced food geared to the Afghan palate is not the only thing that brings newly-arrived Afghans to these eateries.
“Our restaurant is a one-stop shop. Many Afghan patients carrying luggage head here straight from the airport. We get people to help them with accommodation, hospitals and translation,” says Ismail Pirzada, who runs Kabul Delhi restaurant in Lajpat Nagar. Ninety per cent of Pirzada’s customers are Afghans, most of whom are patients
looking for a taste of home.
You can feast on a meal of Qabli Pulao (long-grained steamed rice containing mounds of lamb or chicken and garnished with julienned carrot, raisins, almonds and pistachios), manto (steamed dumplings stuffed with mutton and onions),borani banjan (eggplant) et cetera here for Rs 300-400.
No Afghan meal is, however, complete without bread, or naan. ”During peak season, we sell 1,000 naans a day,” reveals Sarvar, 40, over a cup of piping-hot chai sabz (green tea), as he squats on a red rug spread out on a platform inside his cave-like shop on Bhogal’s Central Road.
From five in the morning till well past midnight, five men and a scalding clay tandoor churn out loaves of bread from fermented wheat flour - naan gerda (round), naan khasa (oval), roghani (slightly greasy) – which sell briskly at Rs 10 apiece.
As evening wears on, a multitude of Afghan refugees, mostly hired as salespersons and translators, throng the many Afghan restaurants and bakeries that have come up along Central Road, a vibrant replica of a Kabul street.
Away from the hustle of the marketplace and further down the street, a red hoarding reads: Learning Academy. Inside a basement, across at least five rooms, Prawal Mani Tripathi’s finishing school offers Afghans lessons in English for Rs 500-1,000.
“The current batch comprises 40 Afghan students. After October 15, this number will go up to 70,” says Tripathi, 30, a fast-talking Bihari who set up this academy last year.
“All my students, whether Indians or Afghans, are required to give presentations from time to time on Mahatma Gandhi,” says Tripathi.
No wonder, then, that his classes give lessons in much more than English – discussions among Afghan and Indian students on polygamy, ethnic strife, the Kashmir issue and suchlike make for a unique melting pot.
“Once an Afghan man, accompanied by his burqa-clad wife, demanded that he be allowed to sit in class while she learns English and that there would be no eye contact,” says he. “I rejected the first condition; accepted the second. She completed her course in three months.”
For some women, Delhi provides an escape from conservative Afghanistan.
“They respect women here and no one cares what you wear, at least here in Delhi,” says Majooba Suresh, 28, who’s dressed in a natty pink top and slim-fit denim trousers.
This is ironical since Delhi is infamous for being the most unsafe place in India for women.
A former Oxfam gender manager in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Badakhshan, she has come to India for dental treatment, accompanied by her husband and two children.
A few short steps away from Suresh’s squeaky-clean apartment in Lajpat Nagar, painted a pleasing pink, stands a glass-fronted cosmetic store with clinical white walls.
Inside, Freba, 25, hair swept back in a ponytail, is neatly arranging beauty products on a glass shelf.
For someone who fled her country a year ago with a younger brother and five-year-old daughter to escape a divorced husband’s unrelenting efforts to gain custody of their only child, Freba is reasonably settled in her new life.
A native of Wazir Akbar Khan, an affluent neighbourhood in northern Kabul, she is registered as an asylum seeker with UNHCR and gets by on a salary of Rs 12,000 per month.
Ask her how she’s coping and Freba comes alive. “Ye ab ghar hai; azaad lagta hai” (This is home now; it feels free), she beams in pidgin Hindi, looking out the glass door.
By Lalit K Jha Jul 30, 2012 – 22:15
WASHINGTON (PAN): Minority religious groups continue to suffer discrimination in Afghanistan, where the populations of Sikhs and Hindus have been shrinking, the United States said on Monday.
“Members of minority religious groups continue to suffer discrimination under the law and the government often did not protect minorities from societal harassment,” said a US State Department report on religious freedom.
Two Christian converts mentioned in the previous report were no longer detained, it explained, blaming the Afghan government for enforcing existing legal restrictions on religious freedom selectively and in a discriminatory manner.
During the year, the report said, there were no incidents involving individuals attempting to proselytise, but some faith-based NGOs reported continued monitoring by government entities.
The congressionally-mandated document referred to unconfirmed reports of harassment of Christians thought to be involved in proselytising. There were reports of international aid organisations being falsely accused of — or affiliated with — proselytizing.
“As in previous years, Hindus and Sikhs complained of not being able to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs, due to interference by those who lived near the cremation sites,” the State Department said.
It claimed the government did not protect the right of Hindus and Sikhs to carry out cremations. However, a Sikh senator requested the intervention of the Ministry of Interior to provide protection and escort to Hindus and Sikhs in the event of cremations within their communities.
Subsequent to the senator’s intervention, they were able to cremate the remains, the report said, adding the community continued to petition the government for land on which to carry out cremations.
“By 2001, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs. Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, but others have since left Kabul due to economic hardship and discrimination.
“Estimates from Hindu and Sikh religious leaders indicate that their population shrank in the past year as compared to the year before,” the report said.
According to the document, in situations where the constitution and penal code are silent, including apostasy and blasphemy, courts relied on interpretations of Islamic law, some of which conflict with the country’s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.