Source: Pajhwok News
by Sultana Rahim Ayubi on 27 January, 2011 – 08:45
KABUL (PAN): When he was 12, Velinder Singh, a Sikh, was bullied so viciously by his Muslim classmates, that he dropped out of school and went to work with his father as a shopkeeper.
“One day my son’s classmates cornered him and forced him at knife point to read out the Quran and become a Muslim,” Porty, the boy’s mother told Pajhwok Afghan News.
Porty said she gave up hope her son would be educated when he left Amir Sherali Khan school in Kabul to work with his father in the store.
Singh is not the only one who has been forced to abandon their studies because of bullying.
There are about 70 Hindu and Sikh school age children living in Kabul, and many have been forced to switch schools or drop out all together, according to Cheran Singh, deputy of Hindu and Sikh Association of Afghanistan.
Sadon Singh, 13, was also student at Amir Sherali Khan school but switched to Aryana private school because of the cruelty of his fellow classmates.
“When the teacher was not coming to class, a few of my classmates would remove the turban from my head andlaugh at my hair. They would not give me my turban back until I cried a lot.”
Sandep, Sadon’s younger brother, also switched schools due to the teasing. “My classmates threw balls at my head and called me potato. They also made fun of me while I was eating, saying all Sikh food is dirty.”
The two boys are now studying at a private school, where a stricter style of management means there is less teasing.
Otar Singh, an appointed member of the Meshrano Jirga, the upper house of Parliament, and head of Temple committee of Kart-i-Parwan, said Sikhs do face a lot of discrimination, but for the children it is worse.
“Our children are insulted and humiliated at schools and their religious faith is ridiculed,” he said.
Hindus and Sikhs in Kabul have only one private primary school, Baba Nanak, which is next to their temple. But because they are spread out across the city, some of their children cannot attend the school.
The school has been active since the time of King Zahir Shah (1950-1973). There are about 30 students studying up to 4th grade.
There are two teachers appointed by the Ministry of Education who teach for two hours a day, from 8am to 10am. After that the pupils receive religious education from Hindu and Sikh scholars.
Singh, the deputy of Hindu and Sikh Association of Afghanistan, said although they are citizens of Afghanistan, many are second or third generation, they still face discrimination.
“We are citizens of Afghanistan and proud to be Afghan. Like other Afghans we have faced a lot pain in the past,” he added.
For Hindus and Sikhs, things were especially difficult when the mujahideen came to power in 1991. It was during that time, between 1991 and 1994, that nearly all of the 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan fled.
Currently, there are about 3,000 Hindus and Sikh in all of Afghanistan with 130 families in the capital Kabul.
“We are poor people and cannot afford to build schools; we can not provide teacher’s salaries and other equipment needed for schools,” he added.
Ata Mohammad Qani, assistant spokesman and manager of public awareness at the Ministry of Education, acknowledged the problems of the minority groups.
Last year, Mohammad Sediq Patman, an official in the ministry’s teaching department met Hindu and Sikhs to discuss the problems their children were facing.
He says the ministry proposed opening a private school for Hindus and Sikhs in the Shor Bazaar area of Kabul.However, the Hindu and Sikh representatives rejected this saying it was too far away, he said.
Finally, he says he suggested they choose a place or building and the ministry would pay rent and other costs. However, he claimed he never heard back from the representatives.
“If they choose the place for the school, the Ministry of Education is ready to pay for the rent, furniture and other equipment.”
But Otar Singh, the Meshano Jirga representative, said last year the ministry also promised to find a solution for the problem.
Asked why children were allowed to bully others at school, Qani said that it was up to each individual school to discipline their students and ensure there was respect for individual religions.
He urged families to prevent their children harassing others.
Mohammad Tamim Sherzad, head master at Sher Ali Khan School, also confirmed there were problems withharassment of ethnic minority children.
Because of the bullying, there were no Hindu or Sikh children at his school.
At the Ghazi Ayub Khan School in Kabul, Naveed, a fourth grader, said he and his Muslim classmates harassed Sikh and Hindu students when the teachers were not in the room.
Asked why they teased the minorities, he replied: “They are not Muslims that is why.”
Abdul Fahim, principal of the private Noreen school, said there were some Hindu and Sikh students at his school. When the Muslim students receive Islamic education, the Hindus and Sikhs take other classes, such as computers or English.
“The condition of Hindu and Sikh families for their children to attend our school was that during Islamic studies classes, they would take other subjects.”
Before the civil war, Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs lived peacefully in Khost, Ghazni, Paktiya, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Laghman, Kabul, Helmand and some other provinces.
For example, Prem Nagar village in Khost province had 243 Hindus and Sikh families, but now there is on one Hindu who lives there.
Ataullah Loden, a member of the lower house and an Islamic scholar, said that according to Islam, no one can force someone else to adopt Islamic faith.
Islam also forbids the harassment and insult of others.
Freedom of religion is also guaranteed in the Constitution.