Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Source: Khaama Press
The Central Council of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan along with members of civil society organization urged to allocate a seat for Sikh and Hindu minority in Afghan parliament.
A seat waas considered for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in Afghan election law which was passed by Afghan parliament house, and was signed by president Hamid Karzai.
However the Afghan house of representatives deleted the article mentioning which designated a seat for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in election law.
Deputy chief of Hindus and Sikhs Council Rayel Singh on Wednesday said that if our demands were not met, then we will have to ask the government to exile us from Afghanistan so that we should seek asylum through United Nations in other countries.
Mr. Singh further added that the Hindus and Sikhs minority in Afghanistan faced similar issues and difficulties during the past one decade as other minorities, but the government has not considered to respond to their issues.
He said that the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan had considerable contribution in business and economy of he country, however their shops, properties and houses have been taken by force, and even their rights of citizenship is being taken from them.
Mr. Rayel Singh said that they are being humiliated during their funeral ceremony and while they are cremating their dead bodies, and even they are being attacked during the cremation ceremonies.
He defended the rights of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan for seeking a seat in the lower house of the parliament which is in accordance with the intenational law and Afghan constitution, and insisted that allocating a seat for Hindus and Sikhs could help them overcome their social, economic and cultural issues.
Source: Outlook India .com
Due to unrest in Afghanistan the population of Sikhs and Hindus have declined drastically, as about 3,000 people belonging to the two communities have been left in the war-torn country, a woman Sikh MP of the country’s lower house of parliament said here today.
“Before 1991, there were an estimated 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus. They migrated, leaving their successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities, to safer places in India, Europe and Canada,” said Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, who is also a leading campaigner for the rights of Afghan women.
30-year-old Honaryar said that there number has gone down since 1991 due to unrest in her country and only “3,000 Sikhs and Hindus” are left in the country.
She is here to attend first two-day South Asian Punjabi conference.
The Afghan MP said that women in the country are worst affected as they were married at a tender age.
“The women in Afghanistan are worst affected as their parents, majority of them from business community, marry them at the age of 13 to 14, and they are not even fully educated and grown up,” she said.
She also lamented about the lack of proper choices for young Sikhs and Hindus for marriage due to the tiny population.
“Educated Sikh girls and boys in Afghanistan have been facing difficulty to settle their matrimonial life in that country as suitable matches available for them are limited,” said Honaryar, who is also a dentist.
Honaryar is a well-known women rights activist and has been awarded UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for promotion of tolerance and non-violence.
She also thanked the Indian government for rebuilding their country.
Honaryar said that Afghanistan government has opened two Punjabi schools meant for Sikhs– one in the name of ‘Guru Baba Nanak’ in Kabul province and another in Jalalabad province in the name of 7th Guru Har Rai ji.
The MP also expressed hope that Sikhs and Hindus may get their own proper cremation ground in Kabul province.
She said that “some people still think we are foreigners.
They think we are Indians who are working and living there for a while. But we are Afghans too, and we should have all the rights and opportunities that other Afghans have”.
Meanwhile, former education minister in Jammu and Kashmir government said that the 400-year-old dilapidated Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Math in Kathmandu, Nepal will be restored to its original shape.
Source: Gulf News
Outsiders may have trouble distinguishing between the turbans worn by Afghan Sikhs, with their tighter folds, varied colours and tucked-in edges, and those worn by Afghan Muslims, usually black or white with the end hanging down the wearer’s back.
The subtle differences, however, and what they represent, have fuelled widespread discrimination against Afghan Sikhs, members of the community say, prompting many to move away amid concern that the once-vibrant group could disappear.
“For anyone who understands the differences in turbans, we really stand out,” said Daya Singh Anjaan, 49, an Afghan Sikh who fled the capital, Kabul, for India after seeing his Sikh neighbours slain. “I’m sure the remaining Afghan Sikhs will vanish soon. Survival’s becoming impossible.”
There are no exact records on when Sikhs, a 500-year-old monotheistic people from western India and modern-day Pakistan, arrived in Afghanistan, although most accounts place it around 200 years ago. Mostly traders, they prospered and numbered about 50,000 by the early 1990s, concentrated in Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni.
But decades of war, instability and intolerance have fuelled waves of emigration, reducing the community to just 372 families nationwide, said Awtar Singh Khalsa, association president of the Karte Parwan gurdwara, or temple. This is the last of eight gurdwaras that once operated in Kabul, he said.
During the Afghan civil war of the mid-1990s, most of Kabul’s solidly constructed gurdwaras were appropriated by battling warlords who shelled one another, destroying seven of them along with a Sikh school that once taught 1,000 students. Under Taliban rule, Sikhs had to wear yellow patches, reminiscent of the Jews under Nazi rule, and fly yellow flags over their homes and shops.
Among the goals laid out by the United States and its allies after toppling the Taliban government in 2001 was religious tolerance for minorities, who account for about 1 per cent of Afghanistan’s population.
In practice, Sikhs say, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s weak and embattled government rarely counters prejudice by the majority population, which emboldens attackers. Hooligans rob, insult and spit at them on the street, they say, order them to remove their turbans and try to steal their land.
Particularly dispiriting, Afghan Sikhs say, are charges by the Muslim majority that they should “go home,” even though they have lived in Afghanistan for generations and are protected, at least theoretically, by freedom-of-religion safeguards in the Afghan Constitution.
Another disturbing example of the indignities they face is the treatment of their dead, many said. Cremation, a tenet of the Sikh faith, has been quietly practised in Kabul’s eastern district of Qalacha for more than a century.
In recent years, however, some Sikhs who have tried to carry out cremations have been beaten up, stoned and otherwise blocked from doing so, at times decried as statue-worshipping infidels whose ceremonies “smell”. Islam considers cremation a sacrilege.
Many Sikhs said they have complained repeatedly to the government to little avail. “In the last decade, the Kabul government has specified ten different places for Sikh burials and cremations, but villagers keep giving Sikhs problems,” said Anarkali Honaryar, a senator representing the community. “Even when President Karzai issued a decree, nothing changed.”
While in New Delhi in May, Karzai said that Sikhs are a valued part of Afghanistan and that he was sorry so many had left. “We’ll do our best to bring the Sikh community and Hindus back to Afghanistan,” he said.
Sikhs, Jews and other minorities enjoyed tolerance and relative prosperity until the late 1970s when decades of war, oppression and infighting set in. Although many Muslim families have also suffered hugely, Sikhs say they have faced worse pressures as a minority subject to forced religious conversions and frequent kidnapping, given their limited political protection and reputation for being prosperous.
Pritpal Singh, an Afghan-born Sikh living in England who has documented the plight of Afghan Sikhs, said his brother was kidnapped shortly before the family left in 1992.
“I really looked up to him; it was such a shock,” he said. “They asked for crazy money and we couldn’t pay, so they killed him.”
As conditions worsened, Sikhs turned increasingly inwards, building a high wall around the last gurdwara to prevent passers-by from stoning the building, and cremating their dead inside, normally unthinkable, to stem angry mobs.
Khalsa said he has met repeatedly with Karzai but nothing changes, and meetings with bureaucrats and politicians often end with demands for money.
“Corruption is unbelievable,” Khalsa said. “The Taliban were far better than this government.”
For those emigrating, India and Pakistan visas are much easier to secure than those to Europe, so some stop there first, then travel illegally to the West.
Although securing a short-term visitor visa to India is relatively easy, obtaining citizenship is a “nightmare” given India’s bureaucracy and general indifference, said Paramjit Singh Sarna, an Indian community leader in New Delhi assisting Afghan Sikhs. It does not help that Sikhism originated in India and that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.
Sarna said many Afghan Sikhs live in limbo in India. As “outsiders”, they are unable to buy land or work, their travel is restricted, their children born stateless.
Dhyan Singh, a 62-year-old Afghan Sikh who has lived in New Delhi since 1989, said he misses Afghanistan despite the problems.
“Just last night, I dreamt I visited the Kabul gurdwara,” Singh said. “It’s only fear that keeps me away.”
–Los Angeles Times
March 20, 2012
By Nina Shea
Source (Eurasia Review)
Today, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (Uscirf) released its 14th annual report, which it is mandated to do under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The report identifies the world’s worst persecutors and makes foreign-policy recommendations, which are non-binding, to the administration and Congress. Its decisions are based on the agency’s visits to foreign countries, and a wide array of other sources, including the State Department’ s own excellent annual compilation of worldwide religious-freedom violations. The commission is distinctive because it is an independent federal agency, and it is to make its name-and-shame lists and policy recommendations unburdened by foreign-policy considerations other than the defense of religious freedom.
I thought Afghanistan should be on the list as well and said so in my dissent, which is excerpted further down in this column.
I believe that Afghanistan, too, belongs in the ranks of the world’s worst religious persecutors. Apart from the depredations of the Taliban, Afghanistan’ s government under President Karzai fails to respect religious freedom, and its violations are egregious, ongoing, and systematic, thus meeting the statutory standard for CPC designation. The State Department’s recent religious-freedom report on Afghanistan found:
The government’s level of respect for religious freedom in law and in practice declined during the reporting period, particularly for Christian groups and individuals.
An example was the razing of that country’ s last remaining church after its 99-year lease was cancelled, as the State Department reported last September. This event did not draw the international protest that accompanied the Taliban’ s detonation of the Bamiyan Buddhist statues in 2001, but, with respect to the status of religious freedom, it is equally emblematic.
Afghanistan, therefore, has now joined the lonely company of hardline Saudi Arabia as a country with no churches. The millions of Christians in Afghanistan, including some very beleaguered and oft-jailed converts, must hide their faith and seek the protection and secrecy of walled embassy compounds to pray in community.
Furthermore, we learn from the State Department report that, in addition to Christians, particular “targets of discrimination and persecution” are Hindu and Sikh groups.
The one synagogue, located in Kabul, is shuttered because Jews dare not venture there.
The Uscirf report itself states:
Conditions for religious freedom are exceedingly poor for dissenting members of the majority faith and for minority religious communities. The Afghan constitution fails explicitly to protect the individual right to freedom of religion or belief and allows other fundamental rights to be superseded by ordinary legislation. It also contains a repugnancy clause stating that no law can be contrary to the tenets of Islam, which the government has interpreted to limit fundamental freedoms. Individuals who dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy regarding Islamic beliefs and practices are subject to legal action that violates international standards, for example prosecutions for religious crimes such as apostasy and blasphemy. In addition, the Afghan government remains unable, as well as at times unwilling, to protect citizens against violence and intimidation by the Taliban and other illegal armed groups.
The Afghan government’s slide into extreme intolerance accelerated this month when, at the behest of his senior Islamic advisers, President Karzai publicly backed their statement that women should not mingle with men in workplaces, schools or other areas of daily life, and should not travel without a male relative, according to a March 6 BBC report.
For anyone concerned about human rights and religious freedom, the Uscirf report is unsettling but important reading.
September 13th 2011
Excerpts regarding Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan
The country’s population is almost entirely Muslim. Non-Muslim minority groups, particularly Christian, Hindu, and Sikh groups, were targets of discrimination and persecution. Conversion from Islam was understood by Shia and Sunni Islamic clergy, as well as many citizens, to contravene the tenets of Islam. Within the Muslim population, relations among the different sects continued to be difficult. Historically the minority Shia community has faced discrimination from the majority Sunni population. This discrimination continued during the reporting period. Local Hindu and Sikh populations, although allowed to practice their religion publicly, continued to encounter problems obtaining land for cremation and historically have faced discrimination when seeking government jobs, as well as harassment during major celebrations. Most local Bahais and Christians did not publicly state their beliefs or gather openly to worship.
The country has an area of 402,356 square miles; population estimates ranged from 24 to 33 million. Reliable data on religious demography is not available because an official nationwide census has not been conducted in decades. Observers estimate that 80 percent of the population is Sunni Muslim, 19 percent Shia Muslim, and other religious groups comprise less than 1 percent of the population. According to self-estimates by these communities, there are approximately 3,000 Sikhs, more than 400 Bahais, and 100 Hindu believers. There is a small Christian community; estimates on its size range from 500 to 8,000. In addition there are small numbers of adherents of other religious groups. There is one known Jewish citizen.
Historically members of the same religious groups have concentrated in certain regions. Sunni Pashtuns dominate the south and east. The homeland of the Shia Hazaras is in the Hazarajat, the mountainous central highland provinces around Bamyan province. Northeastern provinces traditionally have Ismaili populations. Other areas, including Kabul, are more heterogeneous and include Sunni, Shia, Sikh, Hindu, and Bahai populations. The northern city of Mazar-e Sharif includes a mix of Sunnis (including ethnic Pashtuns, Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Tajiks) and Shia (Hazaras and Qizilbash), including Shia Ismailis.
In the 20th century, small communities of Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Sikhs lived in the country, although most members of these communities emigrated during the years of civil war and Taliban rule. By the end of Taliban rule, 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, many settling in Kabul.
There are two active gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) in Kabul and 10 in other parts of the country; there were 64 gurdwaras throughout the country before the war. There are four Hindu mandirs (temples) in three cities: two mandirs are located in Kabul, one of which shares a wall with a mosque; one is in Jalalabad; and one in Ghazni. Eighteen others were destroyed or rendered unusable due to looting during the mujahidin civil war.
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 government did not protect Hindus’ and Sikhs’ right to carry out cremations. The community repeatedly petitioned the government for land on which to carry out cremations. Bahais also could not bury their dead in accordance with their customs, but they lodged no formal complaints as they sought to avoid government attention. Although community representatives expressed concerns over land disputes, they often chose not to pursue restitution through the courts for fear of retaliation, particularly when powerful local leaders occupied their property. There were no known reports of active discrimination against Hindus by the government.
The government provided free electricity to mosques. The Hindu and Sikh communities lobbied the government to provide free electricity to their gurdwaras and mandirs; however, the government had not addressed these concerns as of the end of the reporting period. Further, gurdwaras and mandirs were charged as business entities, paying at a higher rate.
n Kabul foreign residents met regularly at Christian worship services in private locations. Buddhist foreigners were free to worship in Hindu temples.
The government provided limited funding or assistance for Sikh schools. The government assigned one teacher to a Sikh Gurdwara in Kabul to teach Dari and mathematics to Sikh and Hindu children.
One member of the Sikh community continued to serve as a member of the Upper House of Parliament. The Hindu and Sikh communities have lobbied to have one seat each designated for a Hindu and a Sikh representative in parliament. They pointed out that 10 seats are reserved for the ethnic minority Kuchi community and that their communities should also have reserved representation.
Non-Muslim minorities such as Sikhs, Hindus, and Christians continued to face social discrimination and harassment and, in some cases, violence. This treatment was not systematic, but the government did nothing to improve conditions during the reporting period. Public opinion continued to be openly hostile toward Afghan converts to Christianity and to proselytizing by Christian organizations and individuals. Public protests occurred in several provinces after inflammatory public statements made by members of Parliament and television programming; one protest burned an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI, and another protest demanded the closing of all churches (although none exist). More than 1,000 individuals marched in Mazar-e Sharif, demanding the banning of organizations that proselytized. One Christian-affiliated NGO lost its office space when neighbors requested that its landlord evict them.
The Hindu population, which is less distinguishable than the Sikh population (whose men wear a distinctive headdress), faced less harassment, although both groups reported being harassed by neighbors in their communities. The Sikh and Hindu communities, although allowed to practice their religion publicly, reportedly continued to face discrimination, including intimidation. Although Hindus and Sikhs had recourse to dispute resolution mechanisms such as the Special Land and Property Court, in practice the communities felt unprotected.
Many in the Sikh and Hindu communities did not send their children to public school because of reported abuse and harassment by other students. In previous years, Hindus and Sikhs sent their children to private Hindus and Sikhs schools, but those schools have closed since the community’s deteriorating economic circumstances have made private schooling unaffordable for most families. There is one school for Sikh children in Ghazni; one in Helmand; and since March, one in Kabul that only teaches Dari and Pashto. There is one school in Nangarhar provided by the government for the Sikh community. A few Sikh children attended private international schools. There were no Christian schools in the country. No Hindu children attended school in Kabul during the reporting period. The government took limited steps to protect and reintegrate these children into the classroom environment.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Akhund Joot (a flame) has been leaping from an oil lamp in front of Baba Srichand’s portrait in a separate structure on the premises of a 500-year-old temple. The lamp is believed to have been burning in the honour of the Darya (the River Indus) since long. There is an age-old popular myth that the mighty River Indus never hurts the temple of Baba Srichand Saheb located in Faqir Jo Goth, Thatta district, which still attracts a large number of Sikh and Hindu pilgrims, who often travel from all over Pakistan to visit the place. During last year’s floods, a breach in the embankment of the river near Faqir Jo Goth, inundated a wide area, including Faqir Jo Goth instantly. Srichand’s holy abode however remained safe with the floodwater just four feet away from the temple wall, said the temple caretaker.
Notan Das, 65, a caretaker of the Baba Srichand Temple and Gurdwara, says that 450 years ago, the Indus, flowing close to this Asthan (place), once flooded the area. According to the legend, he says, hundreds of years ago Srichand was meditating at a spot on which the temple currently stands, when floods inundated the wide area, causing displacement. In the Hindu mythology, the saints called the River Indus as Lal Saeen, linking it to Odero Lal — the symbol of the river.
Amid the flooding, Baba Srichand approached the Darya (river) to control the waters. The Darya replied that it would only do so if Srichand agreed to light a lamp in honour of his name at the temple. It has been more than 500 years now and Akhund Joot continues to burn in the temple, while the river changed its direction, streaming five kilometers away from the Srichand temple. But despite being a historical place it has yet to get the status of the heritage building.
There is a unique Murti of Baba Srichand Saheb, the elder son of Baba Guru Nanak, which Sikhs and Hindus come to see frequently. About this cultural and religious diversity, Chander Keswani, a Sindhi-language poet and the follower of Guru Nanak, said there is no difference between Hindus and Sikhs and people from both religions enjoy their worship separately on the same premises. A similar practice can be witnessed in other temples, located in Sindh and Punjab, he added.
The temple has a wide shelter for Yatris (pilgrims), who stay there for some days. Jaipal Das, a university student hailing from Chundko, Khairpur district, said his family visit the temple three to four times a year. There are free meals and accommodation arrangements for all devotees, mostly coming from different parts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.
Notan Das claims that it is the first place of Baba Srichand, where he spent his entire life. However, he said there are three other Baba Srichand temples — one in Kabul, Afghanistan, another in Peshawar and the third one in Kashmir. The devotees there too have placed Murtis, but the images designed here have a unique look. About the flag, he said, the tall wooden stick was brought from India 100 years ago through the river stream, because there was no alternative source of its transportation to bring it safely by road or rail.
The statue of Bhagat Kanwar Ram, the legendary Sindhi folk and Bhajan singer, has been set up at the back of the Baba Srichand Murti. A place where Samadhis of legendary saints are kept safe has its separate history.