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Giani Maskeen Singh talks about Afghan Sikh history, Guru Nanak’s trip to Kandahar, Baba Sri Chand’s trip to Afghanistan and Nanak Panthis

Source: VOA News

Afghan Hindu and Sikh families wait for lunch inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

SLAMABAD – Following a militant attack in late March that killed 25 Sikhs in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, a dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus is now weighing whether or not it is safe to stay in the war-torn country where the minority group is subject to constant threats by militants and discrimination by others. 

The March 25th gunman attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul’s Shor Bazar Gurdwara area was claimed by the Islamic State terror group. Many Sikh and Hindu activists have since appealed for international assistance to help relocate them to outside of Afghanistan. 

“If you stop a Sikh child and ask him what he wishes, he will say that he wants to leave Afghanistan,” said Singh, a 22-year-old Sikh who was among nearly 150 people trapped in the religious complex assailed by a group of IS militants. “Who is not happy to live in peace?”   

Singh requested anonymity over concerns for his safety for speaking openly.

Recalling the horrific incident that ended after about six hours of fire exchange between IS militants and Afghan security forces, he told VOA that he considers his survival a miracle.    

“We went to a room and locked the door from inside. I saw the shadow of him [an IS fighter].” 

Singh’s father, nephew, and sister-in-law were among the 25 people killed in the IS attack. Heartbroken by the loss, he says he is now committed to leave Afghanistan with his family “to have a better future, where there is no fear.”Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan

Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan | Voice of America – English

The two minority groups were once thriving with a substantial involvement in Afghanistan’s trade and business. But, since the 1978 conflict, Sikhs and Hindus have found themselves increasingly targeted.  The population of both minorities has shrunk from about 250,000 to less than a thousand. 

Deepak Ahluwalia, a California-based immigration attorney and Sikh rights activists, said that he believed Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan were facing religious persecution and “are being threatened with genocide.”

Broad Discrimination  

The Taliban in the past have ordered the Sikhs to wear yellow armbands so they could be easily distinguished from the Muslim majority. A more extremist Sunni group, IS, considers both Hindus and Sikhs to be pagans.   

According to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the two minorities also face institutional and cultural discrimination.

 Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesperson for AIHRC, told VOA that Hindus and Sikhs “face a lot of discrimination in the public places, with their children in schools, with employment and work opportunities.”

Farhang said that Hindus and Sikhs were not given the same rights as Afghan Muslims, and the minority groups felt increasingly targeted. 

“One of the main reasons that they are leaving their country, without doubt, is cultural issues,” he added. 

Illegal property seizure

The country’s constitution and government have further deepened the isolation, charged Rajdeep Jolly, a Sikh rights attorney in Washington, DC. He said Article 62 of the Afghan constitution that states only a Muslim can run for president shows religious minorities are looked down upon.

“Even in the absence of genocidal violence, the Afghan legal system has relegated Sikhs and Hindus to second-class citizenship,” said Jolly, adding that the two communities face obstacles from basic religious rituals such as cremation to judicial bias and illegal property seizures.  

Afghan government says they are doing their best to protect them from militant attacks.

“The Afghan Security Council has started some measures and they will take serious actions for their security,” Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the Afghan president, told VOA.

Menapal said the country in the past few years under President Ashraf Ghani has made significant progress to address the issues these communities face. He said Hindus and Sikhs have two members in the Afghan parliament “who raise the voices and concerns of their constituencies.”

Some Stay

Some members of the minority groups say they are not willing to give in despite continued terror attacks and discrimination. 

Commenting on whether Hindus and Sikhs in recent weeks have begun to flee to the West, Narinder Singh Khalsa, a lawmaker representing Hindus and Sikhs in Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, told VOA that the two communities “have not made such a decision yet.” 

“Reports published by media outlets outside Afghanistan saying that Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan are trying to seek asylum are all baseless,” he said.

‘It is our country’

Gornam Singh,24, is determined to stay in Afghanistan. He told VOA that Afghanistan has issues at all levels, but this is his country. 

 “The whole Afghanistan has concerns. All are worried, from the president to a vender but this is Afghanistan. It is our country,” Singh said.  

Balbeer Singh Pahwa, the vice president of an Afghan-Sikh Gurdwara in New York, who was born and raised in Kabul said he does not remember an intolerant Afghanistan when he lived in it and regretted the path Afghanistan has since taken.    

 “Afghanistan was very different then. Kabul was like living in a European country, we had no problem of religion at that time,” he said. 

Pahwa left Afghanistan in 1983 due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country.He said that they were able to freely perform their religious rituals when he lived in Kabul.   

 “Every year for Basakhi, Sikhs families would all travel to Sultanpur and Jalalabad. There were maybe 2000 people, about 500-600 families at the time. We would set up tents and stay there for a week. Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak was there,” he added.

Major loss of culture

Some minority activists see the end of Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan as a major loss for the country’s rich culture. A more diverse and tolerant Afghan society, they argue, could play a major role in developing the country.    

Manmeet Singh, a U.S.-based activist and filmmaker, said the remaining Hindus and Sikhs in the county were “the last descendants of a pre-Islamic civilization dating back thousands of years.”  

He warned “their exodus from Afghanistan will be a triumph for fanatics and a tragedy for the world.”

Mehr Chand Kapoor

Source: Catch News

The Afghan Sikh community living in the United States has urged the Indian Government to help in the resettlement of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan, terming it to be the only ‘viable’ option for less than 650 families that are hard hit by the violence in the country.

Worried for the lives of the Sikh minorities living in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazi in Afghanistan, this minuscule Sikh community is seeking refuge in India.

Encouraged by the steps taken in the past by the Indian government, the Afghan Sikh community leaders have made an appeal to India to accommodate the Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and grant them legal entry and political asylum with long term residency multiple entry visas.

The community leaders living in the United States said it is imperative to alleviate the dire situation of religious minorities in Afghanistan who look to India as the only safe haven in the region.

Speaking to ANI, Afghan American Paramjit Singh Bedi, Chairman of Afghanistan Committee for Global Sikh Council, said, “At a time when the attention is focused on the coronavirus pandemic and India is under lockdown, we understand India’s worry but I still urge GoI to take quick action as we fear the safety of the Sikhs living in Afghanistan.”

“We further request the Modi government to arrange a special flight from Kabul and request India to intervene as soon as possible on their (Sikhs in Afghanistan) behalf before it’s too late,” Bedi said.

Bedi laid out his concerns, highlighting the terror attack by ISIS March 25 that killed 25 Sikhs at their gurdwara in Kabul. “The victims included women, the elderly, and a four-year-old girl. They had gathered to pray that morning for the health and recovery of people afflicted with COVID-19, but their lives were cut short by religious bigotry,” Bedi recounted the tragic terror attack.

Indian Ambassador to the US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu has expressed solidarity with Sikh community of Afghanistan. “India has always stood in solidarity with the Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan and extended help and refuge in difficult circumstances,” he tweeted on Friday.

Meanwhile, ANI reached out to the US Department of State to understand US’ commitment of bringing the persecuted Afghan Sikh and Hindu group to safety. A Department spokesperson told ANI that its leadership, including ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Samuel Brownback, are aware of the gravity of the Sikh community’s situation in Afghanistan.

“I met last week with a number of members of the Sikh community in the United States about trying to help out with the resolution of the crisis for the Sikhs in Afghanistan. Those discussions are ongoing. I think they’re ongoing with a number of branches within the U.S. Government,” Ambassador Brownback told ANI

“I don’t know of any decisions that have been reached at this time, but it is a dire situation for the Sikhs in Afghanistan, and many of them, if not the entire community, seeks to leave Afghanistan to get to a safer place for their community after these attacks have taken place. We will continue to work with them, but I don’t have any announcements at this time,” he added.

The Department of State’s spokesperson also told ANI that it is deeply concerned about the violence perpetrated and threatened against Sikhs and other religious minorities in Afghanistan.

The spokesperson also added that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has condemned the recent attacks against the Sikh community in Kabul and has urged all Afghans to come together to negotiate a political settlement to help confront the militant group that is threatening the safety of that community and others.

The spokesperson also informed ANI that the US Embassy in Kabul is in regular contact with the Sikh community and Afghan government regarding the Sikh community’s concerns in Afghanistan.

“Sikhs constitute an important part of the fabric of Afghan society. We encourage and welcome outreach by the Government of Afghanistan to reassure the Sikh community of the importance attached to their safety and continued contribution to Afghanistan,” the spokesperson further told ANI.

In the wake of the terror attack on a 400-year-old Gurdwara in Shor Bazar in Kabul on March 25, the United States had expressed concerns about the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan.

“I remain deeply concerned about the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan. Afghan Sikhs have long been an integral part of the multicultural tapestry of Afghanistan and Afghans must come together now to ensure the security of religious minorities,” senior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Alice Wells tweeted.

US’ House Foreign Affairs Committee has also urged Trump Administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 US Refugee Admissions Program.

“Concerned for the safety of the Sikh community in Afghanistan, recently targeted by ISIS, and urge the administration to consider Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for emergency refugee protection under the Fiscal Year 2020 U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” House Foreign Affairs Committee tweeted.