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Source: The Washington Post

Henna Hundal is a public policy graduate student at McGill University and a Global Future Council Fellow at the World Economic Forum. Simran Jeet Singh is a visiting professor at Union Seminary and an Equality Fellow with the Open Society Foundations.

President Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops will be leaving Afghanistan kicked off much discussion about the costs of the war effort, the deterioration of Afghan-Taliban peace talks, and the future of U.S. foreign policy in the region. But the national debate has largely ignored the alarming human toll: a potential genocide awaiting Afghanistan’s religious minorities.

Afghanistan, one of the world’s most troubled countries, is home to a diminishing population of Sikhs and Hindus, who trace their roots in the country as far back as the 16th century. At that time, Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak, journeyed through Afghanistan to share his teachings. By the 1970s, the Afghan Sikh and Hindu population is believed to have swelled to nearly 700,000.

Today, only an estimated 700 Sikhs and Hindus remain in the country. Many have been killed and more have fled following decades of discrimination and targeted violence. While the Afghan government and the Taliban engage in a shaky, protracted peace process, the fate of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus hangs in the balance as much as Afghanistan’s future itself.

The physical danger to these religious minorities is palpable. Year after year, suicide bombings have targeted Afghan Sikhs, who are distinguished by their turbans, and have decimated Afghanistan’s few remaining Sikh temples. In March 2020, the Islamic State killed 25 Afghan Sikhs during a prayer service at a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul. In 2018, the Islamic State killed 17 Afghan Sikhs and Hinduswho were en route to a discussion with President Ashraf Ghani. According to U.S. intelligence, the Islamic State is still positioned for terrorist attacks within Afghanistan.

There is little hope that the Afghan-Taliban peace talks will yield a good outcome for the few Sikhs and Hindus left in the country. At best, a power-sharing agreement patched together by the Afghan government and the Taliban could bring about a reduction in overall violence. Nevertheless, Afghan Sikhs have reason to worry. In the ′90s, during the period when the Taliban regime controlled the country, they were ordered to brand themselves with physical identification. As the Taliban representatives at the current peace talks drag their feet on upholding women’s rights in a power-sharing arrangement, the rights of Afghanistan’s religious minorities seem all but in limbo.

The United States has failed to usher in lasting peace after two decades of boots on the ground and more than $2 trillion spent, but it has an opportunity now to secure a major win for human rights. Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, caught in the crossfire of the U.S. on-the-ground involvement and vulnerable to further threats upon its looming departure, deserve a chance at safety. Biden can prevent an imminent genocide by keeping his campaign promise of refugee protection.

The Biden administration has vacillated on the annual number of refugees that will be permitted entry into the United States. After proposals to lift the refugee cap this year from 15,000 to 62,500, the Biden administration backtracked and announced a plan to keep this fiscal year’s cap at 15,000. This number matches the record-low ceiling set under the Trump administration’s refugee policy that Biden sharply criticized for “slamm[ing] the door on thousands of individuals suffering persecution, many of whom face threats of violence or even death in their home countries.”

Swift and significant pressure compelled the Biden administration to reverse course and announce that they will set a final, increased refugee cap by May 15. As the administration reviews what is possible, they should consider prioritizing people who are most vulnerable right now — and Afghan Sikhs and Hindus should be near the top of that list.

The persecution faced by these religious minorities is well-documented and ongoing. While some Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have already fled to India via India’s 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act, many report continued harassment, exploitation and relegation to poverty on Indian soil. In the context of this year’s historic U.S. troop withdrawal, which will bear enormous geopolitical consequences for the region, it only makes sense for the United States to extend a lifeline now.

The numbers of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus remain small enough for this refugee resettlement process to be smooth and practical. Not to mention, the United States has the infrastructure in place to absorb these folks in the dignified manner they deserve. It’s urgent that the Biden administration find the political courage to do so.

Chashma Sahib

Source: Sikh24.com

After the barbaric carnage of 25 Afghan Sikhs inside Kabul’s Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji, around 87 families have shifted to India in search of a safe and secure life. However, settling at a new place while leaving behind all your worth is not an easy task.

After reaching India, the Afghan Sikh families have come across new hardships due to the high cost of living and low wage rates in India’s national capital Delhi.

In this video, independent journalist Papalpreet Singh has interview two Afghan Sikh women about their new life in Delhi.

Watch the full interview below about what it means for these Afghani Sikh women to live in India.

Source: The Indian Express

A year after 25 Afghan Sikhs were killed in the Kabul gurdwara attack in March last year, United Sikhs, an NGO affiliated to the United Nations, paid tribute to the deceased, and honoured the surviving families in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The attack had taken place inside the Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurudwara.

Chaibul Singh, 25, was in Ghazni in Afghanistan on March 25 last year when he got a call from a family member informing him about the gurdwara attack. Chaibul’s childhood friend and his uncle were among those killed.

In September 2020, Chaibul came to India on an emergency flight with eight other family members. They are yet to be officially classified as refugees or citizens of India. They have no Aadhaar card, which makes it difficult for them to find jobs. “That one incident changed our lives. While we had shops and homes there, we had to leave everything behind. Now, I work here for Rs 8,000 and my younger brother does a menial job earning Rs 7,000 a month. Lack of documentation and difficulty in speaking Hindi also works against us. We used to speak Pashto or Punjabi in Afghanistan. People find it difficult to understand my Punjabi dialect here,” added Chaibul.

Parvinder Singh Nanda, director, United Sikhs, said they had been working hard to support these families, as it was difficult for them to sustain by themselves.

“To even get medical treatment, they require money and some ID proof. We have helped them get passports, assisted with educational assistance and also provided them free medical assistance through the Delhi government. The next step is to seek assistance from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, the process for which is under way,” he added.

Surbeer Singh, 39, of Ghazni, Afghanistan, a widely-respected religious leader of Sikh Afghan families in Delhi, says, “The Indian government has helped us by bringing us to the country through emergency flights. I know of at least 87 families who came to India, along with mine. We don’t need Aadhaar cards. We need to get resettled.”

Surbeer Singh’s concluding statement is illustrative and will stay with you. “I cannot get out of my mind the image of the three-year-old girl who was killed in the massacre. There were children, elderly people and women in the Gurdwara that day. The attack left people in shock. While we never feared anything earlier, this incident changed that and we were forced to start looking at other options.”

Source: The Tribune

Describing Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan as “proud citizenry” of his land, the Afghanistan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar on Tuesday said that it would be the responsibility of the government to provide them with protection and security.

“We got to do that”, he said during a press conference here.

Disagreeing with the perception of Hindus and Sikhs being “especially” targetted in Afghanistan, Atmar said: “The violence against Afghans, unfortunately, did not spare our minorities either. So, it is not a kind of persecution against specific minorities per se. It’s the general violence against the entire nation and unfortunately, this part of the population has been disproportionately affected”.

Last July, India had said it would facilitate a settlement of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan.

There are about 1,000 Sikh and Hindus left in Afghanistan, and the sense of insecurity was heightened after the massacre in Gurudwara Guru Har Rai, Kabul, in May last year, followed by the kidnapping of a Sikh Nidan Singh Sachdeva.

“They are citizens of Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is proud of them. It has been like, that for centuries, and will be like that. It is the responsibility of not just the Afghan government, but the Afghan people too to protect their federal brothers,’’ he declared.

Soon after the May 15, 2020, massacre at the Kabul Gurdwara, Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee Joe Biden had promised to raise the annual global refugee admissions cap to 1.25 lakhs if he won the November US Presidential elections.

Country Policy and Information Note

Afghanistan: Hindus and Sikhs

By Government of UK

Click here to read the full report

If document is not available on official website, click here for a copy.

Source: The Indian Express

Sunny never got to see his son. As his last rites were done by members of the minority Sikh community in Kabul, his wife watched on video call.

EVER SINCE his son was born last October, Sunny Singh alias Manto (27), a small-time medicines and spices trader, would call his wife in Ludhiana several times a day from Kabul, eager to know what the baby was doing. 

“He would say that he cannot wait to hold Gurvansh in his arms. He would say that once did, he would never leave him,” says Shivani aka Sneha, wife of Sunny, an Afghan Sikh who died in a blast at Kabul Saturday.

He never got to see his son’s face. As his last rites were done by members of the minority Sikh community in Kabul, his wife watched on video call.

“My husband had gone to Kabul in August last year and our son was born in October. He had not returned to Ludhiana since then. He was living in Kabul to earn for us but his heart and mind were always here. On Friday night, he spoke to me till late night and kept asking if the baby was doing fine. But he has died without seeing his son. There can’t be anything more unfortunate,” says Shivani (21) from Mundian Kalan of Ludhiana, who had got married to Sunny in February last year.

Sunny would travel to Kabul often to run his medicines and spices business at his shop in Shor Bazar. On Saturday, Sunny Singh died in the blast, while two other Sikhs — Sher Singh (60) and Chucha Singh (55) — were injured in the attack.

Harinder Singh Khalsa, another Afghan Sikh whose family lives in Meena Bazar of Ludhiana, while speaking to The Indian Express from Kabul, said, “Sunny, Chucha Singh and Sher Singh were in their shops in Shor Bazar when the explosion took place. The shops were completely damaged. Families of Chucha Singh and Sher Singh are also in Ludhiana. Sunny was born in Kabul and his cremation was done here only Saturday. His mother and brother are in Kabul but wife and son are in Ludhiana. He was planning to go to Ludhiana, but fate had some other plans.”

Khalsa said most members of the minority Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan have been rescued and sent to Delhi since the Islamic-State (IS) sponsored terror attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul in March last year claimed at least 25 lives. However, those still left behind in the war-torn country are fighting an everyday battle for survival and are being forced to live hand to mouth. 

‘We live in constant fear’

“A few members from the Sikh community are still left in Kabul, Jalalabad and other cities of Afghanistan. They are here by compulsion. They are really poor and cannot afford to leave the country because their work and business will be affected. Those who could afford to leave have already left for Delhi but those still left behind are the ones who are living hand to mouth. Sunny was one of those poor Sikhs who was living in Kabul to earn for his family and whatever few thousands he would earn, he would that money to his family in Ludhiana. We appeal to the Indian government to rescue remaining Sikhs from Afghanistan too, else they be killed very soon. We live in constant fear,” said Khalsa, adding “There are some 200-250 families of Afghan Sikhs from pishori biraadri who are in Ludhiana but their men keep traveling to Kabul for work”.

hivani says that ever since she heard the news of her husband’s death, she has gone numb wondering what the future holds for her and her son, who is suffering from a heart ailment since birth. 

“Hamare sar par chhat bhi nahi hai filhaal (We do not even have our own home as of now). I have been living with my brother. There can’t be a more unfortunate thing than my son not being able to meet his father even once in his lifetime. My father had died when I was just six months and my mother got me married last year,” says Shivani.

“Those from the Sikh and Hindu communities still left in Afghanistan should come back immediately. I used to stop my husband from going back to Kabul but he would say that if he does not go, how will he earn? He would say that if he doesn’t work, we won’t be able to make our own house. But after losing him, I can only say that life is more important than a house, money…Those left behind in Kabul should be saved immediately..,” she adds.