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Durga and Shiva Carvings

Source: Sikhnet

This has been published by Abstracts of Sikh Studies, a journal run by Institute of Sikh Studies, Chandigarh.
ABSTRACTS OF SIKH STUDIES: OCT-DEC 2020/ 551 NS
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AFGHAN SIKHS – TRACING THEIR ORIGINS AND HISTORY
INDERJEET SINGH

INTRODUCTION

The deadly attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazar in Kabul on 25th March 2020 which led to death of 27 Sikhs including children and women shocked the small 650 odd community.

The Gurdwara Sahib was also a home to 50 Sikh families. They eventually requested for refuge to the Indian government. A couple of years ago on 1st July 2018 in a bomb blast in Jalalabad, 15 Afghan Sikhs & 4 Hindus were killed which included the community leaders Avtar Singh and Rawail Singh. The Afghan Sikhs are now leaving the country and it is important to trace the origins and history of Sikhs in Afghanistan.

ORIGINS

There is very little material on Afghan Sikh history or its origin in the public domain. Roger Ballard (2011) stated that Afghan Sikhs are “likely to be made up of those members of the indigenous population who resisted the process of conversion from Buddhism to Islam which took place in this area between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, and who subsequently aligned themselves with the teachings of Guru Nanak – himself a Khatri and the founder of the Sikh tradition – during the course of the fifteenth century”1

Guru Nanak came to Afghanistan during his 4th Udasi (1517 – 21) in 16th century2 and it is more likely that the Hindus rather than Buddhists became Nanakpanthis (followers of Guru Nanak). There is no evidence that Buddhism survived in Afghanistan till 15th or 16th century. Bukhara was one of the major cities of Khurasan (medieval Afghanistan), Anthony Jenkinson who visited this city in 1558 mentions Indian merchants in the city.3

The majority of Afghan Sikhs belong to Arora and Khatri castes. Few are from Bhatia, Bhatra and Rajvanshi background. All are well known to an average Sikh except for the last one which are in majority among the Afghan Sikhs present in Afghanistan. They originally belonged to Maidan Shar in Wardak province. They left the city in 1940 when one of clan girls was abducted and converted to Islam. They migrated to Kabul, Gardez and Ghazni. The majority of the Sikhs killed on 25th March 2020 were from this group.

The Afghan Hindus are also Khatris and Aroras. A small number of them are Brahmins and Bhatias. The present-day Afghan Sikhs are descendants of the Afghan Hindus who became Nanakpanthis when Guru Nanak came to Afghanistan in 1521. A large number of Afghan Sikhs shared their surname or sub-caste with Hindus.4

BABUR ON KABUL

Babur, the founder of Mughal Empire in the sub-continent captured Kabul in 1504 and later captured Delhi in 1526 after the first battle of Panipat. Babur wrote an autobiography, Baburnama and he refers to Kabul as an excellent trading center and Hindustan’s own market. He mentions that almost 8,000–10,000 horses would come to the city along with 15,000–20,000 caravans from Hindustan with household stuff, slaves, white cloth, refined sugar candy, common sugar and aromatic roots. Despite making 300–400 percent profit, many merchants were not satisfied although they would never make such profit even if they went to Cathay (Northern China) or Turkey, he noted. He adds that in Kabul, products from Khurasan, Iraq, Turkey and China were available and Hindvi language was spoken in the region.5 Although Babur does not mention Hindu merchants specifically, but Indian merchants and language are mentioned in his memoirs.

GURU NANAK

The history of Sikhs in Afghanistan starts with the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak (1469–1539) who was a prolific traveller. The life and times of the Guru is recorded in Janamsakhis which are semi-historical in nature as they are written in a devotional manner and do not contain dates but records of his visits to Mecca, Medina, Bagdad, Kabul and Kandahar (all in Central Asia) along with visits to Sri Lanka and within the Indian sub-continent.6 The earliest copy belongs to the early 1600s but their earlier antiquity cannot be ruled out.

Guru Nanak and his companion in his travels, Bhai Mardana left Mashhad (Persia) to reach Balkh and then reached outskirts the city of Kabul which was under Babur at that time. In one instance, the Guru met some holy men who inquired what brought a Hindu ascetic to a land of Muslims. The Guru replied that ‘the Almighty created the same Divine Light, which pervades all. God has created all beings in the same mould. However, some of them wear janeu while some others got themselves circumcised’. The holy men were very impressed with the Guru. The Guru stayed in the city for some time and then travelled farther into the country.7

They also went to meet Maan Chand, son of Khan Chand who lived in Kabul city. The Guru sent for him through a local Pathan. Maan Chand met Guru Nanak and later became his follower and a preacher of Guru’s doctrine in this region.8 Unfortunately, the oldest historical Gurdwara of Afghanistan, Gurdwara Guru Nanak, based in Jad Mewan was demolished when the road was widened in 1950. As per the regulations, the dismantled material and cost of the land was paid to the Gurdwara Management Committee. They could have re-purchased the land as not all was lost to the road. After some time, it was purchased by a good-natured local Muslim who was willing to sell it to the Kabuli Sikhs. However, the local Sikhs did not get together to raise the amount to buy the land.

The Jalalabad-based Sikh organisation, Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan, volunteered to help in it. Professor Ganda Singh writes that he was told by a Kabuli Sikh that they did not require the help of outsiders (i.e. Jalalabad). Sadly, the local Kabuli Sikhs never got together to rebuild this Gurdwara.

The Gurdham Sangreh (written by Giani Gian Singh in 1921) records that in Sultanpur (about 8 km from Jalalabad) a shepherd boy while grazing his goats, got very thirsty and fell on the ground. Both Guru Nanak and his companion Bhai Bala were there, and the Guru asked Bhai Bala to get some water. The latter answered that there was no water nearby, the Guru then asked him to lift a rock and when Bala lifted one, a stream of water came out. The stream still exists, a famous place in relation to Guru Nanak and the Sikhs in Afghanistan. The place finds mention even in Charles Masson’s travel account written in the 1840s.10 The Guru Nanak Darbar at Jalalabad commemorates the visit of Guru Ji is an important site of pilgrimage for Sikhs.

Guru Nanak and Bhai Mardana came to Ar Randha (Arghandab) River and met a Mughal Pathan fakir who introduced himself as Yaar Ali and asked about Guru Nanak. The Guru said he was a Banda of Khuda, a servant of God. The Fakir then asked who was his Peer (spiritual teacher)? The Guru replied that the one who had created this world was his Peer and the fakir fell at the feet of the Guru.11

SIKH GURUS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS IN KABUL

The Mughal Emperor Babur captured Kabul in 1504 and by 1526 he was the master of North India. Kabul& Eastern Afghanistan became one of the provinces of Hindustan (contemporary writers use this name). Indian merchants had been regularly visiting Kabul throughout the centuries. As mentioned earlier, Babur referred to Kabul as Hindustan’s own market. The province of Kabul remained with Hindustan until 1738 when it was conquered by Nadir Shah, the Persian ruler. During this period, the Sikh chroniclers record numerous names and instances when Sikh followers from Kabul came to the region now known as East Punjab, to pay respects to the Sikh Gurus.

Bawa Kirpal Das, who was a descendant of Guru Amar Das (1552–74), the third Sikh Guru, wrote Mahima Prakash Vartak in 1741. This manuscript mentions the name of Kabul wali Mai (Lady from Kabul) who did seva (voluntary service) with great devotion when the digging of the Baoli (stepwell) at Goindawal (district Tarn Taran, East Punjab) was undertaken by the third Guru.12 The manuscript refers to Bibi (sister) Bhago who was in-charge of the Manji (Sikh preaching centre) in Kabul while according to an inscription in Gurdwara Haveli Sahib in Goindwal her name was Mai Sevan. These may be two different women or the same individual, but it is remarkable that there was a Sikh woman preacher in the 16th century.

Prof. Ganda Singh writes that Baba Ganak Baksh from Gurdaspur was an important Udasi Sadhu who became a Sikh during the time of Guru Amardas and started preaching. His followers are known as Ganj Bakshiye. A Gurdwara was named after him in Kabul. It cannot be verified if he came to Kabul or the Gurdwara was built by one of his followers. Unfortunately, this small Gurdwara is under the illegal occupation of the tenant from the majority community.

Guru Arjan (1581–1606) was the fifth Guru of the Sikhs. His cousin, Bhai Gurdas wrote Vaaran which are much revered by the Sikhs and it mentions the name of Bhai Rekh Rao and Bhai Bhana Mallan, the Sikh residents of Kabul. The manuscript Sikhan di Bhagat Mala written by Bhai Mani Singh around 1720s elaborates that they looked after the stores of the local chief. A complaint was made against them that they were using short weights and misappropriated the provisions in the stores. However, their devotion and piousness proved their honesty. The weights were tested and found to be correct. Some Sikh chroniclers have mentioned the same anecdote for Bhai Katara. Bhai Gurdas (1551 – 1636) is said to have visited Kabul, the Khalsa Gurdwara at Shor Bazaar was built by him during this period.

The Gurdwara Pipali Sahib situated a mile and a half north-west of Harmandar Sahib (also known as the Golden Temple) in Amritsar commemorates the visit of Guru Arjan when he reached here to greet the Sangat (Sikhs) of Kabul who had come to participate in the digging of tanks. The Guru built four water tanks in Amritsar city. The site was also visited by the Guru Hargobind.13

The manuscript Gurbilas Padshahi Chhevee, a biographical account of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind (1606–44) written in the first quarter of the 18th century records the name of Bhai Karori, a Sikh horse dealer in Kabul who sent two of his finest horses Dilbagh and Gulbagh as an offering to the Guru. Shortly after, Bhai Tara Chand and Bakht Mall who were Masands (Sikh preachers) in Kabul travelled with the Sangat and the horses to meet the Guru at Kiratpur, East Punjab. On the way, the horses were forcibly taken by the Faujdar (Garrison Commander) of Lahore. The Sikhs informed Guru Hargobind of the highhandedness of the Faujdar when Bidhi Chand, a Sikh was able to recover the horses through a stratagem.

An early 17th-century Persian manuscript Dabistan i Mazahib considered to be written by Zulfiqar Ardastani has a chapter on Nanakpanthis. It mentions two anecdotes relating to Bhai Sadh who lived near Balkh. The anecdotes show that a devoted Sikh is contented with the will of the Almighty which may bring joys and sorrows in life and their devotion to the Guru.

On Guru’s order, Bhai Sadh left Balkh for Iraq to buy horses. Shortly after, his son fell sick and he was asked by his companions to go back to his son. He replied that if his son perished, it was the will of the God and that there were enough resources in the house to cremate him. Bhai Sadh added that he would return only after fulfilling the mission. Though the son passed away, the father did not return mid-way.

In the second incident, Ardastani was travelling with Sadh from Kabul to Punjab when the former discovered that the belt of his sheepskin had snapped. Sadh immediately took off his zannar (the sacred thread) and made a joint there. Ardastani was surprised and asked what he had done. Sadh replied that ‘The wearing of the sacred thread is an undertaking of service. Whenever I neglect the service of my guests and friends, I become a non-wearer of it’. And Bhai Sadh quoted a verse, ‘This knotless relation, though slender as a single strand, is rosary in a cloister and a zannar in a temple’.14

Bhai Sabhaga, a Sikh from Peshawar, brought five horses from Kabul as an offering to Guru Hargobind in the latter’s court at Hargobindpur. Mahan Kosh quotes Suraj Prakash Granth that ‘Dhani bado aru nam sabhaga’ (Sabhaga was rich in money & virtues).

The 18th century manuscript, Mahima Prakash mentions that Bhai Gonda was sent to Kabul to preach the Sikh doctrine by the seventh Guru, Har Rai (1644–61). The manuscript also records an anecdote about his devotion. Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazaar which was the site of the unfortunate but deadly attack on 25th March 2020 was established by Bhai Gonda.

Giani Gian Singh mentions that Guru Tegh Bahadur was travelling towards Samao (Bathinda, East Punjab) when he was informed about the Sangat from Kabul and Peshawar coming to see him. The Guru halted at Samoa and sat under a tree to receive the Sangat. When the Sangat arrived, a farmer working in the nearby fields provided bread and buttermilk for them. The Guru blessed the peasant and a Gurdwara was built to commemorate this event.15

Prof. Hari Ram Gupta quotes from contemporary records that a Duni Chand from Kabul bought a costly tent at Anandpur (East Punjab) to be used for Guru Gobind Das (later, Guru Gobind Singh from 1699) for holding durbar in 1688–89. The tent was made of the finest silk and had numerous pictures stitched with threads of gold and strings of pearls hung around it. The flooring had beautiful Persian carpets. The gesture hurt the pride of Pahari Rajput ruler Bhim Chand who already held a grudge against the Guru which later led to the Battle of Bhangani (1689), first of the several battles between the Sikhs and the Pahari Rajput rulers.16

Baba Sri Chand (1494 – 1629) son of Guru Nanak and founder of Udasi Sect also came to Afghanistan. The Gurdwara Baba Sri Chand in Shor Bazaar, Kabul was established by Baba Almast (1553 – 1643) when he visited Kabul. There is also small Gurdwara Baba Almast next to Khalsa Gurdwara in Kabul.

Bhai Nand Lal (1633–1715), a great poet and scholar of Farsi language was born in Ghazni and was one of the poets in the court of Guru Gobind Singh. His composition written under the pen-name Goya is much revered and sung by the Sikhs. His father was Diwan Chhajju Ram, Mir Munshi or chief secretary of the Governor of Ghazni.

At the age of nineteen, Nand Lal migrated to Multan which was a big city of merchants. He settled in Multan and took a local Sikh woman as his wife. He got employed by the local chief and was soon appointed as Mir Munshi. It is through his wife that Nand Lal became close to Sikh doctrine and the contemporary socio-political circumstances led him to seek refuge under Guru Gobind Singh at Anandpur. His life and work have been covered in detail by Prof. Ganda Singh.17

Sadly, the Sikhs in general and particularly those from Afghanistan did not share his remarkable work with fellow Afghans. Only a small part of his devotional poetry written in praise of Guru Gobind Singh is sung by the Sikhs as most of his poetic compositions are in Farsi, a language alien to most of the present-day Sikhs. Two Gurdwara Sahibs are named after Bhai Nand Lal in Ghazni.

AHMED SHAH ABDALI

Ahmed Shah Abdali is fondly called Ahmed Shah Baba and considered as founder of Modern Afghanistan. One community’s hero can be an other’s villain. Abdali is remembered in Punjab for persecuting Sikhs and desecrating and destroying Harmandar Sahib in Amritsar. Punjab was the only province which Abdali lost during his reign from 1747-72. To manage Sikhs diplomatically Abdali appointed Kabuli Mal, an Afghan Hindu from Kabul as the governor of Lahore in 1763. He and his nephew Amir Singh (Sikh?) managed Lahore provinces for few months. Sikhs captured Sirhind in December 1764 and Lahore in January 1765.18

A local Afghan Hindu in Kandahar shared an interesting anecdote with the author of this article. A Gurdwara Sahib dedicated to Baba Sri Chand exists in Kandahar next to a Mosque and a Hindu Temple. Upon Hindus & Sikhs request, Ahmed Shah Abdali granted permission to expand their place of worship in his capital city. The locals objected that this would mean the building of non-Muslim would be bigger than the Masjid. It is said that Ahmad Shah overruled them and replied that there are Masjids is every street and this is their (Hindu/Sikh) only place of worship in the city hence his decision would stand. The Gurdwara is now locked but under the control of the Sangat.

POST AHMAD SHAH

The city of Multan and neighbouring areas remained under the Sikh Misl Sardars (leaders) for a decade before being passed on to the Afghans. Timur Shah, the successor to Ahmed Shah was unable to re-capture Punjab but was successful in Multan in 1779.Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799–1839) successfully annexed Kashmir, Multan, Attock, Dejarat, Hazara and Peshawar which were all under the Afghans.19

In 1838, Shah Shuja was able to secure support from the British East India Company and Maharaja Ranjit Singh. It was agreed that Shah Shuja would be re-instated as the Amir of Afghanistan and Dost Mohammed would be removed. Shah Shuja will forfeit any claim towards Peshawar and Maharaja would do the same for Shikarpur (in Sindh). Shah Shuja was re-instated as Amir of Afghanistan in late 1839, almost thirty years after he was initially deposed by his brother. However, Shah Shuja was murdered in 1842 and the British who were already fed up with the costly (human and monetary) war which later came to be known as First Anglo-Afghan war invited Dost Mohammad Khan who was earlier deposed by the British to take up the reign in Afghanistan.

Khushwant Singh writes that the new Sikh ruler, Maharaja Sher Singh was unhappy and felt that the British had used Sikhs in the Afghanistan campaign to their own benefit. Apparently, the British forgot to consult the successor of Ranjit Singh regarding the reinstatement of the old adversary of the Sikhs, Dost Mohammed Khan to head the helm of affairs in Afghanistan. When Dost Mohammed passed through Lahore on his way to Kabul, the Sikh ruler gave him a huge welcome and expensive gifts. The Khan was also inclined to form better relations with Sikhs as they were neighbours. A few months later Sher Singh was murdered which eventually led to the British occupation of Punjab.

In 1848–49, the Sikhs fought the British which came to be known as the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Dost Mohammed was sympathetic to the Sikh cause and sent irregular Afghan mercenaries which fought alongside the Sikhs in the Battle of Gujrat in February 1849. The superior artillery of the British won the day, and this ended the era of Sikh and Afghan relationships on a rare co-operation.20

EARLY 19TH CENTURY

In 1808, Mountstuart Elphinstone was sent to Afghanistan by the British to study and possibly make an alliance lest the Russians decided to invade the sub-continent.

As an example of Afghan toleration, Elphinstone mentions a Sikh goldsmith who he says was a very intelligent man and had travelled throughout Afghanistan, Persia and Central Asia. This Sikh goldsmith always spoke about ‘the kindness and hospitality’ of the Afghans as opposed to the Persians who were very suspicious and would not allow the Sikh to draw water from the well or walk in the rain lest he splashed water on a Persian making him impure!21

Mohan Lal (1812–77) popularly known as Mohan Lal Kashmiri was a traveller and writer. He travelled to Afghanistan and Central Asia in 1832–34 with Alexander Burnes on a mission given by the East India Company to gain intelligence about the country. His proficiency in the Persian language assisted in this venture.

Alexander Burnes writes that there were 300 Hindu families in Kabul which were in addition to the Shikarpuri merchants who lent money to the Government. These merchants lived separately as they did not bring their families (womenfolk and children) with them to Afghanistan. Burnes’ account tells us about the powerful Hindu Prime Minister of the Khan of Bukhara, but the city only had Hindu merchants unlike Kabul which had a permanent settled Hindu population.22

NANAKPANTHI

Prof. Ganda Singh in his book, Early European Accounts of the Sikhs refers to the account of Mr John Griffiths about Afghanistan in 18th century, Griffiths gives very interesting information, he writes that the principal inhabitants were Muslims, with some Hindus, who had adopted the ‘institutions of Baba Nanak’. Griffiths erroneously writes that they ‘are called Khatri’. In essence, he was stating that some Hindus had adopted the religion of Guru Nanak and became Sikhs or Nanakpanthis. Since most of the Sikhs and the Hindus belonged to the Khatri (or Arora) caste that followed the mercantile or trader profession, hence ‘Khatri’. This is the first European reference to Sikhs in Afghanistan.23

The Singh Sabha Sikh reform movement came to Afghanistan in early 20th century when Akali Kaur Singh came to Nangarhar province in 1918 and stayed in the country for a year. He went from house to house preaching the Sikh doctrine which led to the construction of many Gurdwaras especially in places where the Sikhs were in few numbers and were without a place of worship.24

Similar to the Frontier province and Sindh (now in Pakistan) there were a considerable number Sahajdharis and many had dual Hindu – Sikh beliefs. Erroneously both these groups have been clubbed as Sahajdharis or Nanakpanthis by some historians.

Late Sadhu Singh Saathi mentions that the first Amrit Sanchar (Sikh ceremony of initiation into Khalsa) in Afghanistan was arranged in February 1920 in Lal Pur district in Nangarhar province. A number of Sahajdharis took Khande di Pahul and became Khalsa. The following year, another Amrit Sanchar was conducted in the Gurdwara at Lal Pur. It was decided that a Sikh conference would be arranged and all Khalsa and Guru Nanak Naam Leva Sikhs (another name for Sahajdhari Sikhs) would be invited. During this conference on 22nd January 1921, the Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan was created. The organisation played a key part in the social, cultural, economic and political circles of Eastern Afghanistan. They did much work for propagation of the Sikh values and traditions. Saathi credits Akali Kaur Singh’s leadership for this achievement. Another Sikh, Teja Singh Swatantar (1901–73) came to Kabul as a Sikh missionary in 1923.

SIKHS & AMIR AMANULLAH KHAN (1919-29)

Professor Ganda Singh, who visited Afghanistan in September 1952 writes that there was a small mosque behind the Gurdwara Jyoti Saroop at Lahori Darwaza, Kabul. A Hindu fakir Chacha Bali who was revered by both the Muslims and Hindus lived at the site. When he died, he was buried and later the Muslims built a mosque over his grave. In 1919, the wall between the Gurdwara and the mosque fell, and the Muslims did not allow the Sikhs to repair it. Sikhs went to Amanullah Khan who tried to persuade the Muslims, but they did not allow him to intervene and said it was a matter of Deen (religion) and only the Emperor could intervene. Later, when Amanullah became the Amir he himself supervised and commissioned the wall.

Amir Habibullah Khan, father of Amanullah was very impressed by the beauty of Chashma (stream) and its surrounding at Sultanpur. He tried to buy it from the Sikhs, but latter expressed their inability to sell as it was a site where their Guru came and hence is a property of all Sikhs over the world. Habibullah forcibly occupied it in 1906 and built a palace next to it. When Amanullah Khan became the Amir, a deputation was sent to him by the Sikhs and he listened to them very patiently, finally allowing them to bathe in the Chashma. In 1924, Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan got permission to hold a Diwan (religious program, audience hall) here on Vaisakhi.

On 18th May 1925, the Sikhs organised a three-day Samagham (religious programme) for the first time in the city of Kabul. The religious function was held in the garden of Diwan Niranjan Das (Commerce Minister under the Amir)’s mansion. Giani Avtar Singh and Master Udham Singh were the main organisers. Following the completion of Akhand Paath, a Nagar Kirtan, a Sikh religious procession with the Guru Granth Sahib in a spacious vehicle which had the Khalsa flag and the flag of Afghanistan on either side was taken out in the city. On the last day, Amrit Sanchar (Khalsa initiation ceremony) for the willing was performed. The programme which was supported by the government was very well attended by the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.25

Baba Mangal Singh Bedi & Tara Singh Pishpalaki as Sikh representative participated in the Loya Jirga (Grand Assembly) of 1925. In the year 1927, but the Amir Amanullah Khan ordered his government and the honorary workers that any participant of the second Loya Jirga should not wear turbans. Much to the surprise of the Amir, only two people (the above two Sikhs) were wearing turban in the Loya Jirga. The Amir had little clue about Sikhs and their obligation to maintain Kesh. They rendered their resignation at the end of the Grand Assembly in 1927.26

RESETTLEMENTS IN URBAN AREAS

Until 1931 Sikhs and Hindus were settled throughout the villages and small towns of Nangarhar and in the neighbouring Kunar province. That year during an attack by the robbers, two robbers (belonging to Mangal Pashtun tribe) and a Sikh were killed. This meant an ongoing enmity between the Mangal tribe and the Sikhs. To safeguard, the government relocated the Sikhs and Hindus to the bigger towns and cities. Most of them came to Jalalabad which significantly increased their population in the city.27

SIKHS & ZAHIR SHAH (1933-73)

Amanullah Khan had reduced the Jaziya to half for Hindus & Sikhs and removed the ongoing instruction to wear yellow turbans (for Hindus). During the reign of Mohammed Zahir Shah, the Jaziya tax was totally abandoned.

In 1954, the local government (Nangarhar province) decided to widen the road and Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at Jalalabad came under that modernization plan. This meant that the Gurdwara had to be demolished and the local government would give land [for the gurdwara] elsewhere. When the Sikhs failed to convince the local authorities not to demolish the gurdwara, a petition was made to the Emperor Zahir Shah in Kabul who issued a royal edict and the Gurdwara was handed back to the Sikhs. The road widening plan was changed.28

In 1965 permission was granted to build the new Gurdwara at Karte Parwan area in Kabul. This Singh Sabha Gurdwara is the largest Gurdwara Sahib in Afghanistan. The Gurdwara has three floors and a basement, including a kitchen, a primary school building, an emergency clinic and a guest house.29

Traditionally Sikhs & Hindus have been shopkeepers, Hakeems (Greco-Persian medicine), involved in moneylending, informal banking and trading of spices, herbs and medicines. In the 1960s the community started venturing into further and higher education. By early 1970s every hospital and university in major Afghan cities had their fair share of Sikh & Hindu doctors and professors.

In 1969, Jai Singh Fani was elected as an independent candidate to Afghan Legislature. He was a bright young man but suddenly passed away in 1977 after a short period of illness. Right from 1925, every Loya Jirga & Parliament till date had a Sikh representation.30

LANGUAGE

People in Afghanistan are multi-lingual. In addition to the official languages of Dari and Pashto which was widely spoken, there are number of minor languages. The persecuted Hazara Shia community speaks Hazaragi language. The Nuristani, Uzbek, Turkmen communities have their own language.

The Afghan Sikhs (& Hindus), when they apply for refugee status in UK, they are interviewed in Pashto which they speak fluently. However, the communities in Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad at home speak Hindko, a dialect of Western Punjabi language. The Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Peshawar and neighbouring Punjab speak Hindko however, majority of the province speaks Pashto. The Hindus of Kabul speak a dialect of Hindi called Kabuli Hindi at home.

The Sikhs (& Hindus) of Khost province are mostly Sahajdhari and speak Pashto at home like the neighboring Sikhs across the Durand Line in FATA area (Federally Administered Tribal Areas merged with KPK in 2018). The vast majority of Sikhs living in Panja Sahib and Nankana Sahib (West Punjab, Pakistan) belong to this region.

The Sikhs & Hindus of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan spoke Multani. This language is called Saraiki in West Punjab. Traditionally this region has very few Sikhs however there were appreciable number of Sahajdhari Sikhs and after year 2000 many became Khalsa.

The Pakistani census records Punjabi, Hindko and Saraiki as separate languages. The first two are more mutually intelligible than the third one. The youngsters in East Punjab will struggle to comprehend Saraiki compared to Hindko.

The languages also tell a little story. The city of Kandahar had its share of Multani and Shikarpuri Hindu merchants in 17th & 18th  century, if not earlier. The local Hindus adopted the language of their affluent co-religionists.

POPULATION

Prof. Ganda Singh came to Afghanistan in September 1952 and visited Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad &Kandahar and stated there were 6000 – 7000 Sikhs and Hindus in the country. This is a very humble estimate as two decades later, Louise Dupree in his book ‘Afghanistan’ published in 1973 states there were 25,000 of them (15,000 Sikhs). The Sikhs were more numerous than Hindus. In other part of the book, Dupree gives the combined figure as 30,000. Khajinder Singh Khurana gave their number as 60,000 in 1992 when vast majority of Sikhs & Hindus left Afghanistan (in the ratio of 3:2).

Zahir Shah was deposed in 1973 by his cousin Daud Khan who became the President who was assassinated in April 1978 which plunged the country into chaos. Later in December 1979, the Soviet Union sent their forces to support the communist regime in Kabul. This plunged the country into civil war. Many prominent Afghan Sikhs and Hindus left the country in late 1970s and 1980s.

Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana, former Member of the Afghan Grand Assembly in 1990-92 is currently living in London and is writing a book on the community focusing on past 100-150 years. He and late Gajinder Singh, fellow Parliamentarian played a pivotal role in 1992, working with Dr Najibullah Ahmadzai, the President of Afghanistan to get a safe passage for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. He was in midst of the plans for exodus with Afghan government in 1992 when lists were made, and speedy visas were given to Sikhs and Hindus. Dr Khurana informs that the Kabul Embassy has informed that approximately 75,000 Sikhs and Hindus were issued visas to India in 1992. About 10,000 decided against leaving the country. By end of Taliban regime in October 2001, the number of Sikhs had dropped to 3000 and before the attack on 25th March 2020, only 650 – 700 Sikhs remained in the country.

PREVIOUS EXODUS

The first major exodus of Afghan Hindus (& Sikhs) was during the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman Khan (1880 – 1901). Amir suppressed numerous rebellions including those of Hazaras (a predominately Shia community who are considered as descendants of Mongols due to their facial features) community. Dr Khurana informs that this led to many fundamentalist elements in Afghan society to harass Hindus & Sikhs. Many left the country and settled in India. The Afghan Sikh community in Patiala in Punjab came to India during this time. 31

Mr. Umesh Sharma, 72 years old from Bengaluru informs that his great grandfather Pandit Guru Dass moved out of Herat in 1888 when the local Muslims boycotted Hindu (& Sikh) shops. The family came to Gujranwala then to Lahore and finally settled in Meerut in 1943. Mr. Sharma adds that 90% of Hindus & Sikhs left Herat, out of which 30% settled in other parts of Afghanistan and rest migrated to British controlled India. It may be mentioned here that the Amir seem tolerant towards Hindus (& Sikhs). Diwan Niranjan Das who was the Commerce Minister under Amanullah Khan also served under the Abdur Rehman. The Amir gave Hindus the permission to build the Asamai temple on the lower side of Koh (Mountain) e Asamai in Kabul. In addition, he sent the building material and a palanquin for the idol.

Amir Amanullah Khan’s (reign 1919 – 29) modernization plan which included education for women, wearing modern clothing etc. led to a strong resentment and there was a rebellion in Khost province in 1924 which was quelled in January 1925. The Amir came from long tour of Europe in 1928 and announced that he was banning hijab & burka. Although there were other factors, but the Amir was declared as ‘kuffar’ (infidel) and large number of tribes in Eastern (& Kandahar) Afghanistan rebelled against the government. This Afghan Civil started in November 1928 and ended in October 1929. This civil war affected Eastern Afghanistan including Kabul and Kandahar which traditionally had relatively high Hindu and Sikh population who were again at the receiving end of the fundamentalist element. This again led to some migration of Afghan Hindus & Sikhs to British India.

MASS MIGRATION 1992

On 13th April 1988, on Vaisakhi day, a gunman entered the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Jalalabad when the place was full of devotees. He killed 13 Sikhs and 4 Muslims security guards. Dalair Singh Arora confronted him and managed to kill the terrorist. Dalair Singh lost his life and is remembered for his bravery.32

During March to October 1989, the Mujahideen attacked Jalalabad with intention to capture the city. The local tribal chief impressed upon Mujahideen for peace, but latter said they had to attack, and the chief gave them the map of old township and marked that area where Mujahideen could bomb. And this area was where Sikhs lived in Jalalabad. For 6 months the missiles were fired on the area and 102 Afghan Sikhs died and over 500 were injured in these attacks.

The relations between Afghanistan and India have always been cordial. It was felt that under the fundamentalist Mujahideen (who were supported by Pakistan and USA) life would become very difficult for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. The Sikhs & Hindus were considered as Indians & friends of Soviet Union, an enemy of the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen had publicly declared many times that Indians and Russians cannot be trusted. These fears were not unfounded, when Mujahideen captured Kabul in April 1992, they thoroughly searched and desecrated Gurdwara Singh Sabha, Karte Parwan, the largest Gurdwara in Kabul. The Sikhs were harassed throughout this period.

At that time, it was extremely bureaucratic to obtain a passport for anyone in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Afghan government issued speedier passports to the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs and called the scheme Aab Gang (Aab means water, Gang is river Ganga) pilgrimage passport. It was on the lines of the Haj visa for Muslims issued by Saudi Arabia.

The Indian embassy set up an on-the-go visa department at Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazaar in Kabul to rapidly issue visas without any checks so that the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs could flee the civil war. It was too dangerous for people living in the old town to travel to the Indian embassy in the centre of the town because of the dangers of bombardment all over Kabul. The Indian embassy did not have enough staff to put the visa stamps, so some Afghan Sikh volunteers at the Gurdwara had to put visa stamps on people’s passports. Close to 65,000 people left Afghanistan and came to India under this scheme. As mentioned earlier, this major migration of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus happened in 1992 just before the Mujahideen captured the capital Kabul.

CONCLUSION

The Taliban were defeated in October 2001 and since then Afghanistan had a fragile democracy. Sikhs were about 3000 in 2001 and during the democracy their number dwindled to 650 – 700. By end of August 2020, 450 Afghan Sikhs had left Afghanistan and sought refuge in India. During this period (2002 – 20) the Afghan government failed to provide them adequate housing or reinstate their homes which has been illegally occupied by their powerful neighbours or warlords during the 1990s. Sikhs boys were continuously bullied in schools and the teachers and school management would not intervene. There is hardly anyone in the community who has studied beyond schooling after 1990s. However, the present Afghan government is sympathetic towards Sikhs. Two primary schools for Sikhs were opened in Kabul and Jalalabad. The Sikhs were given representation in Parliament and Government. This year 50 lakh Afghani rupees were allotted for renovation of Sikh and Hindu places of worship. Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad and Dargarh Peer Rattan Nath Mandir in Ghazni were refurbished this year. In the past 5 years, more than 10,000 civilians have been killed each year in attacks by government and Taliban forces. The Shia Hazara community has been specifically targeted. The Taliban now controls almost 50% of the country and government is trying to come to a peace deal with them. Afghanistan has over 60 including many historical Gurdwaras. But after the recent massacre of the Sikhs by Taliban in a Gurdwara in Kabul on March 26, 2020. The most of the Afghan Sikhs are leaving Afghanistan for India under Modi Govt’s permission for Afghan Hindu and Sikh to enter in India. They are actively assisted by DSGMC and provided temporary boarding at lodging at Gurdwara Rakab Ganj at Delhi. It the tragic end of Afghan Sikh history and their rich heritage. Will the Sikh organizations in India and abroad take notice of this tragedy and raise this issue at the national and international for the preservation of the Sikh heritage?

~~~

REFERENCES

  1. Roger Ballard. (2011) The History and Current Situation of Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikhs Population. Stalybridge: Center for Applied South Asian Studies p2
  2. Hari Ram Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1 The Sikh Gurus, 1469-1708. 2nd Edition New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  3. E.D. Morgan and C.H. Coote. (1886). Early Voyages and Travels to Russia and Persia by Anthony Jenkinson and other Englishman. London: Hakluyt Society.
  4. The writer of the article spoke to several Afghan Sikhs & Hindus living across the globe including India, Afghanistan, UK, Germany, Belgium and USA.
  5. Annette S. Beveridge. (1922). The Babur-Nama in English. London: Luzac & Co.
  6. Kirpal Singh. (1969). Janamsakhi Parampara (In Punjabi). Patiala: Punjabi University.
  7. Ibid
  8. Bhai Bala Wali Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji di Janamsakhi. (Punjabi) 39th Edition, Feb 2010 Amritsar: B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh
  9. Ganda Singh. (1954). Afghanistan da Safar (in Punjabi). New Delhi: Prakash & Co.
  10. Charles Masson. (1844). Narrative of  Various Journeys in Balochistan,Afghanistan, the Panjab and Kalat.London: Richard Bentley
  1. Bhai Bala Wali Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji di Janamsakhi. (Punjabi) 39th Edition, Feb 2010 Amritsar: B. Chattar Singh Jiwan Singh
  2. Kulwinder Singh Bajwa. (2004) Mahima Prakash (Vartak) (in Punjabi). Amritsar: Singh Brothers
  3. Kahn Singh Nabha. (1930). Gur Shabad Ratna Mahan Kosh.
  4. Ganda Singh. (1967). Nanak Panthis in The Panjab Past and Present. Patiala: Punjabi University.
  5. Harbans Singh. (1992–98). Encyclopaedia of Sikhism. Patiala: Punjabi University.
  6. Hari Ram Gupta (1984) History of the Sikhs Vol 1 The Sikh Gurus, 1469-1708. 2nd Edition New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  7. Ganda Singh. (1968). Bhai Nand Lal Granthavali (in Punjabi) Patiala: Punjabi University
  8. Ganda Singh. (1959) Ahmad Shah Durrani Father of Modern Afghanistan. London: Asia Publishing House
  9. Hari Ram Gupta. (1991). History of  the Sikhs, Vol 5: Maharaja Ranjit Singh. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal
  10. Khushwant Singh. (1966). History of the Sikhs, Vol 2. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  11. Mountstuart Elphinstone. (1815). An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies. London: Longman
  12. Alexander Burnes. (1834). Travels into Bokhara Vol 1. London: John Murray
  13. Ganda Singh. (1962). Early European Accounts of the Sikhs, Calcutta: Firma K.L.
  14. Sadhu Singh Saathi. (1994). Ithas Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan (in Punjabi). Jalalabad: Parchar Committee Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan.
  15. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana informed the writer on 3rd September 2020 regarding this and Rajvanshi clan.
  16. Ibid
  17. Sadhu Singh Saathi. (1994). Ithas Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan (in Punjabi). Jalalabad: Parchar Committee Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan.
  18. Ibid
  19. Khajinder S. Khurana. (2001). Kabul de Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas (in Punjabi). New Delhi.
  20. Ibid
  21. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana informed the writer on 3rd September 2020
  22. Ibid

Source: SikhNet

by Inderjeet Singh

he President of Afghan Hindu & Sikh Welfare Society, Khajinder Singh Khuranapassed away last month in Delhi. He was forefront in arranging accommodation, securing funding and other facilities for the recent Afghan Sikh refugees. I am sharing his short biography which I have translated from the upcoming book in Punjabi on Afghan Hindus and Sikhs by Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana, former member of the Afghan Great Assembly (Loya Jirga) 1990 -92.

Sardar Khajinder Singh was born in 1953 in the house of Bhai Mohar Singh Khurana and Mata Parkash Kaur in Shor Bazar, the old part of the city of Kabul. He completed his primary education at Khalsa Religious School, Kabul and was later enrolled in ‘Nadria Lacey’ for higher secondary education. Following this he joined the ‘British Council Kabul School’ to learn English and gained a certification which assisted him to serve in the UNESCO Kabul Office.

Later he joined his family business, where he proved to be a very successful in the import/export venture between Kabul & Dubai along with his brother Amarjit Singh, Manmohan Singh & Balbir Singh. He was part of the managing committee of Guru Nanak Religious School, Karte Parwan Kabul from 1975-80.

Sardar Jai Singh Fani (1941-77) the only independently elected Sikh Parliamentarian from Afghanistan was the younger brother of his Bhai Mohar Singh. The change in regime in December 1979 led the family to migrate to Delhi in 1980. He married Bibi Rajinder Kaur on January 2, 1983 at Gurdwara Greater Kailash, Delhi. He was later blessed with two sons and a daughter. Due to the unfavourable security conditions in Afghanistan, he left Afghanistan permanently in 1988.

Dr Khurana (not related) met Khajinder Singh in 1992 and found leadership qualities in him. Both joined the newly created Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society, Delhi and started community service together under the guidance of late Shri Ganga Ram (former Afghan Parliamentarian). In the year 2000, he was made the First Joint Secretary of the organisation, which he served very well till 2003. In May 2001, his book on history of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan in Punjabi, Kabul di Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas was released.

In early 2017 I contacted him in Delhi and he kindly sent a copy of the book to me in UK. I have duly referenced his work in my book, Afghan Hindus & Sikhs History of a Thousand Years.

Following the death of Shri Ganga Ram in 2003, Khajinder Singh became the President of Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society. He led the charity ably but his services for past five years are noteworthy. The killing of innocent Afghan Sikhs on 1st July 2018 and 25th March 2020 in Jalalabad and Kabul shook the community. He collaborated with the Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society for temporary settlement of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in India, as well as the efforts of in acquiring Indian citizenship for them. Charity Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan UK and Central Night Germany Committee’s assisted in evacuating about 450 Afghan Sikhs from Kabul to Delhi in August this year.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December 2019 offers citizenship to non-Muslims fleeing religious persecution from three nearby countries. Initially as a bill it was only limited to Pakistan and Bangladesh only. Khajinder Singh rose to the occasion and met Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee members, Akali Dal and Central Government Minsters to impress them to include Afghanistan citizens in the bill.

He understood the importance to lobby about the issue and build an opinion among the stakeholders.

On 13th September due to cardiac arrest he left this mortal world for the heavenly abode. The Afghan Sikh and Hindu community will remember his selfless services till their last breath. On a personal level I lost an elder friend whom helped me in my research, and it will be very difficult to fill his void in my life.

Wahe Guru Ji Apne Charna Vich Niwas Bakshan!

Source: The Tribune

Harkiran Kaur Sodhi

HARPREET Kaur was a young girl in Delhi when she married her love and moved to Kabul. “At first, I couldn’t understand where I had come. I used to cry in my room,” she recalls. Slowly, the community’s irresistible warmth touched her. “Phir mera bahut dil lag gaya and I didn’t want to leave.” Her parents had left Afghanistan for Delhi after Baisakhi in 1947. She grew up as a daughter of refugees in Delhi but little did she know she was going to become one herself, when she had to move back from Kabul after her husband’s death in a blast in Afghanistan. Harpreet Kaur is one of the rare Delhi transplants into Kabul, who eventually returned to Delhi, now a city of strangers for her.

Harpreet has two children, both born in Afghanistan. Her husband, Rawail Singh, was a community leader and trader. “He taught me to read and write. I am literate because of him,” she says. “Every day we made lunch at home, and went out for dinner,” she recalls. Her kids went to good schools and speak fluent Punjabi. She remembers the little things he did. “Every evening their father would come home from work and teach them Punjabi,” she says. “Every year on our anniversary and my birthday, he gifted me a ring,” Harpreet remembers, “I had 31 rings in all. I felt like a queen.”

When a six-year-old Muslim girl landed at her doorstep, Harpreet took her in. She became her third child, and grew up with her own children. “Whenever my kids got a dress made, she would get one too”. To Harpreet, it didn’t matter what faith she belonged to.

Never in their wildest dreams had the family imagined that their life would change forever. In 2018, her husband received an invitation to join a caravan of Sikh leaders of Afghanistan to meet the President, Ashraf Ghani, in Jalalabad. “I had a feeling that something bad was about to happen,” Harpreet says. But her husband didn’t think twice, “Mein seva karan ja rehan, meinu kuch nahin hunda,” he said, and left. That was the last time Harpreet saw her husband. In a country where explosions and bombings are so frequent, life is uncertain. When Rawail Singh, along with 12 other Sikh leaders, went to meet President Ghani, their van was asked to wait at the gate of the President’s complex. Before they knew it, a suicide bomber appeared and the leaders were no more. Ghani was unharmed. He continued with his meetings.

The tragic incident changed the lives of the families related to these 17 leaders. Harpreet’s life was thrust into turmoil. Living in areas of conflict does not make the pain of loss any less. Trauma translates into a blur sometimes, and before she knew it, Harpreet had landed in Delhi. “Afghanistan wasn’t safe,” she says. She left her house in care of the Muslim girl she had raised, now 20 years of age. She left Afghanistan six months after the blast, and took next to nothing with her. But despite having arrived in Delhi more than two years back, Harpreet still considers Afghanistan her home.

Harpreet now lives in the Tilak Vihar neighbourhood of Delhi, along with many other Afghan Sikh refugee families. The community continues to struggle. While stories of Partition are romanticised from afar, there is nothing beautiful about this modern-day Sikh refugee crisis. As they all wait to emigrate, the question remains — how are they doing in Delhi?

When the pandemic struck

Things took a turn for the worse for the community when Covid-19 struck. “My son assisted at a local shop for a meagre pay but during the lockdown, the shops were closed. One day I found him crying like the way he did when his dad died,” says Harpreet. When she asked him the reason, he said, “I want to go back to Afghanistan. I cannot find work; I can’t sit here and be useless all day. If we’re going to die, we’re going to die, why not just go back home?”

Harpreet had taken on seamstress tasks but low demand caused that to shut down too. “We live in a rented house. There are bills to pay: electricity, water and phone,” says a teary-eyed Harpreet. She says, no organisation was providing any support, and even if there was any such support available, she doesn’t know how to go about seeking it. “No one asks about us. It’s as if we don’t matter,” she adds, “no one cares to know how we put food on the table — saada koi puchan wala nahin hai”. She goes on, “We moved to Delhi for a better life, but sometimes I wonder if Afghanistan was better.”

Similar has been the fate of most Afghan refugee families. Losses trickled down to lay-offs and many members of the community went without even the paltry assured income. “The situation in Afghanistan has continued to worsen. Thinking of going back means accepting death. Yet, this thought continues to cross our minds — not just because it is home, but because of what Delhi has given us,” says Harpreet.

Earlier this year, 25 Sikhs were killed when a militant attacked a gurdwara in Kabul in the midst of an ardas. Efforts have been on to bring back remaining members of the Afghan Sikh community to Delhi for reasons of safety. But is that enough, asks another Afghan Sikh refugee Giani Gurnaam Singh, who has moved from Jalalabad to Delhi. According to him, evacuating Afghan Sikhs has a laudable effort but more needs to be done.

“We must not assume that landing in Delhi is the solution – it is only a new beginning”, he says. International efforts to resettle the community appear limited to newly arrived refugees.They must be provided long-term foreign resettlement and short-term empowerment efforts. All the individuals interviewed for the Afghan Sikh Voices project view Delhi as only a temporary relocation, as they hope to leave for the West soon.

Harpreet’s story is a testament that time is not always healing, and humanity is not always forgiving. It has been two years since Harpreet came here but her situation continues to worsen. Now, as a 40-year-old, with two teenage children, she has no NGO assistance to register with the UNHCR or resettle in a different country. Foreign philanthropy provided short-term resettlement assistance to other families.

Harpreet’s three-year visa will expire next year and she has no clue as to what comes next. Nothing makes sense to her. When asked how she pays the bills, she says, “I sold the 31 rings my husband gave me.”

Source: Concord Monitor, Star Tribune

By TAMEEM AKHGAR Associated Press Published: 9/27/2020

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus is shrinking to its lowest levels. With growing threats from the local Islamic State affiliate, many are choosing to leave the country of their birth to escape the insecurity and a once-thriving community of as many as 250,000 members now counts fewer than 700.

The community’s numbers have been declining for years because of deep-rooted discrimination in the majority Muslim country. But, without what they say is adequate protection from the government, the attacks by the Islamic State group may complete the exodus.

“We are no longer able to stay here,” said a member of the tiny community, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Hamdard, out of fear he may be targeted for speaking out. Hamdard said seven relatives of his, including his sister, nephews, and son-in-law were killed by Islamic State gunmen in an attack on the community’s temple in March, which killed 25 Sikhs.

Hamdard said that fleeing his homeland is as difficult as leaving a mother behind. Still, he joined a group of Sikhs and Hindus who left Afghanistan last month for India, from where they will eventually move on to a third country.

Although Sikhism and Hinduism are two distinct religions with their own holy books and temples, in Afghanistan the communities are interwoven, having been driven into a kinship by their tiny size, and they both gather under one roof or a single temple to worship, each following their own faith.

The community has suffered widespread discrimination in the conservative Muslim country.

Under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, Sikhs and Hindus were asked to identify themselves by wearing yellow armbands, but after a global outcry, the rule was not enforced. Also driving the exodus is the inability to reclaim Sikh homes, businesses and houses of worship that were illegally seized years ago.

Aside from the March attack by IS gunmen, a 2018 Islamic State suicide attack in the city of Jalalabad killed 19 people, most of them Sikhs, including a longtime leader who had nominated himself for the Afghan parliament.

“Suffering big fatalities for a small community is not tolerable,” said Charan Singh Khalsa, a leader of the Sikh community living abroad, who declined to say where he was living out of fear for his safety. 

He left Afghanistan after his brother was kidnapped and killed in an attack by gunmen in Kabul two years ago. He said the last three years have been the worst period for all Afghans, but especially so for Sikhs and Hindus.

Community leaders have slammed recent governments for failing to step up security in the face of the IS threat.

Afghanistan’s government in 2010 decided to dedicate a chair in the national assembly to religious minorities, and there have since been two Sikh representatives.

But Khalsa called these posts “symbolic”. He criticized the government for taking too long to grant political representation powers to the community and for failing to “provide security to our places of worship.” 

A senior Sikh community leader told The Associated Press that the group is in negotiations with the government over its security needs and the repairing of the temple after it was destroyed in March’s attack. The community leader spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media.

At a press conference last month, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said that members of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu community will return once peace is restored. The president’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the AP, but other Afghan officials have pledged to assist the community.

“We will use all our facilities to provide security to the people,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said, without elaborating. “We are committed and responsible for their (Sikhs and Hindus) mental and personal security.” 

It is not clear what kind of security measures are being discussed, nor when they might be seen on the ground.

Until then, the community’s flight is accelerating, with large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus continuing a recent trend of seeking asylum in India, which has a Hindu majority and a large Sikh population.

In August, a group of 176 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus went to India on special visas. They were the second batch since March, with the first 11 members arriving in India in July.

Khalsa said that a group of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Canada and European countries has volunteered to sponsor the exodus of those remaining in Kabul who cannot afford air tickets and temporary accommodation in a transit country.

Several Canadian legislators have asked the country’s immigration ministry for a special program for Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees, requesting that they be brought to safety in Canada amid the increasing security threat.

For Afghan Sikhs, the thought of being uprooted is painful, despite the circumstances.

“It’s hard to leave our birthplace but we have no other option,” said Hamdard. “Afghanistan does not want us anymore.”