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Click here to read a research paper by Roger Ballard on Afghan Hindus and Sikhs which was written in 2011

Click here to read the thesis by Chitra Venkatesh Akkoor who completed this work in 2011 as part of her PhD degree in University of Iowa. Chitra made multiple trips to Germany and spent significant amount of time with Afghan Hindus in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne to complete this work.

 

Members of Religious Minority Say Their Customs Aren’t Welcomed; Some See Hope in New Government

But despite Mr. Ghani’s pledge to make Afghanistan more inclusive, Mr. Singh says he worries that his tiny religious minority could disappear as more Sikhs and Hindus leave their homeland because of persistent discrimination.

“If the new government of Afghanistan doesn’t pay attention to this issue, obviously one day there will be no Sikh or Hindu left in Afghanistan,” he said.

Islam is Afghanistan’s official religion. Though the country’s constitution recognizes the right of members of other faiths to practice freely, and many moderate Afghan Muslims embrace diversity, Sikhs and Hindus say they often face intolerance of their religious practices and customs here.

For this reason, community leaders say, many have left in recent years.

One autumn evening, Sikhs and Hindus lit candles as they gathered in a temple in Kabul for Diwali, the festival of lights that is their most important annual celebration. Every year, members of the community say, attendance at Diwali dwindles. So does their population in the country. No official data exists, but community members say they are down to around 7,000 people, the majority of whom are Sikhs, from roughly 200,000 before the country’s civil war began in 1992.

Otar Singh, the head of Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh community and a former member of parliament, said conditions are worse under Afghanistan’s democratic government than they were during the Taliban’s severe rule in the late 1990s, when the minority group had to wear yellow arm bands that singled them out as second-class citizens.

“Under the Taliban our rights were clearly defined, and people were not cruel to us,” he said.

In a meeting with representatives of the Sikh and Hindu community in November, Mr. Ghani promised to address their concerns and reiterated that they’re entitled to the same rights as other Afghans, according to a statement from his office. He also vowed to allocate funds for the building of a temple in a district in the volatile eastern province of Nangarhar.

Related Video from Wall Street Journal

Members of the community say they hope Mr. Ghani’s stated commitment to defend their rights may slow the departure.

Since last spring, around 400 more Sikhs and Hindus have left, according to community leaders. Most joined the swelling Afghan community in India, their spiritual home, while some turned to people-smugglers in a bid to reach the West.

Such voyages have ended tragically. In August, 35 Afghan Sikhs of all ages were discovered in a ship’s cargo container in the British port town of Tilbury. One of the migrants, a man, was found dead. The U.K. government is currently considering the asylum applications of the others, said a spokeswoman for the British Embassy in Kabul.

Rawail Singh, one of the leaders of Kabul’s Sikh community, helps his wife with cooking before the Diwali festival. Many Sikhs and Hindus have been leaving Afghanistan amid persistent intolerance of their customs, they say. ‘I love Afghanistan because it’s my country,’ Mr. Singh says. ‘We Sikhs and Hindus aren’t from somewhere else. This is where we belong.’

Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus stay in small, tight-knit communities and participate in many of the same religious rituals held in a temple both faiths use. At home they speak mainly Punjabi, the language of Sikhism’s religious texts that is native to the Indian subcontinent.

Many Afghan Sikhs feel they straddle two worlds without being fully accepted in either, however.

“When we are in India, they call us Afghan,” said Ram Singh, a 22-year old shopkeeper. “But when we are in Afghanistan, other Afghans consider us outsiders—even if we are Afghans, too.”

The earliest evidence of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu community dates back to the 18th century, when they played a prominent role in the moneylending and merchant trade that linked Central Asia with the subcontinent. However, historians believe their presence predates that.

These days, they are known for the medicinal herb shops that many of them own. Most live in Kabul. Sikhs living elsewhere in the country say the intolerance they face is particularly open.

“We can’t live our life with people telling us: ‘Hindu, Hindu! You are an infidel!’ said Wisak Singh, an Afghan Sikh who lives in the city of Lashkar Gah, in the southern province of Helmand. “It doesn’t just happen occasionally. It happens to us every day.”

Of the 35 Sikh families who still live in Helmand, many are thinking of leaving, he said.

The main collective grievance Sikhs and Hindus face is local opposition to the custom of burning their dead. Many Afghans see the practice as un-Islamic, and have sought to stop it, periodically calling out insults or throwing stones at Sikh and Hindu funeral processions.

The community’s crematorium in Kabul is in a walled garden in what used to be the outskirts of town. But the city has swollen, and the site is now confined in a densely populated neighborhood. This has heightened tensions with locals in recent years. Sikhs now require police protection during funerals.

But not everyone opposes the ritual.

“They have their own religion and I have mine. They are good people and I have no issue with them,” said Mohammad Sharif, a Muslim security guard at the cremation site.

Schooling is another recurring issue, Sikhs and Hindus say. Most families, worrying that their children will be bullied, refuse to let them attend state-run schools, opting instead for private schools or no school at all.

Wisak Singh said that the children in his family, who also live in Helmand, are practically illiterate. “We are teaching them Punjabi at home, and we hired a private teacher who comes home to teach Pashtun and Dari,” Afghanistan’s two main languages.

Despite the challenges, Rawail Singh, the community leader, says he is proud of being Afghan. “I love Afghanistan because it’s my country. We Sikhs and Hindus aren’t from somewhere else,” he said. “This is where we belong.”

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Source: The Hindu

When two-year-old Kulraj Singh, son of a Delhi-based refugee couple from Afghanistan, frequently showed up unexplained infections, unexpected bleeding and fatigue, his parents Sajaan Singh and Gurmeet Kaur did not know he was suffering from a life threatening genetic bone marrow disorder.

Thanks to doctors at Narayana Health City and monetary help from his community heads, the boy – who was diagnosed with Amegakaryocytic Thrombocytopenia (AT) evolving into Aplastic anaemia – has now got a new lease of life.

Sunil Bhat, Head, Paediatric Hematology, Oncology and Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit in Narayana Health, who treated the boy with a BMT, said the father’s stem cells that only half-matched with his son’s were used. “This is India’s first haplo-identical stem cell transplant using TCR Alpha/ Beta depletion for this condition,” the doctor claimed.

Gurmeet Kaur, the boy’s mother, said waiting in long queues in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to get platelet transfusion for their son had become a regular affair till doctors concluded that the boy required a BMT.

“We were refused treatment in AIIMS and another top hospital in Delhi because we were unable to bear the high cost. Besides, the non-availability of a matching donor was a major hitch,” she said.

Undeterred, the parents filed a public interest litigation seeking free treatment for their son, who is four years now. Following this, Devi Shetty, Chairman of Narayana Health, offered to provide free treatment at Mazumdar Shaw Cancer Centre.

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Dr. Sunil said the child was brought to the hospital two months ago. “But as we did not find a matching donor, we had to go ahead with the father’s stem cells (that matched only fifty per cent) as the boy’s condition deteriorated.

Sharat Damodar, head of BMT Unit in the hospital, said the boy was fit to be discharged now. “As he will be on immunosuppressive drugs for the next six months he cannot go to school till then,” he said.

Disease

AT is a condition in which platelets are not produced in the marrow and patients have life threatening bleeding manifestations. It can evolve into Aplastic Anemia wherein marrow fails to form all the blood components.

Symptoms include unexplained infections (due to fewer white blood cells), unexpected bleeding (due to fewer platelets) and fatigue (due to fewer red blood cells). The only curative treatment available for this condition is blood and marrow stem cell transplant.

Source: Deccan Chronicle

New Delhi: A large number of Sikh and Hindu refugees from Afghanistan want to stay back in India, as the security situation in their country is not stable. Many of them, especially the young have learnt stitching and operating the computer and desire to be self-reliant.

New Delhi is home to a large number of Sikh and Hindu refuges, who migrated to India during the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.

Many of them have been in India for over two decades as refugees. They are waiting for return of peace in Afghanistan.

It is estimated that 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus migrated to India in 1992. Among those living in the national capital, 5,000 of them are still having a refugee status but some 3,000 have been given Indian citizenship.

The children of Sikh and Hindu refugees are being given education and vocational training by Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society.

The Khalsa Diwan Welfare society, established in 1992, has ensured that Afghan refugees staying in India are able to earn their livelihood.

At present, around 750 children are studying in Khalsa Diwan education center. The expenditure of the society is funded by the Afghan community living in India.

“We do not want to go back to Afghanistan as the situation there is problematic and there is no hope of improvement. So, we would like to stay in India. If we get our nationality and visa free status from the Indian government, our grievances will be taken care of. We will go abroad for work but would like to come back to Delhi,” said Harbit Singh Nagpal, the president of Khalsa Diwan Welfare society.

The second generation of Afghan Sikh refugees feels safe in India and do not wish to go back to Afghanistan.

“We left Afghanistan because there was fighting and insecurity there. I am not aware, but my parents told us about it and we came to India,” said Saroop Kaur, an Afghan refugee.

“My family has been staying in India for the past 22 years. In India, we get everything and we can lead our life independently. I have completed my education, learnt computer and seeking training in tailoring,” added another Afghan refugee Jasmeet Kaur.

India has agreed to grant five-year long term visas instead of one-year long visa to refugees who have migrated from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to India.

Source: Sikh24.com

NEW DELHI (November 18, 2014)—Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Indian citizenship for 11,000 Sindhis and Sikhs who had migrated from Pakistan and Afghanistan prior to December 31, 2009.  These people had migrated to India in order to escape ongoing oppression due to the unrest in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan.

A majority of these immigrants had been living in Afghanistan and Pakistan, however due to war and terrorism over the last decade or so, they were forced to leave their homes and travel through unsafe routes to reach India. In the past, along with targeted killings of Sikhs and Sindhi Hindus, terrorists have also targeted their business and places of worship.

In addition to granting citizenship to these immigrants, the government of India has also relaxed the procedures for the process of granting them Indian citizenship.  Notably, the term of residency required in India before citizenship can be required has been cut short to less than three years, as compared to 7 years.

Rajnath Singh approved the proposal for manual acceptance of applications for granting Indian citizenship to minority community nationals of Pakistan and Afghanistan, who entered India prior to December 31, 2009.

Before being elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi has promised to grant citizenship to Afghan and Pakistani Sikhs and Hindus.  His move to fulfill his promise has been appreciated largely.  However, while the Indian Government is taking steps to provide a safe haven to migrants, a large number of Sikhs in Gujarat and other parts of the country who had left Punjab to settle there are still facing discrimination at a large scale.  These Sikhs have had their farming land confiscated as local State Governments are refusing to accept their residency.

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