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This documentary by Pritpal Singh focuses on the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, but this time through the lens of Afghan immigrants to the UK, particularly Southall in London.

My first year at UC Berkeley, I enrolled in a course offered once every four years: History and Culture of Afghanistan. From then began a safar of desperately seeking every possible grain of knowledge pertaining to the country. However, I remained deprived on one aspect – the Sikh community of Afghanistan. After doing countless presentations based on whatever I could find, I discovered Pritpal Singh’s efforts and depiction from a Sikh perspective. I was elated. Mission Afghanistan finally introduced the Afghan Sikh community to the world. Following up on Mission Afghanistan’s coverage of the plight of Sikhs living in Afghanistan, ‘Hindu Kush to Thames’ sheds light on those who have emigrated. Skillfully filmed and directed by Ariadne Bechthold, this is a one-of-a-kind documentary on a non-Punjabi Sikh immigrant population.

Once known for its thriving trade routes and culture, Afghanistan has now become known for its turbulent political history, causing many Afghans to migrate. Most of the migration is said to have occurred during the Civil War years and under Taliban rule. Of the more than 50,000 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families that lived in Afghanistan, of which about 3000 were left according to Rawail Singh, deputy head of the Afghanistan Sikh and Hindu Community Council. Thousands of miles away from the homeland however, a small community of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have preserved the culture and traditions of the dwindling community.

In this documentary filmed and directed by the multitalented Ariadne Bechthold, Pritpal Singh focuses again on the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, but this time through the lens of Afghan immigrants to the UK, particularly Southall. By carefully juxtaposing the life left behind, with life in their adopted homes, the sacrifices and struggles are masked with vibrant displays of faith, music, food and dance. The documentary also presents rare video footage of the Sikh traditions in Kabul in the late 80s, alongside Ardas in the nearly empty diwan halls of Kabul today, and the vibrant and overflowing hall of Gurudwara Southall, London. With touching depictions of the dilapidated mandirs and gurudwaras in Kabul, and impressive retention of their roots throughout generations on foreign soil, Bechthold and Singh share the story of immigrants who are rarely covered in Afghan mainstream media, or Sikh media.

Sikhs have been a vital part of the Afghan community. With interjections by historian Harbans Singh Handa, the audience learns of the various political positions held by Sikhs over the years in Afghanistan, even visiting the British home of the 3rd Sikh MP of Afghanistan: Gajender Singh. Other prominent personalities such as Inder Geet Singh are also introduced alongside second generation British-Afghans.

Strongly reflecting Afghan pride and ancestry, the documentary is primarily filmed in Farsi with English narration. ‘Hindu Kush to Thames is filmed and directed by Ariadne Bechthold with support of the Gharghasht Gharghakht, Afghan Voice Radio (UK) and Ajmeet Singh / Flo Studio. Reflecting the shared sense of nostalgia amongst all the Afghans, the documentary shows their connectedness with home. Often misunderstood to have immigrated from India, this is the story of Afghanistan’s religious minorities who have immigrated to London and made a name for themselves.

How has this community managed to retain its unique and often misunderstood identity on foreign soil? Be sure to watch the documentary on TheDutchSikh’s channel to find out!:

https://youtu.be/usmOTLiWQTw

Harkiran Kaur Sodhi
University of California, Berkeley
United States
Class of 2014
B.A. Psychology | Near Eastern Studies
https://cal.berkeley.edu/hkirankaur

Source

(MENAFN – Pajhwok Afghan News) KABUL (Pajhwok):

The foundation stone of the first-ever school for Sikh and Hindu students has been laid in eastern Nangarhar province, the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) said on Thursday.

Governor Gulab Mangal, SCA head for the eastern zone Abdul Ahad Samoon and Sikh community head Mir Singh laid the foundation stone. A ceremony for the school was attended by education ministry and other officials in Jalalabad.

Upon completion of the school building 60 students would be shifted from the temporary school which is established in the temple in the heart of the city, a statement from SCA said.

The school will be second of its kind in Afghanistan. One has already been constructed in southern Ghazni province by the Afghan government, said Kalantar, Mir Singh, a Sikh community leader.

Funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the school with six classrooms, a library, separate offices for the principle and teachers, five toilets and desks and chairs will be completed within six months at a cost of 8.9 million afs.

The school would be handed over to the community in September this year, says Eng. Abdul Ahad Samoon, SCA head of office in the eastern zone.

Iqbal Singh, principle oBaba-i-Kabeer primary school, said five years back, the government had approved their request for the construction of school building, but the promise was yet to be kept.

A non-government organisation supported them in running a primary school that was temporary established inside a temple.

‘We had 130 students, but most of them have moved to Kabul, as Jalalabad lacks a proper school for them. The only school in the temple is educating children up to 5th grade, says Iqbal Singh.

‘Currently there are 60 students including 25 girls enrolled in the primary school. We are thankful to SCA for the initiative to construct a school for our community,’ he added.

In the not-so-distant past, 10,000 Sikh and Hindu families lived in Nangarhar, but the number has now come down to 160 families. Many of them have left Afghanistan for India and European countries, Iqbal Singh explained.

Kalantar, Mir Singh, the Sikh community elder, said in past, they had to admit their children in government schools. Dr. Bhuget Singh, Dr. Jetandar, Dr. Krishan Lal and others graduated from government schools and universities, later served the government as health professionals.

They said their children are also being deprived of an education as they have no formal school building.

Source: Tolo

Members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Wednesday said that they are trying to leave the country after having had their land and property confiscated by powerful elements in the area.

They said that their problems don’t only stop there and have now resulted in their children being deprived of an education.

But, officials in the province have said that the local administration is committed to addressing the plight of the Hindu and Sikh community.

“Schools will be built for these students; seven million Afs has been allocated for it; the project will start next month. The governor has also met their representatives about their problems,” said a Nangarhar provincial official, Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.

The Sikh and Hindu community has also said that their people are discriminated against. They called on the Afghan government to take steps to secure their lives and social status.

“In the past there were schools for our children and they were learning, but now they have no schools and cannot learn, we want that. We want our children to get access to education” said another Sikh, Ranjit Singh.

“Our children are learning inside the temple because of the lack of a school building, but it is difficult to continue like this because religious ceremonies are observed there,” said another Sikh, Manor Singh.

Community members also claim their land is simply being usurped.

“For instance, the lands which are grabbed have three documents, but when a Hindu or Sikh citizen consults a department, they are told that this land needs several other documents,” said a Sikh resident in Nangarhar Rajbir Singh.

According to statistics, in the past there were around 10,000 Hindu and Sikh families living in Nangarhar, but now the figure has dropped to only about 150 families.

 

The report says while media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking.

Source: Tolo

Endemic violence in Afghanistan continues to be fueled by serious societal divisions, The United States Department of State has said in its report on Human Rights Practices for 2016.

The report sets out what is termed “most significant human rights problems in Afghanistan” as the main cause of the widespread violence in the country.

This includes:

•      indiscriminate attacks on civilians by armed insurgent groups;

•      armed insurgent groups’ killings of persons affiliated with the government;

•      torture and abuse of detainees by government forces;

•       widespread disregard for the rule of law and little accountability for those who committed human rights abuses; and

•      targeted violence and endemic societal discrimination against women and girls.

The report says that ethnic tensions between various groups continued to result in conflict and killings.

“Societal discrimination against Shia Hazaras continued along class, race, and religious lines in the form of extortion of money through illegal taxation, forced recruitment and forced labor, physical abuse, and detention,” the report says.

The report says that according to NGOs, the government frequently assigned Hazara ANP officers to symbolic positions with little authority within the Ministry of Interior. NGOs also reported Hazara ANSF officers were more likely than non-Hazara officers to be posted to insecure areas of the country.

The US report adds Sikhs and Hindus faced discrimination, including unequal access to government jobs and harassment in school, as well as verbal and physical abuse in public places. According to the Sikh and Hindu Council of Afghanistan, there were approximately 900 members of the Sikh and Hindu community in the country.

The report says while media reported independently throughout the year, often openly criticizing the government, full press freedoms were lacking.
At times authorities used pressure, regulations, and threats to silence critics, the report says.

“Politicians, security officials, and others in positions of power arrested, threatened, or harassed journalists because of their coverage. Freedom of speech and an independent media were even more constrained at the provincial level, where many media outlets had links to specific personalities or political parties, to include former mujahedin military leaders who owned many of the broadcasting stations and print media and influenced their content,” the report adds.

In February, after the president issued a decree to implement current media laws and strengthen freedom of expression, the executive created a committee to investigate cases of violence against journalists. The committee met multiple times in the first half of the year and identified 432 cases eligible for investigation. The committee sent the cases to the appropriate government institutions associated with the violations for investigation, including the Ministry of Interior and NDS forces.

As of September, none of the government institutions had started an investigation or provided a response to the committee, the report mentions.
According to the report, girls under age 18 continue to be at risk for honor killings for perceived sexual relations outside of marriage, running away, not accepting a forced marriage, or being a victim of sexual assault.

The report says although pornography is a crime, child pornography is not specifically identified under the law. Exploiting a child for sexual purposes, often associated with bacha baazi, was widespread, although some aspects of this practice are separate crimes under the penal code.

The report indicates that the Law on Prohibition of Children’s Recruitment in the Military became effective last year but despite that there were reports about children used in military and were recruited by Taliban as well as a number of pro-government commanders.

Source: Tolo

Sikh community in Nangarhar province have said that their children have not proper place to continue their schooling. They said that their children are instead learning their lessons inside the temples due to lack of proper place.

In this part of Farakhabar, host Fawad Aman discusses the topic with the following guests:

Anarkali Honaryar, senator

Rawol Singh, deputy head of Hindu and Sikh Community of Afghanistan

Source: AlJazeera

“I am an Afghan first… But if our life is under threat, if our families are faced with risks, we have to leave.”

Kabul, Afghanistan – Hidden in plain sight, on a poorly lit busy road, the exteriors of the Asmayee temple are deceiving – a plain, old building that could easily be confused for any other building in Kabul.

In contrast, the mosque next door stands out with its beautiful, intricate architecture. The call for evening prayers from the mosque intertwines with the sounds of the Hindu chants resonating from within the halls of the temple.

Several finely dressed, middle-aged women, move in and out of the many rooms of the vast temple complex, offering prayers and lighting candles. There are seven rooms built in a circle that serve as the temple for the various Hindu goddesses and gods, and one expansive hall, colourfully decorated and covered in Persian carpets, that serves as the community prayer room.

The women celebrate separately from the men. There is also a separate dining hall and community kitchen for the men and women who come to the temple.

Ramnath, 25, explains that “this is because the culture among Afghan Hindus is predominantly Pashtun”.

Over the years, Hinduism in Afghanistan survived and thrived in Pashtun-dominant provinces, resulting in a confluence of cultures that combines practices and rituals of the region.

“If you go up the hill, there is another small temple of the Sherawali,” says Ramnath, referring to the Hindu goddess Durga by one of her many names.

“It was said that years ago, a white river of milk flowed down from the foot of the statue of the goddess to Kabul. This is how this place got its name joy-e-sheer, which translates to ‘stream of milk’ from Dari,” Ramnath tells as the men gather quietly in one of the rooms over a cup of tea.

Ramnath, like many Afghans, only uses one name.

“Of course, those are reminiscent tales of the past. Who can tell how much of that legend is true?” he adds.

A history of diversity and repression
Afghanistan’s history is full of such anecdotes and lore about a substantial thriving community of Hindus and Sikhs who have called this country their home over the centuries.

“There is a place in Jalalabad where it is believed Guru Nanak visited in the 15th century and is very sacred to the Sikhs in Afghanistan,” says Rawail Singh, an Afghan Sikh civil rights activist, adding that Jalalabad, to the east of Kabul, continues to have a substantial Sikh population.

But, sociologists note, the population of Hindu and Sikh minorities has seen a drastic decline over the past several decades.

“If you go through the evidence and data from the 1970s to date, you will be able to see how drastically their population has fallen,” says Ehsan Shayegan, an Afghan researcher with Porsesh Research and Studies Organization studying the minority religions of Kabul.

“In the 70s, there were around 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs, and now they are estimated to be less than 7,000,” Shayegan says.

Although there is no census data available in the country to estimate exact numbers due to years of war and conflict, the community members themselves speculate that there are perhaps no more than a few thousand Hindus and Sikhs left in Afghanistan today.

“It is estimated that Hindus and Sikhs make up around 3,000 Afghans scattered across provinces of Kabul, Nangarhar and Ghazni,” says Singh. “In 1992, they were a 220,000-strong community, just before the start of the civil war in Kabul. It was also around the same time that our problems started,” he says.

According to Singh, during the years of Mujahideen rule and the civil war in the early 90s, after the fall of the Soviet-backed government, were the worst for Afghan religious minorities.

“We were harassed, our lands were forcefully taken, we were persecuted and even killed for even slightest display of our faith. Kidnappings of Hindus and Sikhs were rampant,” he recalls.

Many Hindus and Sikhs who spoke to Al Jazeera agreed that in comparison, the Taliban regime that followed, although extremely conservative and discriminatory, offered a relief from the repression of the Mujahideen.

“Under the Taliban, we were often required to identify ourselves in public by wearing a yellow armband, but were largely left alone,” Singh explains.

Biharilal, who like many Afghans only goes by one name, prepares offerings to the gods inside Asyamee, a Hindu Temple in Kabul Afghanistan, on 9 December 2016. The offerings are left to honor the gods and show respect to the various dieties. Biharilal volunteers at Asyamee and occasionally leads prayers and performs other custodial duties throughout the temple grounds as needed. There are an estimated 7000 Hindus remaining in Afghanistan, down from 70,000 in the 1970s.

Religious persecution
After the United States invasion in 2001, many Hindus and Sikhs who had fled the country in the last decade retuned, including Singh and Ramnath, who had briefly moved to India and Pakistan with their families.

“The first few years of the Karzai regime were very prosperous,” shares Amarnath, Ramnath’s older brother, in Pashto, one of Afghanistan’s national languages.

However, things quickly started to deteriorate as Mujahideen groups returned after President Hamid Karzai came to power and gained positions in government and ruling structures.

“Persecution started again, and several big and small warlords forcefully took away lands belonging to the Hindu and Sikh minorities,” Singh says.

Threatened and afraid for their lives, many have felt compelled to leave again. “There were around 100 families in Khost, but they’ve all left because of the conflict and moved either to India, or are in Kabul,” says Ramnath. He moved his family from Khost, a city also in the east of the country, to Delhi in 2009, but he continues to work in Kabul.

OPINION: New Afghanistan: Mujahideen need not apply?

“There are no Hindus in Khost today,” he says.

Despite the continued violence in the country, religious persecution remains the strongest motivator for Afghan Hindus leaving the country.

At the Hindu temple, people say the temple hasn’t faced any direct threat so far. “We have been left to practise our faith in peace,” one man says.

“If we don’t hurt anyone, why would anyone want to hurt us?” Ramnath adds.

“The security of the country is deteriorating for all – whether they are Hindu or Muslim. When you leave the house in the mornings, you can’t guarantee you’ll return alive in the evening,” he says.

On December 29, 2016, an Afghan Sikh Nirmohan Singh, fondly known as Lala Dilsoz, was killed by armed gunmen in Kunduz. The city has has seen repeated bouts of heavy fighting where the Taliban has made attempts to capture the city. An outcry from the Hindu and Sikh communities and other Afghans followed the murder, with some community leaders reportedly appealing to the Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi to “rescue the remaining Afghan Hindus and Sikhs” by providing them asylum in India.

The emigration figures are serious, with Afghanistan producing significant numbers of refugees – second only to Syria, according to a UNHCR report. The Taliban has gained more ground than the last 15 years and even the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) has dug roots in parts of the country.

However, despite Ramnath’s reluctance to admit this, Hindus in Afghanistan are leaving because of religious discrimination and social exclusion, insists Shayegan. Incidents of systematic and institutional discrimination have even made local headlines, although many more go unreported, he says.

Singh agrees. “There is only so much a community can tolerate. We can’t practise our faith openly; our children can’t go to school because of harassment; we can’t even cremate our dead without being stoned by the public,” he says, referring to the 2012 incident when civilians and security forces prevented them from performing funeral rites at their ancient cremation grounds, parts of which had been taken over by armed locals.

Women gather for langar, a shared meal that is usually held to feed the under privileged but it is also an occasion for the congregation to gather after worship, on 9 December 2016. Afghan Hindus share cultural similarities to Pashtuns and have historically thrived in Pashtun majority provinces. However, there are only an estimated 7000 Hindus remaining in Afghanistan, down from 70,000 in the 70s.

Institutionalised discrimination
With years of war and internal conflict, the minorities in Afghanistan have fallen through cracks, where even the international and local civil organisations often fail to notice and recognise the plight of the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs.

Kamal Sadat, Afghanistan’s minister of culture and information, agrees that the treatment of the minority groups hasn’t been fair, but says the government is taking necessary steps to address the matter.

“It is indeed tragic how our Hindu and Sikh brothers have been treated over the years. They’re an integral part of our history and community, and we are working to improve their conditions,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that the government was looking into all allegations of land grabbing made by Sikhs and Hindus.

The problem, however, lies in the inadequate systems and institutions that were brought in place post-2001, according to Shayegan.

“Our new constitution was drafted to imitate some of the best model constitutions of the world, but they are still inadequate when it comes to supporting a pluralistic system of democracy,” he says. He notes, for example, the example of Article 62 that prohibits non-Muslim Afghans from becoming president of the country.

“The constitution guarantees equal rights to all Afghan citizens in Article 22 and then contradicts itself in Article 62 by excluding a section of the population,” Shayegan points out.

Furthermore, courts that operate on laws emulating Islamic religious law are sometimes unsuited to the needs of the religious minority populations. “When we go the courts, at times they ask us if we are even really Afghan. Can’t a non-Muslim be an Afghan?” he asks.

Despite the discrimination, Afghan Hindus and Sikh strongly identify with their national identity.

“Of course, I am an Afghan first,” Ramnath answers fiercely when asked about his Afghan identity. “This is our land, the land of our ancestors. We owe our loyalty to the soil of Afghanistan – we are Afghans,” he says.

“But if our life is under threat, if our families are faced with risks, we have to leave,” he adds with some sadness.

At the Hindu temple, the men huddle together in rooms for a shared meal of delicacies of sweet rice made with raisins, sweets, and dried fruits. In the evening, they sit around in a candle-lit courtyard talking and speculating over the future of Afghanistan, a country they love dearly.

“As of now, I would not want my children in Delhi to return to this life in Kabul,” says one of the older men. “Maybe if the situation changes and things get better, they might come back to better Afghanistan,” he says.

“God willing,” everyone replies.