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If any one attack this year has spotlighted deepening insecurity in Afghanistan it was the July suicide bombing that killed 19 people and injured 10 as Sikh and Hindu representatives made their way to a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

For the ISIS group who claimed the targeted suicide bombing in Jalalabad city, the bombing was a coup. Not only was the group able to create a deadly explosion in an area that should have been cleared for President Ashraf Ghani’s arrival, they were able to kill a man who would have been the country’s first ever Sikh representative in parliament’s popularly elected lower house, Awtar Singh Khalsa. A prominent Sikh activist, Rawail Singh, was also killed.

In total the attack killed 17 Sikhs and Hindus. As such, many social media users described it as an attack on the diversity they cherish, and that ISIS is known to loathe.

The Afghan constitution stipulates that the President of Afghanistan should be a Muslim. But electoral legislation supports the political participation of Sikhs, who number over a thousand in Afghanistan, and Hindus, of which there are only a few dozen remaining.

According to amendments to the electoral law in 2016, one seat out of 249 seats in the lower house is secured for a representative of either the Hindu or Sikh communities. Women’s rights activist Anarkali Honaryar has held her seat in the upper house since 2010, following a presidential decree by ex-President Hamid Karzai, and has emerged powerful voice for minorities.

Awtar Singh Khalsa would have been the first representative from the two communities in the lower house had he not been killed in the attack. Now his son, Narinder Singh Khalsa will take his place following a request from the community, knowing that he has a target on his back.

Edged out of society

While more than 300 Hindu and Sikh families currently live in Afghanistan, the number of Sikhs and Hindus entering higher education institutions is zero.

Rawail Singh and his daughter Komal, Rawail Singh’s Facebook page.

Sikhs and Hindus overwhelmingly stop education during middle school, a trend driven by bullying (both from teachers and schoolmates) and economic pressures.

Research from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2009 showed that Sikhs and Hindus are effectively barred from most governmental positions and face wide-ranging social discrimination.

Many have relocated to Kabul after being displaced during conflicts in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Most commonly, they run grocery stores.

Data from 2016 suggests that 99% of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu citizens have left the country in the last three decades.

Back in the 1980s, when they numbered over 220,000, they were able to find jobs in politics and play a more significant role in society. Sikh and Hindu community intellectuals argue that in a country ruined by war, many Afghans have forgotten this role their community used to play.

The July 2 attack was followed swiftly by a protest of Sikhs in New Delhi, where Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Abdali, also joined the protesters.

But in the aftermath of the violence many of Afghanistan’s remaining Sikhs see their future in Afghanistan’s bigger neighbour, with which they have greater cultural and religious ties. A total of 25 Sikh families reportedly applied for Indian citizenship immediately after the bombing.

Many Afghans feel a sadness witnessing their fellow citizens leave the country:

For those Sikhs and Hindus that remain, the patriotism and sense of community embodied by Rawail Singh and Awtar Singh Khalsa are the main motivations for staying in Afghanistan.

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IANS, New Delhi/Chandigarh

The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on Thursday urged Union home minister Rajnath Singh to grant citizenship to all Afghan Sikh and Hindu families who have taken refuge in India after fleeing persecution in Afghanistan.

While demanding that the country must come to the aid of all these displaced persons, a SAD delegation met the minister in New Delhi on Thursday.

The delegation, which included Union food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, MPs Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, Prem Singh Chandumajra and Naresh Gujral and other senior SAD leaders, said there were around 35,000 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families currently living in India.

The delegation apprised the home minister that these people had fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took control in 1989. They said these families faced harassment and persecution in the war-torn country due to forced conversions and danger to their womenfolk.

Harsimrat urged Rajnath to grant passports to all these displaced persons, besides rehabilitating them by offering a comprehensive package to them as was done in the case of Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamils.

The home minister promised to form a committee comprising Sikh representatives to examine the entire matter and make recommendations for resolving it.

Barfi Culture

A few weeks ago, the UK Home Office rejected an Afghan Sikh family’s application for asylum partly because they couldn’t find any “assessment or tests” to confirm they were Sikh, even though the family had a letter of support from their local Gurdwara.

The incident left academic Dr Jasjit Singh fuming.

“This is ridiculous. Since when has @ukhomeoffice required congregations to complete tests to confirm their religious adherence? And why aren’t letters of support from Gurdwaras enough?” – he tweeted.

“This is such a colossal waste of time and resource thanks to religious illiteracy around minority ethnic religions,” he added.

He had good reasons to be annoyed.

Afghan Sikhs applying for asylum into the UK face major barriers including having to prove they are Sikh. It’s generally assumed they all speak Punjabi, know Sikh history and keep long hair, he told Barfi Culture.

But many don’t speak Punjabi as their mother tongue and some do cut their hair often after facing threats and discrimination.

This “religious illiteracy” means many Sikhs genuinely fleeing persecution from extremists in Afghanistan are rejected by the UK Home Office even if they have a legitimate case.

Why is this issue important?

In late June a devastating terror attack on Sikh and Hindu leaders in Afghanistan sent shockwaves through the community. It also illustrated the dangers that religious minorities face in Afghanistan. Around 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs are estimated to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1970s, many say that number is down to less than 3,000.

Canadian Sikh groups have been loudly calling on their government to offer asylum to more Afghan Sikhs, though the response has been muted.

A similar call is being made by British Sikh groups. “Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere,” says Lord Singh from the Network of Sikh Organisations.

How a British Sikh is helping Aghans

Dr Jasjit Singh, a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, has been repeatedly called in by lawyers representing Afghani Sikhs asylum seekers to help with their claims.

“I’ve interviewed the claimants to establish their ‘Sikh-ness’ using my knowledge of the Sikh tradition. Rather than relying on text book representations I’ve asked them about their ‘lived’ Sikh practices,” he told Barfi Culture.

But there are several cases where the Home Office has rejected applicants out of ignorance, after referring to sources with factual errors like this one at the WSJ.

Only last week it changed guidelines accepting that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus may also speak Pasto, Dari or Kabli as their primary language.

He stresses that the UK government does the same with Christian and Muslim who are fleeing religious persecution so Sikhs are not being singled out. But ignorance about the faith and its adherents has made it harder for Sikhs.

So how could other British Sikhs help?

“Those supporting Afghani Sikhs need to show why they believe they are Sikhs. Also most Afghani Sikhs I’ve spoken to have had their education disrupted, so they should try and support them with this.”

“Also,” he added, “don’t discriminate (against Afghanis) based on language or background!”

KEERATPUR SAHIB—The ashes of 12 deceased Afghan Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader were immersed in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib in Keeratpur Sahib on July 23. The ashes were brought from Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev Ji of New Mahavir Nagar (Delhi) where these were being kept for glimpse since July 19.

SAD leaders Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema and Bhai Amarjit Singh Chawla paid homage to the departed Afghan Sikh leaders while immersing their ashes in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib. The SGPC had made robust arrangements for the relatives of deceased Afghan Sikh leaders at Gurdwara Keeratpur Sahib on this occasion.

Former Cabinet Minister Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema said on this occasion that the Shiromani Akali Dal understands the pain of Afghan Sikhs and is committed to help them in every possible way. He also prayed for the spiritual relief of departed Afghan Sikh leaders.

It may be recalled here that the ashes of 12 Afghan Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader, who were killed in a suicide bomb attack on July 1 in Afghanistan’s eastern town Jalalabad, were brought to India in a special air ambulance on July 19. Beside it, the six injured Sikhs were also brought to India for providing them ailment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Source: The Times of India

 

A council of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs refugees in Europe in an open letter to President Ashraf Ghani has urged him to issue a special order for probing the suicide attack in Jalalabad city in eastern Nangarhar province that targeted a gathering of Hindus in early July. 

At least 19 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in the blast.

A copy of the letter obtained by TOLOnews shows that the Hindus and Sikhs community has raised concerns over the loss of their properties in Afghanistan and have marked Jalalabad suicide attack as a starting point for animosity against the minority group.

“Jalalabad incident which took the lives of dozens of Hindus and Sikhs cannot be a random incident. The Hindus and Sikhs were waiting for the president for three hours, and finally they become victims of a suicide attack which claimed the lives of 19 leaders of the religious minority and wounded over 20 others,” the letter read.

They have criticized Afghan embassies in Europe over lack of cooperation with the community, saying that those Hindus and Sikhs who have left Afghanistan are not holding Afghan identity cards.

“Afghanistan embassies in Europe are doing nothing for us without identity cards. This has changed into a big problem for Afghan refugees, especially for Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. A special solution should be sought in this regard,” the letter read.

The Hindus and Sikhs have also criticized government forces over a late arrival at the attack scene in Nangarhar to help the victims.

“At least one hour passed following the incident until security forces and medial help arrived at the scene,” the Hindus and Sikhs said in the letter.

They asked government to issue an order to Afghanistan security agencies to maintain security of Hindus and Sikhs’ temple and the areas where they perform their rituals.

The Afghan Sikh and Hindu community lost their leader, Ottar Singh Khalsa, in Jalalabad attack.

Khalsa, who not only led this minority group in the country, was also the only parliamentary candidate from this community for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

According to reports, in the past Afghan Sikhs and Hindus played an important role in society and particularly in the economy.

However, statistics show that around 99 percent of all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have slowly left the country since the start of the civil war.