Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Source: The Indian Express

Since a terror attack by an IS gunman killed 25 Sikhs at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul on March 25, the small Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan have made multiple appeals to the Indian government for “immediate evacuation”. A look at these communities’ history in Afghanistan:

When did Hinduism reach Afghanistan?

According to historian Inderjeet Singh, author of ‘Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: A History of A Thousand Years’, Hindu rulers once reigned over Eastern Afghanistan, including Kabul.

“Islam entered Afghanistan in the 7th century. The Zunbil dynasty is believed to be the earliest Hindus who ruled over Kandahar to Ghazni regions of Afghanistan, from 600 to 870 AD. Later the Hindu Shahi dynasty ruled. They were replaced only by the end of the 10th century by Ghaznavids, who maintained Hindu forces,” Singh said. “It was only in 1504 that Mughal Emperor Babur captured Kabul… Babur used to refer to Kabul as ‘Hindustan’s own market’ and the province of Kabul remained with Hindustan until 1738.”

When did Sikhism reach Afghanistan?

Sikhism founder Guru Nanak visited Afghanistan in the early 16th century and laid the foundation of Sikhism there. As per the history of his travels recorded in the earliest janamsakhis, it was during his fourth udaasi (travels) during 1519-21 , with his companion Bhai Mardana, that Guru Nanak reached Afghanistan and visited present-day Kabul, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Sultanpur. All these places now have gurdwaras. Kabul was then under Babur’s rule. Guru Nanak’s followers from Kabul also started visiting present-day Punjab region. The seventh Sikh Guru, Har Rai, too played a pivotal role in sending Sikh missionaries to Kabul and a dharamsaal (earlier name for gurdwara) was established there.

“Several documents record the thriving trade of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghan society but today, 99 per cent of them have left the country. Afghanistan now refuses to acknowledge them as their natives but they have made contribution to their motherland despite a turbulent journey. Can an Afghan be a Hindu or a Sikh? History says, YES,” Singh writes in his book.

When did their exodus from the country start?

According to Singh, there were at least 2 lakh Sikhs and Hindus (in a 60:40 ratio) in Afghanistan until the 1970s.

In 1988, on the first day of Baisakhi festivities, a man with an AK-47 stormed a gurdwara in Jalalabad and gunned down 13 Sikhs and four Afghan soldiers. In 1989, Gurdwara Guru Teg Bahadur Singh in Jalalabad was hit by rockets fired by the Mujahideen and 17 Sikhs were killed.

The exodus started in 1992 when the Mujahideen took over. “The Soviet intervention, which started in 1979, lasted for a decade and Afghanistan became a battleground for the Cold War. The US and its allies started providing weapons to Mujahideen to fight a proxy war against the Soviet occupation. The Soviets withdrew in 1989… The Mujahideen captured Kabul in 1992 and deposed President Najibullah… A large number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus started the exodus and left the country,” Inderjeet Singh writes.

Under the Mujahideen, there were widespread kidnappings, extortion, property grabbing incidents, religious persecution, targeting Sikhs and Hindus which became the trigger point for exodus. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan, those who remained continued to face persecution.

Where did those who moved out settle?

“During those days, it was extremely difficult for anyone in Afghanistan to get a passport. But still the Afghan government (in the months before the Mujahideen took over entire Kabul) issued speedy passports under a scheme called Aab Gang pilgrimage passport (Aab meaning water, Gang meaning river Ganga). The Indian Embassy set up an on-the-go visa department at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar of Kabul to rapidly issue visas to Hindus and Sikhs. Some 50,000 people left Afghanistan under this scheme and came to India,” said Inderjeet Singh.

After arriving in India, many Sikhs and Hindus moved to other countries and are currently spread across the UK, Europe, US etc. “The majority of Afghan Hindus are now settled in Germany and Sikhs in the UK. Others live in Austria, Belgium, Holland, France, Canada and the US,” said Pritpal Singh, an Afghan Sikh settled in London and director of the documentary Mission Afghanistan.

Currently, how many Afghan Sikhs are settled in India?

Khajinder Singh, head of Afghan Hindu Sikh Welfare Society in Delhi, said, “Approximately, there are 18,000 Afghan Sikhs living in India, of whom 50-60% have citizenship and the rest are living as refugees or on long-term visas. Most are living in Delhi followed by Punjab and Haryana.”

How many Sikhs and Hindus are left in Afghanistan?

Not more than 700. Chhabol Singh, member, managing committee, Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan, Kabul, said, “There are around 650 Sikhs (90-100 families) and nearly 50 Hindus left here… No one wants to live here now after the Kabul gurdwara attack.”

On July 1, 2018, a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad killed at least 19 Sikhs and Hindus. But the tipping point was the attack at Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib on March 25 this year when an IS gunman killed at least 25 persons.

“Even after the 2018 attack, they did not want to leave their businesses and shops. But the 2020 attack was the final nail in the coffin because an attacker stormed inside a gurdwara and killed them. Gurdwaras are also homes for Sikhs in Afghanistan as most of them don’t have their own houses. Also, Sikhs in Afghanistan took heart from the Citizenship Amendment Act in India, knowing that getting Indian citizenship would be easier than before,” said Khajinder Singh.

Will the CAA help them?

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, which reduces the period of mandatory stay in India from 11 years to five years for minorities from three countries including Afghanistan, will help those Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in getting the Indian citizenship, who moved to India before the cut-off date of December 31, 2014. The Home Ministry, however, is yet to frame the rules for CAA.

How many gurdwaras and temples are left in Afghanistan?

Till the beginning of the 1990s, there used to be at least 63 functional gurdwaras in Afghanistan. Now barely ten of them are functioning, with hardly anyone left to do sewa. The main ones are: Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib (now closed after March 2020 attack), Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan (central gurdwara), Gurdwara Baba Sri Chand, Gurdwara Khalsa ji, Gurdwara Baba Almast, Gurdwara Baba Mansa Singh Ji — all in Kabul.

Asamai Mandir and Dargah Peer Rattan Nath Mandir in Kabul, Dargah Mathura Dass in Jalalabad, Dargah Peer Rattan in Ghazni and some in Kandahar are among a few temples functional in Afghanistan.

Source: NDTV

Washington: 

An influential American congressman has praised India for giving refugee status to Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and urged the Trump administration to do the same for the persecuted religious minorities from the war-torn country.

The Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday that there has been a recent spurt of attacks on Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan by terrorists at the behest of their “external supporters” and India has been providing necessary visas to members of these communities who want to come.

“We have been receiving requests from the members of these communities. They want to move to India, they want to settle down here, and despite the ongoing COVID situation, we are facilitating these requests,” MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.

He said once those who want to come and settle in India arrive in the country, their requests will be examined and acted upon based on existing rules and policies.

Responding to India’s move, Congressman Jim Costa said in a tweet, “This marks an important step toward protecting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities from imminent destruction at the hands of terrorists.”

“While I’m pleased that India has offered them refuge, more needs to be done to ensure their safety in the long term. I will continue to advocate for more permanent solutions that will provide these families with security, economic stability, and a brighter future,” Mr Costa said as he referred to a news story from The New York Times.

In April the lawmaker had written a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking similar refugee status for Hindus and Sikhs from Afghanistan.

“In April, I wrote to Secretary of State Pompeo urging him to provide help to these families and consideration for potential resettlement in the US,” Mr Costa tweeted.

In its news story, The New York Times reported the statement of Ministry of External Affairs that India has decided to facilitate the return to India of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan.

According to the daily, the Hindu and Sikh communities in Afghanistan once numbered in the tens, if not the hundreds, of thousands, with well-established businesses and high-ranking positions in the government. But nearly all have fled to India, Europe, or North America over decades of war and persecution.

Last month, a bipartisan group of 20 US senators urged the Trump administration to grant emergency refugee protection to Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan facing persecution as religious minorities.

“Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities,” they said in the letter.

The Sikhs and Hindus once numbered around 250,000, but now fewer than 1,000 people live in Afghanistan due to decades of persecution, they added, the senators wrote.

A heavily armed ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K) suicide bomber attacked a gurdwara in the heart of Afghanistan’s capital on March 25, killing 25 Sikhs and injuring eight others.

Source: India Post

WASHINGTON DC: Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined by 19 of his Senate colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to grant emergency refugee protections to Hindu and Sikh communities in Afghanistan facing life-threatening persecution as religious minorities.

In a bipartisan letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the senators called on the State Department to prioritize resettlement opportunities under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program allocation ceilings for Afghan Hindu and Sikh communities, whose populations have plummeted markedly due to years of persecution by the Taliban and recent terrorist attacks on their communities in 2018 and 2020.

“This Administration has repeatedly highlighted protecting religious freedom as a top foreign policy priority,” the senators wrote. “Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities.”

The Senate letter to Pompeo comes in the wake of the Hindu American Foundation’s campaign to “Save Afghan Hindus and Sikhs”, which calls on the Senate to amend the Lautenberg-Specter Amendment by extending Priority 2 protections to persecuted religious minorities in Afghanistan. The HAF campaign was launched on April 23, 2020 and has generated nearly 1,700 emails to Congress to date.

It is especially noteworthy that the Senate has adopted the HAF position on extending Priority 2 protections, as opposed to Priority 1 which is only a short-term fix, stating in their letter that “A P2 designation would maximize opportunities for resettlement of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus under the FY20 allocations ceilings for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, including the allocation for refugees who ‘have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of religion.’”

“We greatly appreciate Senator Menendez’s leadership on this issue and likewise urge the Senate to do their part and amend U.S. law to save Afghan Hindus and Sikhs,” stated HAF Managing Director Samir Kalra, “Congress has a role to play here and Hindu Americans look forward to working with our friends in the US Senate to achieve our common goals,” Kalra said.

Joining Senator Menendez in signing the letter to Secretary Pompeo were Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), and James Lankford (R-OK).

Giani Maskeen Singh talks about Afghan Sikh history, Guru Nanak’s trip to Kandahar, Baba Sri Chand’s trip to Afghanistan and Nanak Panthis

Source: VOA News

Afghan Hindu and Sikh families wait for lunch inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

SLAMABAD – Following a militant attack in late March that killed 25 Sikhs in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, a dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus is now weighing whether or not it is safe to stay in the war-torn country where the minority group is subject to constant threats by militants and discrimination by others. 

The March 25th gunman attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul’s Shor Bazar Gurdwara area was claimed by the Islamic State terror group. Many Sikh and Hindu activists have since appealed for international assistance to help relocate them to outside of Afghanistan. 

“If you stop a Sikh child and ask him what he wishes, he will say that he wants to leave Afghanistan,” said Singh, a 22-year-old Sikh who was among nearly 150 people trapped in the religious complex assailed by a group of IS militants. “Who is not happy to live in peace?”   

Singh requested anonymity over concerns for his safety for speaking openly.

Recalling the horrific incident that ended after about six hours of fire exchange between IS militants and Afghan security forces, he told VOA that he considers his survival a miracle.    

“We went to a room and locked the door from inside. I saw the shadow of him [an IS fighter].” 

Singh’s father, nephew, and sister-in-law were among the 25 people killed in the IS attack. Heartbroken by the loss, he says he is now committed to leave Afghanistan with his family “to have a better future, where there is no fear.”Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan

Activists Concerned About Safety of Hindus, Sikhs in Afghanistan | Voice of America – English

The two minority groups were once thriving with a substantial involvement in Afghanistan’s trade and business. But, since the 1978 conflict, Sikhs and Hindus have found themselves increasingly targeted.  The population of both minorities has shrunk from about 250,000 to less than a thousand. 

Deepak Ahluwalia, a California-based immigration attorney and Sikh rights activists, said that he believed Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan were facing religious persecution and “are being threatened with genocide.”

Broad Discrimination  

The Taliban in the past have ordered the Sikhs to wear yellow armbands so they could be easily distinguished from the Muslim majority. A more extremist Sunni group, IS, considers both Hindus and Sikhs to be pagans.   

According to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the two minorities also face institutional and cultural discrimination.

 Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesperson for AIHRC, told VOA that Hindus and Sikhs “face a lot of discrimination in the public places, with their children in schools, with employment and work opportunities.”

Farhang said that Hindus and Sikhs were not given the same rights as Afghan Muslims, and the minority groups felt increasingly targeted. 

“One of the main reasons that they are leaving their country, without doubt, is cultural issues,” he added. 

Illegal property seizure

The country’s constitution and government have further deepened the isolation, charged Rajdeep Jolly, a Sikh rights attorney in Washington, DC. He said Article 62 of the Afghan constitution that states only a Muslim can run for president shows religious minorities are looked down upon.

“Even in the absence of genocidal violence, the Afghan legal system has relegated Sikhs and Hindus to second-class citizenship,” said Jolly, adding that the two communities face obstacles from basic religious rituals such as cremation to judicial bias and illegal property seizures.  

Afghan government says they are doing their best to protect them from militant attacks.

“The Afghan Security Council has started some measures and they will take serious actions for their security,” Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the Afghan president, told VOA.

Menapal said the country in the past few years under President Ashraf Ghani has made significant progress to address the issues these communities face. He said Hindus and Sikhs have two members in the Afghan parliament “who raise the voices and concerns of their constituencies.”

Some Stay

Some members of the minority groups say they are not willing to give in despite continued terror attacks and discrimination. 

Commenting on whether Hindus and Sikhs in recent weeks have begun to flee to the West, Narinder Singh Khalsa, a lawmaker representing Hindus and Sikhs in Wolesi Jirga or the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, told VOA that the two communities “have not made such a decision yet.” 

“Reports published by media outlets outside Afghanistan saying that Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan are trying to seek asylum are all baseless,” he said.

‘It is our country’

Gornam Singh,24, is determined to stay in Afghanistan. He told VOA that Afghanistan has issues at all levels, but this is his country. 

 “The whole Afghanistan has concerns. All are worried, from the president to a vender but this is Afghanistan. It is our country,” Singh said.  

Balbeer Singh Pahwa, the vice president of an Afghan-Sikh Gurdwara in New York, who was born and raised in Kabul said he does not remember an intolerant Afghanistan when he lived in it and regretted the path Afghanistan has since taken.    

 “Afghanistan was very different then. Kabul was like living in a European country, we had no problem of religion at that time,” he said. 

Pahwa left Afghanistan in 1983 due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of the country.He said that they were able to freely perform their religious rituals when he lived in Kabul.   

 “Every year for Basakhi, Sikhs families would all travel to Sultanpur and Jalalabad. There were maybe 2000 people, about 500-600 families at the time. We would set up tents and stay there for a week. Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak was there,” he added.

Major loss of culture

Some minority activists see the end of Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan as a major loss for the country’s rich culture. A more diverse and tolerant Afghan society, they argue, could play a major role in developing the country.    

Manmeet Singh, a U.S.-based activist and filmmaker, said the remaining Hindus and Sikhs in the county were “the last descendants of a pre-Islamic civilization dating back thousands of years.”  

He warned “their exodus from Afghanistan will be a triumph for fanatics and a tragedy for the world.”