Source: SikhArchive

Welcome to the fourth history podcast by SikhArchive, today we are joined by Inderjeet Singh from Nottingham UK to discuss his new book, titled ‘Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, history of a thousand years’. 

Inderjeet Singh is an author of several articles on SikhNet on topics related to Sikh history and has now collected and concentrated his efforts more recently to compile a short introductory book in English on the historical timeline of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan.
The book which was published in April this year was a really good read that was full of facts, tales, Janam Sakhis, and generally a great summary on the lives and heritage of the Afghani Sikh community. Chapters include, Guru Nanak and Sikhs in Afghanistan, Gurdwaras in Afghanistan and the Pathan Sikhs of Pakistan. These are just some of my favourite chapters in the book.
I reached out to Inderjeet Singh in May this year to conduct a podcast on his boo k to learn more about it and the reasons for why he undertook such a task and what motivated him. And  We had a great discussion which I am honoured to host and share with you all.

Source: The Logical Indian

“I want to tear myself from this place, from this reality, rise up like a cloud and float away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the hills. But I am here, my legs blocks of concrete, my lungs empty of air, my throat burning. There will be no floating away.” 

Sikh and Hindu families were once a thriving minority in Afghanistan. Blaming growing intolerance and discrimination, many have fled their motherland.

Chairman of the national council of Hindus and Sikhs, Avtar Singh, says that compared to around 220,000 members of the community that lived in Afghanistan before the collapse of the Kabul government in 1992, there are fewer than 220 families.

The community, which was once spread across the country, is now mainly concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni, and the capital Kabul.

Fear, Isolation And Discrimination

Afghanistan is almost entirely Muslim. However, its constitution, which was drawn up after the Taliban government was driven out in 2001 by US-led forces, theoretically guarantees the right of minority religions to be able to worship freely.

Avtar Singh, however, says that under the Taliban, conditions were worse. They imposed strict Islamic laws, staged public executions and deprived women and girls of their basic rights, including education.

“A society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated,” Afghan-American novelist Khaled Hosseini wrote in A Thousand Splendid Suns. 

Under the Taliban rule, Hindus and Sikhs only had wear yellow patches that identified them in public. Otherwise, they were hardly ever bothered.

Neighbourhoods in Kabul have become densely populated over the years. New residents often oppose Sikh and Hindu cremations, which is a practice that Muslims, who bury their dead, are not familiar with. The smell of a body is burned makes the families feel sick, they say.

For their funerals, the community now requires police protection. According to the Sikhs, local Muslim hardliners have become extremely hostile against them.

However, Dahi-ul Haq Abid, deputy minister for Haj and religious affairs, said that the government has done their best for the well-being of the community.

“We agree that conflicts pushed them out of the country, but their condition is not as bad as they claim,” Abid said. “We have allocated them a place to burn their bodies because inside the city people complained about the smell, but they did not agree.”

Children of the community, too, complain of harassment in their schools by other kids.

“Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts,” Khaled Hosseini wrote. 

Afghanistan Has Always Been War-Torn

When The Kite Runner’s Amir returns to Afghanistan years after he fled the country with his family, he comes back to a war-torn country with men, women and children, violated and mistreated, weeping at the corners of the streets, the snow-white expanses of which were smeared in blood.

Sikhs and Hindus may be the victims now, but Afghanistan has always been a war-torn country. Bombs and gunshots and weeping children are what paint the picture that Afghanistan is.

Amir’s experience of fleeing the country and coming back to it is exactly what Hosseini had gone through himself.

Talking about his return, Hosseini wrote, “When I went to Afghanistan in 2003, I walked into a war zone. Entire neighbourhoods had been demolished. There were an overwhelming number of widows and orphans and people who had been physically and emotionally damaged; every 10-year-old kid on the street knew how to dismantle a Kalashnikov in under a minute. I would flip through math textbooks intended for third grade, fourth grade, and they would include word problems such as, “If you have 100 grenades and 20 mujahideen, how many grenades per mujahideen do you get?” War has infiltrated every facet of life.”

Source: Birmingham Live

Controversial plans to convert a former travel agency in Smethwick into a Sikh temple are expected to be approved next week.

Members of Sandwell’s planning committee had deferred the application to carry out their own inspection of the site in South Road, opposite the Grade II listed Holy Trinity Church.

Afghan Sikh Ekta Charitable Foundation is applying for permission to demolish the present office building, which is made up of three converted terraced houses believed to have been built in the late 19th century.

The site sits on the edge of Smethwick Town Centre Conservation Area and objectors have raised concerns about the temple’s impact.

The application proposes to demolish the existing building and replace it with a two-storey place of worship measuring 27 metres wide by 12 metres deep and high.

It also proposes 24 off-road car parking spaces at the side and rear of the property.

In 1999, the council gave permission for the site to be converted into a travel agents with living accommodation for staff.

Objectors say the plans do not provide enough parking spaces and the existing building could be saved from demolition by converting it into a place of worship.

But in recommending approval, planning officers say the temple could accommodate up to 220 people and the proposed on-site parking was sufficient for 150.

They add that at peaks times there is adequate spaces available on nearby roads while pointing out the Holy Trinity Church across the road provides no off-road parking at all.

Dismissing the objections, a report to the planning committee says: “This is not a valid reason for refusal. The proposal would clearly meet a local need.

“The proposed building would be purpose built as a place of worship. It is therefore understandable that the applicant would prefer this option and it would most successfully meet their needs.”

Councillors will make their decision on July 3.


Source: NDTV

Mr Badal said that a delegation of Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) led by its president Manjinder Singh Sirsa would meet Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba on Tuesday …

Among other demands, the delegation will urge for giving formal permission for the DSGMC’s Nagar Kirtan to Nankana Sahib in Pakistan on the occasion of 550th Parkash Parv of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. It will also urge for grant of citizenship to thousands of Afghan Sikhs living in India besides urging that Jammu and Kashmir Sikhs be given minority status in Jammu and Kashmir and immediate redevelopment of Punjabi Colony, Mumbai which has been declared as dangerous.

Source: Tolo

Youths and new faces are making at least 70 percent of Afghanistan’s parliament, the Wolesi Jirga, which has 249 members. 

According to the secretary of the house, Afghan women managed to secure 27 of the seats in the parliament after October elections.

A number of new lawmakers who have secured said that they will soon start their legislative responsibilities as a routine once the current rift over the election of a new speaker of the house is over.

“We are optimistic that the young lawmakers use their abilities and try for implementation of the law in Afghanistan,” said Narendra Singh Khalsa, an MP representing Afghanistan’s Sikh minority.

“In this round, we see two positive things: first the number of young lawmakers has increased and they have more motivation for work, and second, we have educated youths and we consider it a positive step,” said Rahimullah Ghalib, deputy of parliament’s secretariat chief.

There were 249 seats in the parliament in the previous rounds of the parliament, but the Afghan government later decided to consider one seat reservation for Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh community.

Source: FirstPost

When Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were forced to leave their home and the land of their forefathers, what did they carry as souvenirs? Nothing, but a few seeds of memories. But what they left behind in 1947 was an immeasurable wealth of culture — a syncretic lifestyle evolved and enriched over centuries.

Not long back, communities were bound by spiritual values — by the underlying thread of humanity and mutual respect. All this was wiped out. Yet, a few residual shades remind one of the possibilities of what could be. At the last surviving Hindu temple in Kabul, the Asamai temple, the Bhagwat Geeta, the only enshrined scripture, is in Gurmukhi. Although, the priest at the temple can read only Urdu. A reminder that languages and scripts are not owned by specific religions, but are a heritage for humankind.

At Asamai temple in Kabul, the only enshrined scripture, Bhagwat Gita, is in Gurmukhi. All pictures courtesy Amardeep Singh

Unfortunately, the exiled communities in alien lands found that the seeds of memory fail to grow into trees that would bear the fruits of culture-left behind. In two generations, the culture is lost, even when re-planted on a different land. “Look at all the Gurdwaras of north Punjab, it’s all marble and gold. It’s sad if our younger generation starts believing that our forefathers knew so little; if we present a blinkered view in the name of our heritage. What about art, architecture, forts, havelis, temples, Gurdwaras, battlegrounds and the human stories?” rues Amardeep Singh, Singapore based self-taught writer, photographer and now a documentary maker who produced two coffee table books, Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, followed by The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, based on his photographic documentation of Sikh legacy in over 90 towns and cities across five states of Pakistan.

Under the shadows of guns, Amardeep is shooting for a documentary in Afghanistan, tracing the legacy of love and brotherhood of Guru Nanak’s footprints across nine countries. In doing so he is challenged with unscripted events on a daily basis. The first one being to visit the actual sites themselves where the founder of the Sikh religion addressed congregations of diverse faiths between 1500 AD to 1524 AD. Amardeep has to chart out his own course by making human bonds which alone could pave his way ahead. A vast geographical area where Nanak preached his messages is now a conflict zone.

Holding an AK 47, Khalida appeared to be an ‘iron lady’, who opened her home to offer hospitality and shared fond memories of growing up with Nanakpanthis of Khost ( Afghanistan).

He attempts to document the impact of Nanak’s words five centuries later; to record the remnants of syncretic culture lost to the melee of the Partition and other geopolitical developments. His work is neither political nor academic. He narrates tales of people and places that survived the storms of hatred and destruction to still blossom with love and brotherhood.

Post-Partition, Guru Nanak’s words have been boxed within the Sikh identity; whereas Khalsa was just one arm of Nanak’s broad humanism. His legacy was larger than any religion across countries he travelled — present-day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. For each geographical unit, Amardeep encounters hurdles on every step, be it visas, permissions or the risks involved in entering conflict zones. In these countries, he is tracing the legacy of a borderless land Nanak traversed in five major journeys he undertook to cover roughly 28,000 km, mostly on foot. His companion was Bhai Mardana, a rebab player of Muslim faith, from his hometown. “In his times, he would have travelled in and out of India-Pakistan border more than 15 times, to Afghanistan, three times, Tibet, twice, and so on, but then he didn’t have to cross borders and present visas. He travelled to Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Jaffna, Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Tibet, the traces are still there — at Hinglaj temple, Balochistan, Pakistan, Imam Raza Shrine, Mashhad, Iran, or Sita Eliya, Sri Lanka.”

India’s independence was gained at the cost of the culture of the Indus belt, where the religious identities were blurred among Nanakpanthis — Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs and the Sufis. Among the Sindhis, Balochis and Hindus, Nanak was deeply entrenched along the Indus belt. Today that culture is wiped out of the memory, communities are fragmented, and are boxed into religious compartments as about 80 percent of the land where this culture evolved is now in Pakistan. When people of this land were forced to migrate and were settled in the Gangetic plains, their syncretic nature was lost. As such, the Partition of 1947 raised religious identities to a new pitch, undermining other legacies, observes Amardeep.

As the world prepares to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019, Amardeep travels to 150 inter-faith sites, visited by Nanak. “That he preached monism, not monotheism; to him, religious faith was secondary to humanity. This has been forgotten even by his followers,” he says. Although his documentary will be ready for release only by November 2020.

Amardeep Singh with Dr Raghunath, the only Nanakpanthi in Kandahar.

Nanak’s verses are about spirituality, the history of his travels was documented 50 years after his death by Bhai Gurdas, based on oral traditions. The core repository of these travelogues is Janamsakhis and Udasis. “It’s a maze which doesn’t have consistency, because they were written by men of faith,” observes Amardeep, who has to stitch together diverse tales, to join the dots and lend his narrative an element of objectivity. “Though historians have written extensively about these travels, some scope for oral tradition has to be allowed for the sake of narrative.”

The narrative of Nanak’s travels is huge and the canvas vast. Mapping the routes alone took months; shooting across nine countries will take about a year’s time. The film is titled Allegory — A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels, and will attempt to unravel the hidden meaning behind the journeys Nanak undertook and spent two decades of his life in spreading the message of universal brotherhood. “I want the younger generation to have access to the true identity of Guru Nanak, not boxed within religion, but of his greater philosophy and spiritualism, that is still evident in places he visited. There are still traces of the values he preached; lived and experienced by Nanakpanthis, spread across regions.”

Pockets in Balochistan, Sindh, NWF, across the Indus belt — Nanakpanthis have multiple identities. They are Nirmala, Udasi, Sehajdhari, who are not turbaned. Then there are Pashto Sikhs who wear a turban, but are very different from the Sikhs of North Punjab. There are Jogis too, who are followers of Nanak. Why multiple identities of Sikhs disappeared from the Gangetic plains? Amardeep unravels the underlying unifying thread of Nanakpanthis, not boxed by religion, by going back to the sites of Nanak’s travels. About 50 percent of the sites are inaccessible due to multiple reasons; mainly armed conflict. Which makes travelling back in time and space all the more relevant — to understand why in more than 500 years since Nanak, humanity could not let go of the essence of his words.

There are instances that rekindle hope in the middle of conflict zones. For instance, Amardeep comes across Dr Raghunath, a Nanakpanthi Hindu, who hasn’t left Kabul against all odds to serve the natives of the land. He helps the film crew in locating the abandoned sites across Kandahar region Nanakpanthis had made in the memory of Guru Nanak’s travels. Everything is not lost.