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Archive for April, 1988

Source: India Today

By Shekhar Gupta

JALALABAD: BLACK BAISAKHI 

For Afghanistan’s 50,000-odd Hindus and Sikhs, Baisakhi is Diwali, Holi and the Gurupurab all rolled into one. But on the big day last fortnight, the mood in Kabul’s Karte Prawan Gurdwara was grim. The gloom had its origins 250 km away in Jalalabad, a historic city close to the Pakistan border, which has been under intense rebel pressure. Almost 20 Sikhs died after a mysterious and brutal attack and thrice as many are struggling for their lives.

According to survivors, the celebration at the city’s 60-year-old gurdwara on April 13 also had to do with the victory of a Sikh, Darbari Singh, in the National Assembly elections. The campaign had been tense and on Baisakhi, over 2,000 Sikhs had gathered at the gurdwara. When a group of armed, uniformed youths tried to enter, an altercation ensued, leading to the death of a sentry and an intruder.

Said an eyewitness who prefers to go unnamed: “All hell broke loose as young men jumped out of an olive green truck and began to fire from automatic weapons.” The Sikhs standing outside the gurdwara formed the bulk of the casualties. But the intruders also lobbed grenades inside the shrine, killing at least two women.

Eyewitnesses and officials of the Afghan Ministry of Interior say that by this time, the army and the police arrived but more people were hit in the panic. The army, however, captured four persons and the truck, but a clue to their identity will be available only after their interrogation.

According to reports, tension prevails in Jalalabad where about 8,000 Sikhs live. There has been no curfew, but government forces have formed a protective ring around Sikh and Hindu shrines in a city known for its international intrigues and rebel activity.

The incident in Jalalabad received an immediate response from the Indian Embassy in Kabul although those involved are Afghan citizens. Said Ambassador I.P. Khosla: “Formally we are not involved. But we have informally asked the Afghan Foreign Office to speed up the investigations.” Khosla has also asked for special security for people of Indian origin.

This could be significant in Kabul where at least two more Hindu and Sikh candidates may win. The reason people of Indian origin, a tiny minority among 15 million Afghans, have done well is that they can get their supporters to vote – a winning factor in an election where the poll attendance may not cross even 10 per cent.

In spite of the tragedy, Sikhs in Kabul were readying to cast their votes for their candidate, Gajinder Singh. “We are scared but we can’t give it up. It has become our nature to survive the hard way,” said Jaspal Singh Pardesi, a youth pushing voters into waiting buses. As this Baisakhi has shown, even 200 years later, the Indian immigrant is still earning his living the hard way. 

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