Archive for October, 1998

Author: Manik Mehta
Publication: The Observer


Hindu refugees from Afghanistan, who first fled the Soviet
invasion of that country in 1980 and later the turmoils of the
ensuing civil war, face a bleak future in Germany. Germany has
an Afghan population of 60,000 consisting largely of Muslim

Some 6,000 are Hindu and have strong cultural and religious ties
with India. Most of the Afghan Hindus are scattered in big
cities like Cologne, Essen, Frankfurt and Hamburg. A majority of
them are small traders and have set up grocery shops, selling
all kinds of Asian food products and Hindi film video cassettes.

The Afghan Hindus found it easy to come to Germany, whose
liberal asylum laws in the 1980s were used by many to gain
sanctuary from a brutally oppressive regime.

“Some of us came by land through Turkey and the former East
European communist satellite states like Bulgaria,” said
Kishenchand Chadha. “Others, who were lucky, could fly directly
out of Kabul to Frankfurt and applied for asylum on arrival,” he

Chadha spoke of the upheavals his parents and grandparents went
through when the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947 and
instead of moving to India, they decided to go to Afghanistan
from their native Peshawar in Pakistan. They “simply threw away
everything and fled for dear life,” he said.

Then came the second major upheaval. As the Soviets withdrew
from Afghanistan shortly before the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the rivalry between factions of the Afghan Mujahideens
broke into open hostility and assumed civil war proportions,
forcing ordinary people to flee the country.

“Of course, being Hindus, we had no choice but to leave
Afghanistan,” Chadha told India Abroad News Service. “This was
the second upheaval for us.” Like the Chadhas, several other
Hindus fled Afghanistan. Some were fortunate to gain entry into
India where friends and relatives helped them integrate into the
mainstream society.

Although many of the Afghan Hindus speak Hindi, Punjabi and
Multani, their heavy accents easily betray them as “outsiders”,
an Afghan woman, slowly breaking out of her shyness, told IANS.
Afghan Hindus have established an association of their own in
the Rheinstrasse in Cologne’s Bayenthal district called the
Afghan Hindu Kulturverein, the association professes to pursue
Hindu cultural and religious objectives.

In a large compound with a house attached to it, the Afghan
Hindus have converted the garage into a makeshift temple which
houses idols of Hindu gods. “This is where we offer our
prayers… we get our solace, our ‘shanti’,” said the woman. The
sight of killings of friends and people known to them has
affected many of the Hindus who are unwilling or unable to talk
about their harrowing experiences in Afghanistan.

Transplanted in an alien culture which grudgingly tolerates
them, the Afghan Hindus experience humiliation and shabby
treatment at the hands of locals who view them with suspicion,
even hostility, because of their different culture, language,
attire and traditions.

Some who came with infants are worried about what the children
will grow up to be like.

“I wonder what my son will become when he is 20 or 25,” said the
Afghan Hindu woman who has two children, the other one a
daughter who speaks Punjabi and German.

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