Archive for October, 2001

From Kabul with tears and prayers

By Devesh K. Pandey

NEW DELHI, OCT. 10. It is a tale of kinship that transcends borders. Even as hundreds of Sikhs in Afghanistan these days are seeking shelter from the U.S.-led air strikes at the only existing gurdwara in Kabul, prayers are being offered for their welfare by their kith and kin here.

Having migrated from that country long ago, they are at present constructing a gurdwara at Manohar Nagar in West Delhi.

Mr. Jaspal Singh, a “sewak” at Kabuli Gurdwara, is quite concerned about the fate of his father, Mr. Sunder Singh, who along with his other relatives is stranded at Kabul’s Sri Guru Singh Saba Karta Parwan. “Father told me that the bazaar is closed and people are fleeing to other cities due to heavy bombing by U.S. planes,” says Mr. Jaspal Singh, who spoke to his father over the phone on Tuesday.

“There is no option left for Sikhs in Kabul but to seek refuge in the gurdwara. Unlike Muslim refugees who are being allowed free entry across the border, Sikhs cannot even cross over to Pakistan for fear of being caught without a visa,” he adds.

While Mr. Jaspal Singh’s brother, Sharan Singh, is in Kabul, several others are scattered in cities like Kandahar and Gazni. It is this shared kinship that brings over 300 Afghani Sikhs like Mr. Jaspal Singh to Kabuli Gurdwara here each day. Another sewak, Gyan Singh, says a 48-hour “akhand path” — prayers — followed by “ardaas” and “kirtan” was held two days ago for the safety and welfare of Sikhs in Afghanistan.

For the 20,000-odd Afghani Sikhs in Delhi, this gurdwara, under construction since 1997, not only symbolises the hardships and turmoil undergone by their community in war-ravaged Afghanistan but is also an effort to start life anew in Delhi.

Sewaks say the need of the hour is shelter which is why the Sikh refugees here hit upon the idea of constructing a gurdwara. “It was not easy. Arranging finances was difficult as a major chunk of the population was living in tents and could not even fend for themselves,” says Mr. Laj Singh. “Today the gurdwara organises `langar’ — community kitchen — and provides shelter to refugees in need of help.”

The gurdwara also reminds the Afghan Sikhs of happier times. “There were 13 big gurdwaras and three temples in Kabul. Most of us were into the cloth business and led a prosperous life till the Northern Alliance took over in 1992. The situation deteriorated and most of us abandoned our businesses and bungalows and fled to India via Pakistan,” recalls Mr. Singh.

The gurdwara authorities are now trying to secure a safe passage for Sikhs stranded in Afghanistan. “We have sent a letter to the External Affairs Ministry urging them to facilitate a safe passage for our relatives in Afghanistan. But we have not received any reply,” says Mr. Gyan Singh, adding that the Indian Government should have coordinated with neighbours, like Iran and Pakistan to secure visas for Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan.

While the fate of Sikhs in Afghanistan hangs in the balance, prayers continue to be offered by their relatives at the gurdwara here which is gradually emerging as a symbol of camaraderie.

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