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Archive for November, 2001

Afghan Sikh Refugees

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23 November, 2001 07:08 GMT
By Michael Steen   – Reuters

KABUL (Reuters)- Chanting “Waheguru”, or God, 60 Afghan Sikh and Hindu men, women and children worship in their bright tinsel-clad temple in the capital Kabul, hoping Afghanistan’s next rulers will tolerate religious minorities.

Afghanistan has always been overwhelmingly Muslim but until the upheaval of the early 1990s, when ethnic militias fought bloody street battles in Kabul, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews played a large role in the economy.

Many emigrated to escape the fighting. But, for those who stayed on, the hardline Islamic fundamentalism that the Taliban introduced when they swept into Kabul in 1996 meant they were forced to worship behind closed doors.

The Taliban ordered Sikhs and Hindus to wear yellow patches on their clothes to mark themselves as non-Muslim. They were further alienated as Punjabi speakers in a city where most speak Dari — a type of Persian — or Pashto.

“We Sikhs and Hindus had a great deal of problems under the Taliban,” said Ravinder Singh, who works at the temple, tucked away down a dirt alley in central Kabul.

“We couldn’t freely practice our religion. And the women had to stay indoors all the time,” he said. “Some people had to wear yellow clothing, although those with turbans didn’t always do so.”

Now that the Taliban have gone, the small community is pinning its hopes on a meeting in Germany next week where, under the auspices of the United Nations, leaders of the main ethnic groups will seek to agree on the formation of a broad- based government.

Ravinder said only 50 Sikh families were left in Kabul, compared with 2,000 in the late 1980s, and no one would represent them directly at the meeting in Bonn.

“We want the king back,” he said. “Under King Zahir Shah this country was more democratic. Everyone could do what they pleased, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus.”

The exiled King Zahir Shah, 87, will send supporters to the Bonn conference on Monday to join other groups representing various elements of Afghan society.

The Sikhs have lived and done business in Afghanistan for centuries, many came following British colonial armies in the 19th century and stayed to do business, taking a dominant role in the money markets and even bankrolling Afghan kings when they went to war.

In the Sikh temple, the service in front of a large multi- coloured altar with flashing electric light bulbs draws to a close with singing and drumming and the congregation filters downstairs to the basement for free cups of tea.

“We are shopkeepers,” says one of them, as he sits cross- legged sipping the sweet milky tea. “All we want is to do business, eat and sleep in peace.”

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Kabul, November 23
Chanting “Wahe Guru”, 60 Afghan Sikh and Hindu men, women and children worship in their bright tinsel-clad temple in Kabul, hoping that Afghanistan’s next rulers will tolerate religious minorities.

Afghanistan has always been overwhelmingly Muslim but until the upheaval of the early 1990s, when ethnic militias fought bloody street battles in Kabul, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews played a large role in the economy.

Many emigrated to escape the fighting. But, for those who stayed on, the hardline Islamic fundamentalism that the Taliban introduced when they swept into Kabul in 1996 meant they were forced to worship behind closed doors.

The Taliban ordered Sikhs and Hindus to wear yellow patches on their clothes to mark themselves as non-Muslim. They were further alienated as Punjabi speakers in a city where most speak Dari — a type of Persian — or Pashto.

“We Sikhs and Hindus had a great deal of problems under the Taliban,” said Ravinder Singh, who works at the temple, tucked away down a dirt alley in central Kabul.

“We couldn’t freely practice our religion. And women had to stay indoors all the time,” he said. “Some people had to wear yellow clothing, although those with turbans didn’t always do so.”

Now that the Taliban have gone, the small community is pinning its hopes on a meeting in Germany next week where, under the UN auspices, leaders of the main ethnic groups will seek to agree on a broad- based government.

Ravinder said only 50 Sikh families were left in Kabul, compared with 2,000 in the late 1980s, and no one would represent them directly at the meeting in Bonn.

“We want the King back,” he said. “Under King Zahir Shah this country was more democratic. Everyone could do what they pleased, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus.”

The exiled King Zahir Shah, (87), will send supporters to the Bonn conference on Monday.
The Sikhs have lived and done business in Afghanistan for centuries, many came following British colonial armies in the 19th century and stayed to do business, taking a dominant role in the money markets and even bankrolling Afghan kings when they went to war.

Read Full Post »