Rati Ramadas – Tuesday, August 30, 2005 (Kabul):
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh returned to Delhi last evening after a two-day historic visit to Afghanistan.
The highlight of his visit was laying the foundation stone of Afghanistan’s new Parliament, a symbolic gesture to cement India’s partnership with the world’s youngest democracy.
But democracy means different things to different people and for Kabuli Sikhs, who were forced to flee the city during the civil war, returning to Karzai’s Afghanistan has been a mixed homecoming.
Ravinder Singh, who is the representative of the Hindu- Sikh community in Afghanistan, is one of the lucky ones.
Ravinder returned to Kabul with his children Anjalie and Jasmeet, after an 18-year exile in Delhi in 2000, to find they could get their property back and also their business back on track.
There are 160 or so Sikh families in Kabul, and a total of about 4,500 Sikhs in the country.
Many were forced to flee when the civil war broke out, some with just the clothes on their backs and their honour intact.
“The Karzai government has a law which states when people come back to Kabul from India their livelihood should also be brought back,” said Ravinder Singh.
Lack of jobs
But others were not so lucky. Another resident of Kabul, Sadhu Ram, also returned just three months ago, after spending 18 years as a cook in the capital’s Tilak Nagar.
“I can’t earn enough to support myself here. Those who came back from India earlier got their jobs back. But now it is very difficult to get jobs,” said Sadhu Ram.
Even people from other religions had so much faith, that when all hope is gone they come to Kabul’s Gurudwaras.
But many Sikhs who lived in Afghanistan for generations, are being forced to flee the land they know as home.
“The Prime Minister should have met the Sikhs and listened to their problems. It is his duty, especially when he has done so much to help the Afghans,” said Satvir Singh, Granthi Singh Sabha Gurudwara.
Matter of support
A lot of Sikhs took refuge in Gurudwaras during the bloody past decades.
But today, many Gurudwaras like the Guru Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazaar still stand testimony to the fury of the battles that raged in Kabul.
“It hurts when we see that no one comes forward to help our Gurudwara,” said Gurbachan Singh, a Kabuli Sikh.
It’s quite ironic that while India announces an additional $50 million to the $50 million already pledged to the Afghan people, the Sikh community in many ways, feels let down or betrayed by both the government in Kabul as well as by the Prime Minister from India.