Archive for January, 2010
Following excerpts are taken from an article by Shrinandan Vyas
The Hindu Kush is a mountain system nearly 1000 miles long and 200 miles wide, running northeast to southwest, and dividing the Amu Darya River Valley and Indus River Valley. It stretches from the Pamir Plateau near Gilgit, to Iran. The Hindu Kush ranges mainly run thru Afganistan and Pakistan. It has over two dozen summits of more than 23,000 ft in height. Below the snowy peaks the mountains of Hindu Kush appear bare, stony and poor in vegetation. Historically, the passes across the Hindu Kush have been of great military significance, providing access to the northern plains of India. The Khyber Pass constitutes an important strategic gateway and offers a comparatively easy route to the plains of Punjab. Most foreign invaders, starting from Alexander the Great in 327 BC, to Timur Lane in 1398 AD, and from Mahmud of Ghazni, in 1001 AD, to Nader Shah in 1739 AD attacked Hindustan via the Khyber Pass and other passes in the Hindu Kush (1,2,3). The Greek chroniclers of Alexander the Great called Hindu Kush as Parapamisos or Paropanisos (4). The Hindu name of the Hindu Kush mountains was ‘Paariyaatra Parvat‘(5).
History of Hindu Kush and Punjab shows that two major kingdoms of Gandhaar & Vaahic Pradesh (Balkh of Bactria) had their borders extending far beyond the Hindu Kush. Legend has it that the kingdom of Gandhaar was established by Taksha, grandson of Bharat of Ayodhya (6). Gandhaar’s borders extended from Takshashila to Tashkent (corruption of ‘Taksha Khand‘) in the present day Uzbekistan. In the later period, Mahabharat relates Gaandhaari as a princess of Gandhaar and her brother, Shakuni as a prince and later as Gandhaar’s ruler.
In the well documented history, Emperor Chandragupt Maurya took charge of Vaahic Pradesh around 325 BC and then took over Magadh. Emperor Ashok’s stone tablets with inscriptions in Greek and Aramaic are still found at Qandahar (corruption of Gandhaar?) and Laghman in eastern Afganistan(3). One such stone tablet, is shown in the PBS TV series ‘Legacy with Mark Woods’ in episode 3 titled ‘India: The Spiritual Empire’. After the fall of Mauryan empire, Gandhaar was ruled by Greeks. However some of these Greek rulers had converted to Buddhism, such as Menander, known to Indian historians as Milinda, while some other Greeks became followers of Vishnav sects (Hinduism)(7). Recent excavations in Bactria have revealed a golden hoard which has among other things a figurine of a Greek goddess with a Hindu mark on its forehead (Bindi) showing the confluence of Hindu-Greek art (8). Later Shaka and KushaaN ruled Gandhaar and Vaahic Pradesh. KushaaN emperor Kanishka’s empire stretched from Mathura to the Aral Sea (beyond the present day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Krygzystan)(9).
Kanishaka was a Buddhist and under KushaaN influence Buddhism flourished in Gandhaar. Two giant sandstone Buddhas carved into the cliffs of Bamian (west of Kabul) date from the Kushan period. The larger Buddha (although defaced in later centuries by Moslem invaders) is about 175 ft tall (10,11). The Kushan empire declined by 450 AD. The Chinese traveller Hsuan-Tsang (Xuan-zang) travelled thru the region in 7 th century AD and visited many Buddhist religious centers (3) including Hadda, Ghazni, Qonduz, Bamian (3,10,11), Shotorak and Bagram. From the 5 th thru 9 th cenury AD Persian Sasanians and Hepthalites ruled Gandhaar. During their rule Gandhaar region was again influenced by Hinduism. The Hindu kings (Shahiya) were concentrated in the Kabul and Ghazni areas. The last Hindu Shahiya king of Kabul, Bhimapal was killed in 1026 AD. The heroic efforts of the Hindu Shahiya Kings to defend the northwestern gates of India against the invaders are described by even al-Biruni, the court historian of Mahmud of Ghazni (12). Some excavated sites of the period include a major Hindu Shahiya temple north of Kabul and a chapel that contains both Buddhist and Hindu images, indicating that there was a mingling of two religions (3).
Islamic invasions on Afganistan started in 642 AD, but over the next several centuries their effect was marginal and lasted only a short time after each raid. Cities surrendered only to rise in revolt and the hastily converted returned to their old religion (Hinduism or Buddhism) once the Moslem armies had passed (3).
Elissa Bogos 1/12/10
For many years, Sikhs were a prominent part of Kabul’s commercial scene, occupying prominent positions as traders, entrepreneurs, and, later, currency exchange specialists. But in today’s Afghanistan, many Sikhs find themselves marginalized and struggling to maintain their distinct cultural profile in Kabul.
Before more than three decades of nearly uninterrupted strife began with the 1979 Soviet invasion, an estimated 200,000 Sikhs lived in Afghanistan, many of them concentrated in the capital. Although Sikhs escaped the level of violence experienced by Hazaras during the Taliban era, many Sikhs nevertheless came to feel unwelcome and left the country. According to one estimate, only 170 Sikh families now remain in Afghanistan.
Senator Avtar Singh, the only Sikh in Afghanistan’s parliament, says that trying to raise awareness about the problems facing the country’s Sikh community is difficullt.
Maintaining cultural traditions has grown increasingly problematic. For example, how to ensure the dead are cremated, as mandated by Sikhism, remains an unresolved issue. Muslims now live on the land where Kabul’s Sikhs previously performed their cremations. “That land belonged to use for 120 years, and now we are forbidden to use it,” Singh said.
Further complicating the lives of Afghanistan’s Sikhs is the lack of housing and educational facilities. “We have no space to live,” Singh asserted. “We also don’t have enough schools for our children.”
The center of cultural life for Afghanistan’s Sikhs is the gurdwara, or temple, in the Karte Parwan neighborhood of Kabul. For the past several days, the temple has been the scene of an unfolding human drama: over 100 laborers from India have been living in the gurdwara’s basement as they search for the means to get home. They traveled to Afghanistan in search work. But the jobs that they thought they were getting never materialized. Employment agents from the United Arab Emirates reportedly confiscated their passports on other travel documents and never returned them, and most don’t have enough money to make it home on their own, according to Indian press reports. The Indian Embassy is reportedly working to arrange transportation for the stranded workers.
The plight of Afghanistan’s Sikhs was evident last November 2, when the community celebrated the birthday of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. The holiday is considered one of the most sacred in the Sikh calendar, but in recent years the celebration in Kabul has been scaled back so as not to attract too much attention. “What this celebration was like before and what it is now-this is a big change I’m seeing. I wondered to myself, what will happen to our community?” Singh said.
Singh indicated that new battles for Afghanistan’s Sikhs are looming. “A new urban plan for the city will require it [the temple] to be demolished, along with a shrine to Guru Nanak that we’ve been hoping to repair after being damaged during Afghanistan’s three decades of war,” Singh said.
Posted January 12, 2010 © Eurasianet
Check out the Source for a slide show an a audi report
Last Updated: January 09. 2010 2:31AM UAE / January 8. 2010 10:31PM GMT
KABUL // When Subhash Dev lost his job in Dubai in late 2008, he returned to his home state of Rajasthan in India hoping to find work there. But a year later, he was still unemployed and took the drastic step of borrowing US$3,000 (Dh11,000) to pay an agent to find a job for him in Afghanistan – one of the world’s poorest and most dangerous countries.
But instead of the promised job at a military base with a monthly salary of $800 (Dh2,900), Mr Dev was locked in a house in western Kabul with 67 other Indians – most of whom were also laid off from jobs in the Gulf.
“For one month they only gave us one meal a day and kept promising us jobs inside military bases,” Mr Dev said of the employment agents, who took his passport, money and then disappeared.
Today, Mr Dev is crowded in the basement of Karte Parwan Gurdwara, Kabul’s most famous Sikh shrine, along with 40 other Indian workers, who like him were abandoned in the middle of the city after their agents fled. Many of them have been there for more than two months and do not have money to buy air tickets back to India or the $5 a day fine for overstaying their visa.
Many said they had told their families they were working in Kuwait. “For my family I am in Kuwait,” said Sobedar Khadu, 26, a resident of Mumbai. “I think we are still lucky to have found this gurdwara, otherwise we would have been dead by now.”
An official from the Indian Embassy said it had already sent back more than 100 men who had been living at the shrine for over a month. It was also working on helping the others with passports and other travel documents.
The embassy said it had seen a trend over the past six months of Indians “sent by unscrupulous agents to Afghanistan from Gulf countries, mainly from Dubai, on the false promise of remunerative employment”.
“The Embassy is now providing consular assistance in completing the legal procedures to regularise the status of the stranded Indians,” a statement from the embassy said.
“The Afghan authorities have been requested to exercise caution in granting visas for potential Indian workers in Afghanistan by checking on their employment status, in particular for those who are coming to Afghanistan from Gulf countries.”
Sorjeet Singh, an Afghan Sikh, who finances the gurdwara along with the Sikh community in Kabul, said they would help as many people as they can.
“These workers come and go, but at the peak time there were 220 around one month ago,” Mr Singh said. “Most of these people come from Dubai to work here, but they don’t know that this is a big dream for Afghan people to find a way to go to Dubai and work there.”
Three decades of war has made Afghanistan one of the world’s poorest countries and one of the most dangerous. Lack of employment has pushed thousands of young Afghans to seek work in neighbouring counties or join the Taliban.
Gurpreet, 21, a resident of Gurdaspur, an area in the Punjab, said: “I first went to Dubai to find work there, but after 15 days I found another agent who promised me $400 salary per month with US forces.”
Wary of being arrested by Afghan police for overstaying their visas, the men mostly live inside the shrine. They are packed into the basement of the shrine, where there is little light and the carpeted floor does little to stop the Kabul winter chill seeping up from the ground. Many of the men, accustomed to the warmed climates of India and the Gulf, have already fallen ill. Despite the apparent hardship, most still say they would stay, if they could find work.
Many sold their land or family jewels to pay the agent’s fee. “I need to pay back the $3,000 loan along with 36 per cent interest in one year, so I will stay here if I find a job or if anyone employs me back in Dubai,” Mr Dev said.
* The National
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