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Archive for July, 2013

Source: BBC News

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Source: Khaama Press

The Central Council of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan along with members of civil society organization urged to allocate a seat for Sikh and Hindu minority in Afghan parliament.

A seat waas considered for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in Afghan election law which was passed by Afghan parliament house, and was signed by president Hamid Karzai.

However the Afghan house of representatives deleted the article mentioning which designated a seat for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in election law.

Deputy chief of Hindus and Sikhs Council Rayel Singh on Wednesday said that if our demands were not met, then we will have to ask the government to exile us from Afghanistan so that we should seek asylum through United Nations in other countries.

Mr. Singh further added that the Hindus and Sikhs minority in Afghanistan faced similar issues and difficulties during the past one decade as other minorities, but the government has not considered to respond to their issues.

He said that the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan had considerable contribution in business and economy of he country, however their shops, properties and houses have been taken by force, and even their rights of citizenship is being taken from them.

Mr. Rayel Singh said that they are being humiliated during their funeral ceremony and while they are cremating their dead bodies, and even they are being attacked during the cremation ceremonies.

He defended the rights of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan for seeking a seat in the lower house of the parliament which is in accordance with the intenational law and Afghan constitution, and insisted that allocating a seat for Hindus and Sikhs could help them overcome their social, economic and cultural issues.

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Source: Outlook India .com

Due to unrest in Afghanistan the population of Sikhs and Hindus have declined drastically, as about 3,000 people belonging to the two communities have been left in the war-torn country, a woman Sikh MP of the country’s lower house of parliament said here today.

“Before 1991, there were an estimated 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus. They migrated, leaving their successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities, to safer places in India, Europe and Canada,” said Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, who is also a leading campaigner for the rights of Afghan women.

30-year-old Honaryar said that there number has gone down since 1991 due to unrest in her country and only “3,000 Sikhs and Hindus” are left in the country.

She is here to attend first two-day South Asian Punjabi conference.

The Afghan MP said that women in the country are worst affected as they were married at a tender age.

“The women in Afghanistan are worst affected as their parents, majority of them from business community, marry them at the age of 13 to 14, and they are not even fully educated and grown up,” she said.

She also lamented about the lack of proper choices for young Sikhs and Hindus for marriage due to the tiny population.

“Educated Sikh girls and boys in Afghanistan have been facing difficulty to settle their matrimonial life in that country as suitable matches available for them are limited,” said Honaryar, who is also a dentist.

Honaryar is a well-known women rights activist and has been awarded UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for promotion of tolerance and non-violence.

She also thanked the Indian government for rebuilding their country.

Honaryar said that Afghanistan government has opened two Punjabi schools meant for Sikhs– one in the name of ‘Guru Baba Nanak’ in Kabul province and another in Jalalabad province in the name of 7th Guru Har Rai ji.

The MP also expressed hope that Sikhs and Hindus may get their own proper cremation ground in Kabul province.

She said that “some people still think we are foreigners.

They think we are Indians who are working and living there for a while. But we are Afghans too, and we should have all the rights and opportunities that other Afghans have”.

Meanwhile, former education minister in Jammu and Kashmir government said that the 400-year-old dilapidated Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Math in Kathmandu, Nepal will be restored to its original shape.

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Source: Gulf News

Outsiders may have trouble distinguishing between the turbans worn by Afghan Sikhs, with their tighter folds, varied colours and tucked-in edges, and those worn by Afghan Muslims, usually black or white with the end hanging down the wearer’s back.

The subtle differences, however, and what they represent, have fuelled widespread discrimination against Afghan Sikhs, members of the community say, prompting many to move away amid concern that the once-vibrant group could disappear.

“For anyone who understands the differences in turbans, we really stand out,” said Daya Singh Anjaan, 49, an Afghan Sikh who fled the capital, Kabul, for India after seeing his Sikh neighbours slain. “I’m sure the remaining Afghan Sikhs will vanish soon. Survival’s becoming impossible.”

There are no exact records on when Sikhs, a 500-year-old monotheistic people from western India and modern-day Pakistan, arrived in Afghanistan, although most accounts place it around 200 years ago. Mostly traders, they prospered and numbered about 50,000 by the early 1990s, concentrated in Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni.

But decades of war, instability and intolerance have fuelled waves of emigration, reducing the community to just 372 families nationwide, said Awtar Singh Khalsa, association president of the Karte Parwan gurdwara, or temple. This is the last of eight gurdwaras that once operated in Kabul, he said.

During the Afghan civil war of the mid-1990s, most of Kabul’s solidly constructed gurdwaras were appropriated by battling warlords who shelled one another, destroying seven of them along with a Sikh school that once taught 1,000 students. Under Taliban rule, Sikhs had to wear yellow patches, reminiscent of the Jews under Nazi rule, and fly yellow flags over their homes and shops.

Among the goals laid out by the United States and its allies after toppling the Taliban government in 2001 was religious tolerance for minorities, who account for about 1 per cent of Afghanistan’s population.

In practice, Sikhs say, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s weak and embattled government rarely counters prejudice by the majority population, which emboldens attackers. Hooligans rob, insult and spit at them on the street, they say, order them to remove their turbans and try to steal their land.

Particularly dispiriting, Afghan Sikhs say, are charges by the Muslim majority that they should “go home,” even though they have lived in Afghanistan for generations and are protected, at least theoretically, by freedom-of-religion safeguards in the Afghan Constitution.

Another disturbing example of the indignities they face is the treatment of their dead, many said. Cremation, a tenet of the Sikh faith, has been quietly practised in Kabul’s eastern district of Qalacha for more than a century.

In recent years, however, some Sikhs who have tried to carry out cremations have been beaten up, stoned and otherwise blocked from doing so, at times decried as statue-worshipping infidels whose ceremonies “smell”. Islam considers cremation a sacrilege.

Many Sikhs said they have complained repeatedly to the government to little avail. “In the last decade, the Kabul government has specified ten different places for Sikh burials and cremations, but villagers keep giving Sikhs problems,” said Anarkali Honaryar, a senator representing the community. “Even when President Karzai issued a decree, nothing changed.”

While in New Delhi in May, Karzai said that Sikhs are a valued part of Afghanistan and that he was sorry so many had left. “We’ll do our best to bring the Sikh community and Hindus back to Afghanistan,” he said.

Sikhs, Jews and other minorities enjoyed tolerance and relative prosperity until the late 1970s when decades of war, oppression and infighting set in. Although many Muslim families have also suffered hugely, Sikhs say they have faced worse pressures as a minority subject to forced religious conversions and frequent kidnapping, given their limited political protection and reputation for being prosperous.

Pritpal Singh, an Afghan-born Sikh living in England who has documented the plight of Afghan Sikhs, said his brother was kidnapped shortly before the family left in 1992.

“I really looked up to him; it was such a shock,” he said. “They asked for crazy money and we couldn’t pay, so they killed him.”

As conditions worsened, Sikhs turned increasingly inwards, building a high wall around the last gurdwara to prevent passers-by from stoning the building, and cremating their dead inside, normally unthinkable, to stem angry mobs.

Khalsa said he has met repeatedly with Karzai but nothing changes, and meetings with bureaucrats and politicians often end with demands for money.

“Corruption is unbelievable,” Khalsa said. “The Taliban were far better than this government.”

For those emigrating, India and Pakistan visas are much easier to secure than those to Europe, so some stop there first, then travel illegally to the West.

Although securing a short-term visitor visa to India is relatively easy, obtaining citizenship is a “nightmare” given India’s bureaucracy and general indifference, said Paramjit Singh Sarna, an Indian community leader in New Delhi assisting Afghan Sikhs. It does not help that Sikhism originated in India and that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.

Sarna said many Afghan Sikhs live in limbo in India. As “outsiders”, they are unable to buy land or work, their travel is restricted, their children born stateless.

Dhyan Singh, a 62-year-old Afghan Sikh who has lived in New Delhi since 1989, said he misses Afghanistan despite the problems.

“Just last night, I dreamt I visited the Kabul gurdwara,” Singh said. “It’s only fear that keeps me away.”

–Los Angeles Times

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Source:  Kabul Press

By M. Amin Wahidi

In a racist action, the parliamentarians of Afghanistan refused the allocation of a single seat in the parliament for the Sikhs and Hindus minority group. Although the Sikh and Hindu people of Afghanistan have passed a long way of suffering for their religion but they are still discriminated against.

 

Recently the Afghanistan Parliament has passed the election bill, which was under discussion for a long time because of its controversial articles regarding allocation of seats in the parliament for the vulnerable categories such as women and religious and ethnic minorities. The bill is passed by both houses of the parliament and is awaiting Karzai’s signature to be put in act.

 

The vulnerable categories were listed in the proposed bill as the women, the Kochis (nomads) and the Hindus and Sikhs.

 

The allocation of certain number of seats for Kochis and for women was approved but the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan remained with no seats, which is a sign of religious discrimination against a group of the citizens while in the constitution of Afghanistan, the citizens are guaranteed equal rights and opportunities regardless of their ethnicity, race and religion so, if they women are considered vulnerable, they Sikhs and Hindus are also vulnerable and there numerous of proof cases for this fact.

 

In the constitution of Afghanistan there are articles such as 2nd, 6th, 22nd and 24th that emphasize on freedom of religions for non-Muslims and then equal opportunities for all citizens of the country that should be guaranteed by the government.

 

Afghanistan is a country with an absolute majority of Muslims but we have Sikhs, Hindus and Christians who are considered as very vulnerable religious minority groups and need to be protected, given equal opportunities and fair treatment as every other citizen in the country, and in some cases they have to be given compensatory opportunities for their long sufferings because of discrimination against them.

 

Afghanistan is a home for different ethnicity and different cultures and our Sikh and Hindu fellows, not only have the same rights as every one else, but they should also be given more opportunities and be compensated for all injustice and misbehavior conducted against them through the years, that forced them limit their religious practicing, lose their wealth and properties. They were also very badly tortured by the Taliban during 1990s.

 

Most citizens of Afghanistan know that millions of Afghanistani people are around the world as asylum seekers and refugees and tens of thousands of them have already obtained citizenship from European countries, from the USA or Australia and are enjoying the justice, fair treatments and equal opportunities in their new countries, but the way our politicians still think within the country is very stinky and disturbing; they discriminate against a religious minority of their own country in a very bad manner.

 

Our Hindu and Sikh brothers and sister are peaceful, positive and very potential citizens of the country who are mostly involved in small and large scale businesses in the country and have paid taxes for years in this country and their attitude has been always friendly with Muslim citizens of the country.

 

They have served in the military when it was an obligatory service and have paid all their dues to the country as everyone else; it is not fair to discriminate them for their religion and culture.

 

In this regard Kawa Gharji an Afghanistani journalist in exile and a writer for Kabul Press has posted an ironic post on his Facebook Timeline as below;

 

“No Pain No Gain!

 

As the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan did not participate in the glorious civil war and did not destroy schools, did not blast themselves, did not conduct suicide attacks, did not cultivate opium and other dangerous narcotic substances, so their quota of parliament seats will be given to the hardworking Kochi brothers.

 

This quota is given to the Kochis to thank them for their day and night efforts in destruction, annually attacks on Behsud, burning the farms, destroying schools, threatening school girls and women, putting remote-controlled bombs on the roads, prohibiting and divesting more than 70,000 students from education and killing the innocents and dragging their bodies on the ground by horses.

 

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has given a chance to the Sikh and Hindu citizens of the country, to prove themselves with the above-mentioned standards but they have failed the criteria. So they did not deserve a seat in the parliament.”

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Source: IWPR

Dwindling community struggles to maintain identity.

“We aren’t treated as human beings,” Sikh businessman Amrit Singh said as he sat in his small grocery shop in the Kabul neighbourhood of Shor Bazaar. “When we are alive, we are disrespected, insulted and beaten…. And when we take our dead to the crematorium, which is our personal property, they won’t let us burn the bodies, saying it stinks.”

“Do we have any rights in this country or not?” the 45-year-old asked.

Hindus and Sikhs form a miniscule community in today’s Afghanistan. Historically playing an important role as traders and entrepreneurs, they lived in Afghanistan in relative harmony for hundreds of years, mostly in the capital Kabul and in the southeastern Khost province.

According to Avtar Singh, chairman of the national council of Hindus and Sikhs, the community now numbers only 395 families. Before the collapse of the pro-Soviet regime in 1992, he said, there were around 200,000 people from the two communities.

During the civil war that followed, many sought refuge in other countries, India in particular. For those who remained, things got worse under the Taleban government of 1996-2001. Their freedom to practice their religion was restricted, and cremation was banned altogether.

Although that ban is no longer in place, Avtar Singh said funeral rites remained a major issue, noting public opposition to the use of the 120-year-old crematorium in Qalacha, southeast of Kabul.

“When we take our dead bodies to the crematorium, we take the police with us. Even so, local people throw stones at us. They disrespect our dead,” he said, adding that despite appeals to the Afghan parliament, the Independent Human Rights Commission, the United Nations mission and the United States embassy, his community had received little help.

Daud Amin, deputy police chief in Kabul city, said that his forces were doing their best to protect the minority.

“We have always worked with them,” he said. “We have accompanied them and we haven’t allowed anyone to insult them. Members of the public threw stones at them only once, and we stopped it. We have helped them whenever they’ve asked us for help.”

Residents of Qalacha insisted they had no problems with Hindus and Sikhs, only with the cremations.

Gholam Habib Fawad, deputy chairman of the community council in Qalacha, said the crematorium used to be located far from residential areas, but that had changed as more homes were built in its vicinity.

“When they burn bodies there, the smell goes into the houses,” he said. “Many people react and fall sick. The children are scared. Some families need to leave their houses for several days and go and live with relatives.”

Avtar Singh denied that the cremations had any impact on the environment.

“Representatives from the municipality and the police have been present when we burned the bodies, and even they said they didn’t smell anything,” he said.

Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, a Sikh member of the upper house of parliament, says she has raised the cremation issue at the highest levels.

“I have pursued [the Qalacha] issue with government officials myself,” said Honaryar, who has been the Senate’s only non-Muslim member since 2010. “They have been cooperative. I believe that certain political elements and foreign meddling are creating problems for the Hindus and Sikhs, since we didn’t use to have problems with our Muslim brothers.”

Many Hindus and Sikhs, however, say they face threats, insults and even physical violence from their neighbours.

“Our women can’t go out,” said Bajan Singh, who has a grocery shop in Kabul. “When our children go to school, they are insulted by their classmates for being Hindu. A number of our Hindu brothers have been beaten and their money stolen. All of our rights have been trampled on. I wish [the government] would move us to some other country.”

Honaryar acknowledged that Sikhs and Hindus faced some problems, which she attributed to ignorance in the wider community. She said she had asked the media and the Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs to launch a public education campaign.

“In my opinion, the low level of public literacy, immigration [of returning Afghan refugees], and lack of information about the Hindu minority are the causes of this problem,” she said. “But not everyone is like that. It’s just some ignorant people who do these things. I have contacted the police in such cases and they have been wholly cooperative and have punished the individuals involved.”

Honaryar said she was behind an initiative to build a purpose-built settlement in eastern Kabul complete with schools, a crematorium and other facilities for the Sikhs and Hindus in the city. But so far, the response had not been enthusiastic.

“Now that we’ve launched the town, no one is prepared to go there,” she said. “The municipality calls me every day and says construction work needs to get started there.”

Hindus and Sikhs living in Kabul said moving to new homes would not solve their problems, and they would face more security threats if they were outside the capital.

“We aren’t safe in the heart of Kabul even with all its police and laws,” resident Manpal Singh said. “How are we going to be able to live in a desert 20 kilometres outside from the city? What will the people in [other] villages do to us? Was there nowhere else in Kabul, so that they had to send us to deserts and mountains?”

Yet some people still have fond memories of a time when the Muslim and Hindu communities lived peacefully together.

“We shared our happiness and grief,” said Badshah, a Muslim shopkeeper in the town of Khost. “When we go to India now, we stay in their homes. They are proud Afghans. They are hospitable. They worked alongside us to address problems. I miss them.”

Samteral, a Hindu from Khost currently living in Kabul, said, “We were so friendly with our Muslim brothers that we never even thought about who we were or who they were. We were all the same, Afghans.”

He said he was still in touch with Afghan Hindus now living in India.

“They all mourn for their homes and villages. I wish we had security. so we could all live together again,” he added.

Mina Habib is an IWPR contributor in Kabul. Abdali is an IWPR-trained reporter in Khost province.

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