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Archive for June, 2018

Arab News

Avtar Singh Khalsa campaigning in blue turban for Afghanistan’s Parliamentary elections. He is the only non-Muslim candidate in the poll. (AN Photo)
  • Avtar Singh Khalsa tried to fill up the only slot for a non-Muslim minority in the last round of parliamentary elections
  • Seat was abolished by a majority vote of the lawmakers until the current government, in a decree, ordered its return for the shrinking Hindu and Sikh community who lived in Afghanistan long before the arrival of Islam

KABUL: When Avtar Singh Khalsa tried to fill up the only slot for a non-Muslim minority in the last round of parliamentary elections in Afghanistan years back there was an outcry from many Muslim candidates.
The seat was abolished by a majority vote of the lawmakers until the current government, in a decree, ordered its return for the shrinking Hindu and Sikh community who lived in Afghanistan long before the arrival of Islam, and dominated the country’s economy and trade.

With a large number of incumbent MPs under fire for enriching themselves rather than addressing the needs and grievances of supporters, this time Khalsa has not only received the backing of Hindu and Sikh minority, but also the support of Muslims he does not know.

“If I succeed, my first job will be to try to help the widows and the impoverished people from any part of the country. I will try to work for the unity of all Afghans who live under the flag of Islam here,” Khalsa told Arab News in an interview in his office in Kabul’s main joint temple.

“God has created us all. We are like a garden: there are pomegranate trees, apricot, peach…trees, God has created us like these trees, He could have created us all Muslims, Hindus,” he said speaking of religion and tribes as more of an identity than a societal status.

The country is like a mother and a mother wants her elder child to be the servant of all of her children, he added. “I will serve all, my focus will not be the Sikhs and Hindus (alone),” he said.

The 53-year-old has been the chief custodian of Hindu and Sikh temples, as well as their leader for years.
His second priority will be to get the government to allocate plots for Hindus and Sikhs to build clinics, hospitals and small businesses to create jobs.

The projects will be funded by rich Afghan Hindus and Sikhs who — like millions of other Afghans — have been living overseas as refugees for decades, he said.

“They are fed up living abroad and are proud to be called Afghans. Even in India (the birthplace of Hindusism) they are called Afghans. They desperately want to come, but need assurances and means to invest and work,” he said.
Wearing a dark blue turban and with the long beard characteristic of many Sikhs, Khalsa said that after more than four decades of war and foreign interventions, Afghans need unity more than anything else.
He proudly recalled serving as an officer in the Soviet-backed communist government of Afghanistan and how his Muslim neighbors took care of his family members who were wounded and killed in a rocket attack on a fateful day in southeastern Paktia province.

“I lost eight family members of mine that day while some were wounded. But the help and care I got from my neighbors then was unique and even my fellow Sikhs would not have been more helpful than my Muslim neighbors,” he said.

For Khalsa, as for many Sikhs and Hindus, the Moscow-backed government led by the late president Mohammad Najibullah, was a champion of their rights and freedom.

They started to flee Afghanistan during the civil war that erupted in the 1990s, when there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared to around just a few thousand in recent years.
When warring factions fought over Kabul, razing neighborhoods in deadly rocket barrages, the two communities became targets, partly because of their religion, but also because they did not have a militia of their own for protection.

Many escaped when armed men stormed their temples in various parts of the country, and tore their religious book to avenge the destruction of a mosque by Hindu fanatics in India.

After complaining of extortion, intimidation, kidnappings, theft and even rape, those with the means, fled to India where they live as aliens requiring visas, like other foreigners.

Khalsa has deep nostalgia for the Taliban government who, like rest of his fellow community men, view the Islamists as helping their communities to regain their usurped properties, enforce rule of law and security.
“For days and nights, we were not locking our house doors, no one dared to enter or steal our house. The Taliban did not harass or suppress us,” he said.

He complained that corruption and injustice have been on the rise both in the current government and the administration that took over when the US ousted the Taliban in 2001.
He laments how billions of dollars in foreign aid since the fall of the Taliban was wasted and squandered both by donors and the powerful Afghans.

Like many of his countrymen, he believes that the US is protecting its vested interests in Afghanistan, so wants to manage a controlled chaos in the country.

“If America wants and shows sympathy, it can bring peace here. Afghanistan has been turned into a battleground between rival countries and a testing laboratory for their weapons. Our mines are looted and people are killed every day,” said Khalsa.

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World Religion News

“I SACRIFICE MYSELF FOR THOSE OF MY BROTHERS WHO HAVE BEEN THROUGH ALL KINDS OF PAIN AND SUFFERING.” Avtar Singh Khalsa will represent the small Sikh and Hindu Afghanistan population in the lower house of the Afghan Parliament. The community now numbers under 1,000 people, a far cry from the 80,000 in the 1970s. Both Hindus and Sikhs have decreased in numbers is due to decades of continuous conflict. Khalsa has served in the Afghan army.

Avtar Singh Khalsa Vows to Fight Persecution of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs TWEET THIS Khalsa is a Sikh and a longtime community leader. His election to Afghan Parliament will be unopposed as the position was kept aside by a 2016 presidential decree. He will be one voice among the 259 legislators. He hopes his military stint will assist him to secure the position in the defense and security committee.

For Khalsa, the work is arduous. Heavy fighting has displaced Hindus and Sikhs from their homes. Other than victims of war, they have suffered discrimination in the Muslim majority nation. Islamic extremists have repeatedly targeted them. Under Taliban rule, minorities were ordered to wear yellow armbands. The last couple of years saw minorities fleeing to India and seeking asylum there.

Khalsa was clear about his job responsibilities, “I don’t only want to serve my Sikh and Hindu brothers. I have to be able to serve all the Afghan people, no matter which ethnicity or group they belong to. Our services must reach everyone.” Khalsa himself is from Paktia province located in the eastern part of Afghanistan. He has lived most of his life within Kabul city. His previous political experience included a stint as Senator representing minority in the upper house of the Afghan Parliament.

“We must try to save our people from this chaos. By any means and at any cost we must ask for our rights from the government. Your rights will not be given to you, you must earn them.” For minorities, the immediate future appears grim as the official Afghan Government is fighting a renewed Taliban and an IS affiliate. The Taliban have seized several districts throughout the country. Terrorist attacks have also been carried out against the Shiite Muslims, another bleeding minority in Afghanistan.

If Kabul falls, Hindus and Sikhs will face more persecution. Khalsa said, “I sacrifice myself for those of my brothers who have been through all kinds of pain and suffering. I don’t care if I lose my whole family and I get killed for this cause. I will struggle until I get their rights.”

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Indian Express

During his meeting with the Indian Ambassador, chief of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Council, Avtar Singh Khalsa had told him that the two communities faced problems while cremating their dead as many Afghan Muslims objected to the practice.

The Sikh and the Hindu communities in Afghanistan approached the Indian Ambassador earlier this month to seek his urgent intervention to help set up electric crematoriums for them in the country. The issue was flagged by chief of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu Council, Avtar Singh Khalsa, during his meeting with the Indian Ambassador to Kabul, Vinay Kumar, on June 12.

Khalsa was asked to submit a “formal request” for electric crematoriums, which he is likely to do soon. Khalsa’s son, Narinder Singh Khalsa, told The Indian Express over phone from Afghanistan on Tuesday that his father will be submitting a request for one electric crematoriums each for Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad where the Sikhs and Hindus reside.

During his meeting with the Indian Ambassador, Khalsa had told him that the two communities faced problems while cremating their dead as many Afghan Muslims objected to the practice. Khalsa, who has been leading a movement to seek respectable cremation rites as per traditions of the two communities, added that cremations were opposed citing the health risk posed by smoke that emanated during consigning the dead to flames.

His son, Narinder Singh Khalsa, however, said that there had been incidents of locals pelting stones at members of the two communities while they performed last rites of their loved ones.

“For every cremation, we have to request for security cover. And only after pleading hard, we manage to get the security cover,” said Narinder, who is a Unani physician in Afghanistan. He said Sikhs and Hindus in Kabul had been cremating their dead at Qalacha, which has a walled cremation area on the outskirts of Kabul. Narinder revealed that the area around Qalacha was not inhabited for almost ten years and objections to cremations started only after a settlement came up there.

“During meeting with the Ambassador, my father also sought ambulances for each of the three areas (Kabul, Ghazni and Jalalabad) for the Sikh and Hindu communities,” added Narinder.

An official at the Indian Embassy at Kabul said during his meeting with the Ambassador, Khalsa did raise the issue of cremations. “He was asked to make a formal representation in that regard, so that we may decide whether to solve it at the local level or take it up with the Indian government,” added the official.

Khalsa, meanwhile, is likely to be elected unopposed from a seat allocated for minority Hindu-Sikh community in the lower house of Afghan Parliament. The polls to the Wolesi Jirga are scheduled for October.

Narinder said that his father had served in various ranks with Afghanistan army for ten years, adding that there were nearly 1200 Sikhs and Hindus currently living in parts of Afghanistan.

“At one point of time, Sikhs and Hindus were into farming. But, due to the unrest, many sold their farms and left for other countries. The farms of many others were forcibly taken away by powerful locals,” said Narinder.

He added that after getting elected, his father will raise issues in Afghan Parliament to address the problems faced by Sikhs and Hindus.

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