Archive for July, 2018

Barfi Culture

A few weeks ago, the UK Home Office rejected an Afghan Sikh family’s application for asylum partly because they couldn’t find any “assessment or tests” to confirm they were Sikh, even though the family had a letter of support from their local Gurdwara.

The incident left academic Dr Jasjit Singh fuming.

“This is ridiculous. Since when has @ukhomeoffice required congregations to complete tests to confirm their religious adherence? And why aren’t letters of support from Gurdwaras enough?” – he tweeted.

“This is such a colossal waste of time and resource thanks to religious illiteracy around minority ethnic religions,” he added.

He had good reasons to be annoyed.

Afghan Sikhs applying for asylum into the UK face major barriers including having to prove they are Sikh. It’s generally assumed they all speak Punjabi, know Sikh history and keep long hair, he told Barfi Culture.

But many don’t speak Punjabi as their mother tongue and some do cut their hair often after facing threats and discrimination.

This “religious illiteracy” means many Sikhs genuinely fleeing persecution from extremists in Afghanistan are rejected by the UK Home Office even if they have a legitimate case.

Why is this issue important?

In late June a devastating terror attack on Sikh and Hindu leaders in Afghanistan sent shockwaves through the community. It also illustrated the dangers that religious minorities face in Afghanistan. Around 700,000 Hindus and Sikhs are estimated to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1970s, many say that number is down to less than 3,000.

Canadian Sikh groups have been loudly calling on their government to offer asylum to more Afghan Sikhs, though the response has been muted.

A similar call is being made by British Sikh groups. “Afghan Sikhs we’ve spoken to in London have told us it is now time for Sikhs to leave Afghanistan and seek sanctuary elsewhere,” says Lord Singh from the Network of Sikh Organisations.

How a British Sikh is helping Aghans

Dr Jasjit Singh, a Research Fellow at the University of Leeds, has been repeatedly called in by lawyers representing Afghani Sikhs asylum seekers to help with their claims.

“I’ve interviewed the claimants to establish their ‘Sikh-ness’ using my knowledge of the Sikh tradition. Rather than relying on text book representations I’ve asked them about their ‘lived’ Sikh practices,” he told Barfi Culture.

But there are several cases where the Home Office has rejected applicants out of ignorance, after referring to sources with factual errors like this one at the WSJ.

Only last week it changed guidelines accepting that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus may also speak Pasto, Dari or Kabli as their primary language.

He stresses that the UK government does the same with Christian and Muslim who are fleeing religious persecution so Sikhs are not being singled out. But ignorance about the faith and its adherents has made it harder for Sikhs.

So how could other British Sikhs help?

“Those supporting Afghani Sikhs need to show why they believe they are Sikhs. Also most Afghani Sikhs I’ve spoken to have had their education disrupted, so they should try and support them with this.”

“Also,” he added, “don’t discriminate (against Afghanis) based on language or background!”

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KEERATPUR SAHIB—The ashes of 12 deceased Afghan Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader were immersed in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib in Keeratpur Sahib on July 23. The ashes were brought from Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev Ji of New Mahavir Nagar (Delhi) where these were being kept for glimpse since July 19.

SAD leaders Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema and Bhai Amarjit Singh Chawla paid homage to the departed Afghan Sikh leaders while immersing their ashes in a tributary pouring into the Nangal Hydel Channel at Gurdwara Patalpuri Sahib. The SGPC had made robust arrangements for the relatives of deceased Afghan Sikh leaders at Gurdwara Keeratpur Sahib on this occasion.

Former Cabinet Minister Dr. Daljit Singh Cheema said on this occasion that the Shiromani Akali Dal understands the pain of Afghan Sikhs and is committed to help them in every possible way. He also prayed for the spiritual relief of departed Afghan Sikh leaders.

It may be recalled here that the ashes of 12 Afghan Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader, who were killed in a suicide bomb attack on July 1 in Afghanistan’s eastern town Jalalabad, were brought to India in a special air ambulance on July 19. Beside it, the six injured Sikhs were also brought to India for providing them ailment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

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Source: The Times of India


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A council of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs refugees in Europe in an open letter to President Ashraf Ghani has urged him to issue a special order for probing the suicide attack in Jalalabad city in eastern Nangarhar province that targeted a gathering of Hindus in early July. 

At least 19 people were killed and 20 others were wounded in the blast.

A copy of the letter obtained by TOLOnews shows that the Hindus and Sikhs community has raised concerns over the loss of their properties in Afghanistan and have marked Jalalabad suicide attack as a starting point for animosity against the minority group.

“Jalalabad incident which took the lives of dozens of Hindus and Sikhs cannot be a random incident. The Hindus and Sikhs were waiting for the president for three hours, and finally they become victims of a suicide attack which claimed the lives of 19 leaders of the religious minority and wounded over 20 others,” the letter read.

They have criticized Afghan embassies in Europe over lack of cooperation with the community, saying that those Hindus and Sikhs who have left Afghanistan are not holding Afghan identity cards.

“Afghanistan embassies in Europe are doing nothing for us without identity cards. This has changed into a big problem for Afghan refugees, especially for Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. A special solution should be sought in this regard,” the letter read.

The Hindus and Sikhs have also criticized government forces over a late arrival at the attack scene in Nangarhar to help the victims.

“At least one hour passed following the incident until security forces and medial help arrived at the scene,” the Hindus and Sikhs said in the letter.

They asked government to issue an order to Afghanistan security agencies to maintain security of Hindus and Sikhs’ temple and the areas where they perform their rituals.

The Afghan Sikh and Hindu community lost their leader, Ottar Singh Khalsa, in Jalalabad attack.

Khalsa, who not only led this minority group in the country, was also the only parliamentary candidate from this community for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

According to reports, in the past Afghan Sikhs and Hindus played an important role in society and particularly in the economy.

However, statistics show that around 99 percent of all Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have slowly left the country since the start of the civil war.

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NEW DELHI—The ashes of Afghan 12 Sikh leaders and a Hindu leader, who were killed in a suicide bomb attack on July 1 in Afghanistan’s eastern town Jalalabad, were brought to India in a special air ambulance on July 19. Beside it, the six injured Sikhs were also brought for providing them ailment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

Names of the six injured Afghan Sikhs brought to India for medical treatment are as follows:

  1. Satpal Singh
  2. Gurmeet Singh
  3. Manjit Singh
  4. Maninder Singh
  5. Narinderpal Singh
  6. Ravinder Kaur

Grief stricken Afghan Sikhs enshrined in India received the ashes and injured Sikhs at Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi) along with SAD president Sukhbir Badal, SGPC president S. Gobind Singh Longowal, DSGMC president S. Manjit Singh GK, DSGMC general secretary S. Manjinder Singh Sirsa and other leaders on this occasion.

Sikh24 has learnt that the ashes of Afghan Sikh leaders will be placed at Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev Ji in New Mahabir Nagar (Delhi) for two days and then will be submerged at Gurdwara Kiratpur Sahib in Punjab.

With the help of Indian Foreign Ministry, a special arrangement has been made for the treatment of injured Afghan Sikhs at AIIMS.

It may be recalled here that 12 Afghan Sikh leaders, including the upcoming parliamentarian S. Avtar Singh Khalsa was killed in a suicide bomb attack at Jalalabad on July 1. Even after three weeks of the incident, there is no clarity about the perpetrators of this inhumane carnage. Initially, it was being suspected that the ISIS committed carnage of the Afghan Sikh leaders, but later, unconfirmed reports had surfaced over social media that the land mafia orchestrated the attack on Afghan Sikh leaders with an eye on the land owned by the Sikh shrines there.

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Deccan Chronicle

Ludhiana (Punjab), July 19: Over the years, hundreds of Sikh minorities of Afghanistan have fled to India owing to atrocities meted out on them by Islamic fundamentalists and Islamabad-backed insurgent groups. These people, who are given second class treatment in Afghanistan, have not been able to find shelter but they are leading a safe and respectable life in India owing to extensive assistance package provided to them by the Indian government. Since the situation has not shown any improvement with time, these people are reluctant to go back to the war-torn country. While narrating his tale of plight, Shami Singh, an Afghan migrant who has been living in India for quite some time now says it was the regular torture and repeated threats of converting to Islam that forced him to come to India. It is not just the government but the Sikh religious bodies have also been instrumental in enhancing the lives of the migrants. They have been providing regular financial and other support to the needy. Islamabad has been hatching diabolic plots and been carrying out systematic attacks against the minorities in its own country and Afghanistan. In line of the same satanic agenda, few Pak-backed terrorists had carried out a deadly attack in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan eliminating the top minority leadership of the country. Only weeks ago, a prominent Sikh religious leader Charanjit Singh Sagar was shot dead in Peshawar city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The minority Sikh and Hindu community in Pakistan remains a frequent target of Pakistani Taliban and secret agencies and the majority of these families have been forced to migrate to Europe and India.

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Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, July 18
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Wednesday wrote to Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj urging her to advise officials in her ministry and the Indian High Commission in Afghanistan to ensure that the minority Sikhs were safe in the war-torn country.
In his letter, Singh voiced his dismay at the recent Kabul bombings and growing number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, saying that the constant strife in the country have left Sikhs vulnerable.
The letter asked Swaraj to “pursue measures” to ensure that violence-hit Sikh families were offered security, relief and rehabilitation.
At least 19 people were killed on July 1 in a suicide bomb that targeted a convoy of Hindus and Sikhs who were on their way to Jalalabad to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Islamic State, whose footprint is growing in the already strife-torn land, claimed the attack.

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The Times of India

WASHINGTON: Contrary to the general impression, Hindus and Sikhs are original residents of Afghanistan, the Afghan ambassador to the US has said, as his embassy here held a memorial service for the members of the minority communities killed recently in a terrorist attack in Jalalabad.

At least 19 people were killed on July 1 when a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of Sikhs and Hindus on their way to meet Afghanistan’s president in Jalalabad. 18 Hindus and Sikhs were killed in the attack claimed by the Islamic State.

“This occasion is one that brings us together to recognise a community that has deep roots in Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Ambassador to the US Hamdullah Mohib said at the memorial service held at his embassy in Washington DC on Sunday.

“For many, they often think of the minority Hindus and Sikhs as migrants from India. But in reality, the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan are the original residents of this country,” the top Afghan diplomat here said.

Sena Lund, president of the New York-based Afghan Hindu association, read out the names of the 18 slain leaders.

Asha Kapoor of the local Asamai Hindu Mandir recited a speech in Dari, the official language of Afghanistan, to commemorate the victims.

In his brief remarks, Puneet Kundal, the deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy here, condoled of the loss of lives in the “dreadful violence”.

“The very fact that you are organising this event here today is a representation of the sentiments that the government of Afghanistan feels for these communities,” Kundal said.

Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu lawmaker in the US Congress, in a statement read on the occasion said that this brutal attack was yet another example of the fear, bigotry and hatred that sadly exists in the world.

“During the Taliban regime, Hindus and Sikhs were forced to wear yellow patches to identify themselves in public, furthering extreme prejudice, and eventually forcing many to seek asylum in India,” she said.

“These fear tactics and attacks attempt to divide us, but we cannot give into this hate. We must confront hatred with love, fear with understanding and darkness with light. We must continue to stand up to bigotry and hatred in Afghanistan, here at home and around the world,” Gabbard said.

Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the loss of these community leaders was a terrible blow, not only to Afghanistan, but also to the international community.

“The Sikh and Hindu communities have a long and distinguished heritage and this horrific attack will not diminish that. Our office will continue to monitor the conditions faced by religious minorities in Afghanistan. I stand with you and will work toward an Afghanistan that is peaceful and secure for all its people,” he said.

Sounds of sacred traditional Sikh hymns, sung by leaders of the local Washington gurdwara and National Sikh Campaign, as well as verses from the Bhagavad Gita, recited by Pandit Ram Kumar Shastri of Silver Spring, Maryland’s Asamai Mandir, filled the air.

A packed hall of mourners from the Hindu and Sikh communities sat alongside officials from the Afghan embassy, Indian embassy, and US State Department facing a mural depicting the ancient relics of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.

“We at the Hindu American Foundation pledge to be with you every step of the way as Hindus and Sikhs seek full enfranchisement in Afghan society,” said Jay Kansara of the Hindu American Foundation, which helped organise the event by the Afghan Hindu Association.

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Read more on The Times of India


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The Hindu

Ruchi Kumar

For many within Afghanistan’s once-thriving Sikh and Hindu communities, the attack in Jalalabad city on July 1, claimed by the Islamic State (IS), came as a final blow to the plurality of the Afghan society. Fourteen of their compatriots were killed; among them was Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh nominee for the upcoming parliamentary elections.

A sense of gloom and hopelessness has fallen over the community since and the tragedy has left them rethinking on their place in the country. “Seeing this incident has broken all of our hearts and spirits. We do not know how to move forward,” said Shyam Singh, an Afghan Sikh from Kabul, at a mass funeral at a local gurdwara in Kabul. Mr. Singh, a tailor, is among the many who have decided to leave Afghanistan. “I cannot afford to leave, most of us can’t afford it, but if we don’t leave, this is how we will end,” he said.

Afghan Sikh men carry the coffin of one of the victims of the July 1 blast in Jalalabad.

Afghan Sikh men carry the coffin of one of the victims of the July 1 blast in Jalalabad.   | Photo Credit: PARWIZ

Reduced to 150 families

A refusal on the part of the Taliban to negotiate peace, alongside a steadily strengthening Islamic State (IS) insurgency, has resulted in an increasing number of civilian casualties over the last two years. However, for the minorities, the threat to civilian life isn’t the only concern. The Sikh and Hindu communities have seen a steady decline in numbers owing to religious persecution, especially during the years of civil war and Taliban rule.

And despite the fall of the Taliban and the efforts of the following governments to introduce reforms, the two communities remain marginalised, which has forced them to leave Afghanistan in several thousands. “There used to be several hundred thousands of us at the start of the war, but now there are no more than 150 families left, roughly about 1,300-1,400 Sikhs and Hindus,” said Nirmal Singh, a Sikh merchant from Jalalabad, who was in Kabul to help relatives of the deceased people.

Sikhs and Hindus here have faced a number of issues like land-grab; the absence of an inclusive justice system; and an absence of spaces to practise their faith. “Our children are not in school, because they get harassed and abused,” said Shyam Singh. “We can’t even cremate our dead without the help of the Afghan government and security forces,” added Omprakash Sachdeva, an Afghan Hindu from Khost, who came to the mass funeral to pay respects to Avtar Singh. There have been reports in past of incidents of stone-pelting on Hindu and Sikh funeral processions by locals. “This land belonged to our ancestors for over 300 years, but today we have no claim over it,” he added.

However, many refused to place the blame on their fellow Afghans, instead accusing Pakistan. “Pakistan is our enemy, the enemy of all Afghans. It doesn’t matter if the Afghan government works to improve our lives, Pakistan will not let us thrive,” said Mr. Sachdeva, indicating that Pakistan’s intelligence agency might have had a role in the attack.

The Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who spoke to this writer appealed to the Indian government to intervene and support the community. “At least, help our children get education in India,” requested Shyam Singh. Others like Nirmal Singh and Mr. Sachdeva wanted India’s help in migration, though they were not too hopeful that help would arrive in time. “We will end up in India eventually,” Mr. Sachdeva said. “If not now as the living, then surely after we die; our ashes will be taken to Haridwar,” he said. The others nodded in resigned agreement. “But it would be helpful if we can leave while we are still alive,” said Mr. Singh.

Ruchi Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Kabul


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