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Archive for July, 2018

Daily O

The killing of 17 Hindus and Sikhs in an explosion in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad on July 1 last was probably a final attempt to obliterate the last vestige of pre-Islamic civilisation which held a complete sway over the landlocked nation till about eight centuries ago. On the following day (July 2), the Islamic state claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing.

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The number of Hindus and Sikh families in Afghanistan is estimated at less than 300 [Photo: Reuters] 

Rising intolerance

The killings have shaken the small community of the Hindu-Sikhs, who are planning en masse migration from their homeland.

“I am clear that we cannot live here anymore”, Tejvir Singh, 35, whose uncle was killed in the blast, told the media. Singh who is the secretary of national panel of Hindus and Sikhs further said, “Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists”.

The number of Hindus and Sikh families in Afghanistan is estimated at less than 300, and their total population below 1,000.

The country was home to as many as 2, 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus before the devastating civil war in the 1990s.

Some of the frightened Hindus and Sikhs have sought shelter at the Indian consulate, following the recent attack at Jalalabad.

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What Hindus and Sikhs are facing in Afghanistan is a repeat of the experience of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh [Photo: Reuters]

Speaking to media, Sardar Baldev Singh, who owns a book and textile ship in the city, said, “We are left with two choices: to leave for India or convert to Islam.”

What Hindus and Sikhs are facing in Afghanistan is a repeat of the experience of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. In 1947, the share of Hindus in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) was 30 per cent and in Pakistan, 24 per cent. Today, both Bangladesh and Pakistan have roughly a population of 20 crore each.

Going by their percentage share of population at the time of Partition, the number of Hindus in Bangladesh now should be around six crore and in Pakistan 4.80 crores. Together, both the countries should have a total of around 11 crore Hindus and Sikhs.

However, the total number of Hindus/Sikhs in both the countries does not add even to two crores today. What happened to the balance nine crores? Obviously they were either forced to convert to Islam, or migrate to escape persecution.

Islamic zealots

The remnants of the pre-Islamic civilisation in the region have been vandalised and destroyed over the centuries. The vandals claimed inspiration from Islam. Mahmud Ghazni (971-1030) during the solemn ceremony of receiving caliphate honours on the accession to the throne of Ghazni had taken a vow to wage jihad every year against the idolaters of India. Mahmud lead over a dozen campaigns into India during his 32 years reign. The Sultan had three motives in his Indian raids: to slaughter heathens, destroy their places of worship and to gather plunder.

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The Buddha statue in 1963 and in 2008. It was destroyed in 2001. [ Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In March 2001, the Taliban, on orders from Mullah Mohammed Omar dynamited and destroyed the fourth and fifth century monumental statues of Gautam Buddha carved into the side of a cliff in the Bamyan Valley in the Hazarajat region of central Afghanistan.

The statues represented the classic blended style of Gandhara art and were 115 feet and 174 feet tall respectively. For the Islamic zealots, they were neither works of art nor a historical heritage. To them the statues were kufur and deserved to be destroyed, as per dictates of their “faith”.

Mass conversions

Up to 12th century, Afghanistan (along with present day Pakistan and Kashmir Valley) was predominantly Buddhist and Hindu.

In The Afghans, Willem Vogelsang writes: “During the eighth and ninth centuries AD the eastern parts of modern Afghanistan were still in the hands of non-Muslim rulers. Most of them were either Hindus or Buddhists”.

Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni began crossing the Indus River into Hindustan (land of Hindus) in the tenth century. The military incursions assured the domination of Sunni Islam in what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In Afghanistan: A new history, Martin Ewans notes that Mahmud who ruled between 998 and 1030, expelled the Hindus from Gandhara, and succeeded in conquering the territory stretching from the Caspian Sea to Varanasi, Bokhara and Samarkand. He encouraged mass conversions to Islam, looted Hindu temples and carried off immense booty, earning for himself, depending on the viewpoint of the observer, the titles of “Image-breaker” or “scourge of India”.

Mahmud died almost a thousand years ago. But that sick mindset continues to thrive. The recent explosion in Jalalabad is just one more deadly episode in the ghastly drama that has no end in sight.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

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Link to full article from The Times of India

 

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Link to Petition on Change.org

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The Pioneer

Through the decades of internal conflict, religious minorities in Afghanistan have fallen through the cracks. International organisations often fail to recognise the plight of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs

India’s foreign policy has its task cut out — to ensure the safety of the Hindu-Sikh community within Afghanistan or its safe repatriation to India (or migration elsewhere) with full citizenship and rehabilitation. In a positive move, New Delhi has issued long-term visas to members of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities and offered them the right to live in India without any limitation. India’s envoy to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, said that these Afghan citizens must take the final call. The Jalalabad bombing (July 1, 2018) has complicated matters for New Delhi and Kabul. India has given sustained support to successive Governments in Afghanistan (barring the Taliban that behaved shabbily during the Kandahar episode); Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invested personal capital in support of “Afghanistan’s multicultural fabric”. India has invested in many large development projects but growing insecurity has forced a slowdown. Seven Indian engineers kidnapped in May, in Baghlan Province, remain captive.

Some things are notable about the Jalalabad incident. First, Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility, though security agencies are yet to confirm this. IS fighters are fleeing Syria in droves under pressure from the Syrian Arab Army and need safe havens; Pakistan which has long desired to be leader of the Islamic world seems a natural destination. How IS coexists with other terrorist groups there remains to be seen but Nangarhar, where the attack occurred, borders Pakistan and is a terrorist stronghold despite sustained operations by Afghan commandos and American airstrikes.

Second, Avtar Singh Khalsa, an important Sikh community leader and among the 19 victims in a convoy of Hindus and Sikhs that was going to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, may have been an intended target. He was planning to contest Afghanistan’s parliamentary elections in October and would have been elected unopposed to the Wolesi Jirga (Lower House) as the seat he was planning to contest was reserved for minorities by Presidential decree in 2016. The IS statement disparaged Hindus and Sikhs as “polytheists” and may have aimed at preventing even token political diversity in the nation.

Afghanistan’s Hindu-Sikh minority has lived under various strains for decades. The rich fled to India after the assassination of President Daoud in 1978. The assassination of President Najibullah in 1996 made life more difficult and a silent exodus began towards the West and India. In 2016, TOLOnews reported that 99 per cent of Hindus and Sikhs had left Afghanistan in the past three decades. From 2,20,000 in the 1980s, their number shrank to 15,000 during the mujahideen era followed by the Taliban rule, and currently stands at barely 1,350. The television channel said that the main reasons for their flight were religious discrimination and official neglect. Under the mujahideen-Taliban, their lands and assets were seized by warlords, reducing them to penury. These were never restored after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Under the Taliban, Hindus and Sikhs wore yellow armbands and were not allowed to hold Government jobs. Even post-Taliban, bigoted neighbours harassed them while cremating their dead, children were bullied and could not attend schools and the community as a whole was made to feel like outsiders. The head of the Hindu Council in Afghanistan, told TOLOnews that he had lost 10 members of his family in the Afghan conflict; two brothers in the Army had died fighting the mujahideen. He said discrimination against the community began in 1992 “when people started counting who were Hindu or Muslim and Tajik, Uzbek or Hazara.” TOLOnews observed that Hindus and Sikhs once had thriving businesses in the country, but now faced increasing poverty. There are no Sikhs or Hindus in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. Only two gurdwaras function, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul; most temples are deserted.

The timing was political. It came the day after the Government ordered Afghan security forces to resume offensive operations against the Taliban on expiry of the Government’s 18-day ceasefire that overlapped with the Taliban’s three-day ceasefire for Eid, which IS did not join. It coincided with the visit of US envoy Alice Wells, who came to pressure the Taliban to engage with Ashraf Ghani. The Taliban is demanding direct talks with the US, which Washington has refused. Wells said, “Right now it’s the Taliban leaders … who aren’t residing in Afghanistan, who are the obstacle to a negotiated political settlement”, and added that Islamabad had to do more to bring Taliban to the negotiating table.

The attack is a setback to the Afghan Government as it has forced the minorities to weigh the prospects of continued survival in that country. Tejvir Singh, secretary of a national panel of Hindus and Sikhs, told Reuters, “I am clear that we cannot live here anymore… We are Afghans. The Government recognises us but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims.” Sikhs who took shelter in the Indian consulate in Jalalabad added, “We are left with two choices: To leave for India or to convert to Islam”.  Some Sikhs, however, said that their ties with Afghanistan were too deep to contemplate leaving. The situation is grim. Hours before the Jalalabad bombing, terrorists set fire to a boys’ school in Khogyani district and beheaded three workers, a standard tactic of IS, which had threatened to attack schools in the area as revenge for the US-Afghan military operations. It had specifically stated that it would also attack schools with girl students. The Norwegian Refugee Council, which runs a programme for displaced students, noted that, “Afghan schools are increasingly at risk on military, ideological and political fault lines, with attacks increasing in eastern Afghanistan”.

In a heart-warming gesture on July 3, 2018, as members of the Shiromani Akali Dal and Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee protested against the attack outside the Afghanistan Embassy in Delhi, Afghan diplomats and officials joined the protests. Stating that Afghans were also victims of cross-border terrorism, they said Ambassador Shaida Abdali viewed the incident as “a shared pain” and the embassy “was obliged to protest together with the Afghan Sikhs residing in India who also found support from Sikh brothers of India”. The attack underlines the fragility of the regime in Kabul. The rogue elements in Pakistan cannot be controlled without joint and concerted action by the US, Russia, India and China.

(The writer is Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library; the views expressed are personal)

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Voice Online

MISSISSAUGA: The Ontario Gurdwaras Committee (OGC) and the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwaras Council (OSGC) hosted a joint press conference to discuss and highlight the current situation of Sikhs in Afghanistan and to determine the next steps in providing help and aid to those affected.

Representatives from the British Columbia Sikh Gurdwara Council, Baljinder Singh Bhullar, father of the late MLA Manmeet Singh Bhullar, Sharanjeet Kaur from the World Sikh Organization of Canada and Jatinder Singh from Khalsa Aid Canada also joined the press conference.

The recent deadly terror attack that targeted Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan has left the Canadian Sikh community devastated and it has also highlighted the inaction on the private sponsorships of 65 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families that have not yet been processed, the Sikh representatives said.

The Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities are in a crisis situation with a lack of safety and security for their lives. The Canadian Sikh community expects more from the federal  government and urges it to:

1. Recognize Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan as vulnerable minorities and develop an appropriate plan of action with our international allies to directly evacuate them from their current situation without requiring them to first go to a third country.

2. Fast track and fully complete the files of the 65 Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugee families who have been privately sponsored and whose files are being processed.

Over the coming days, members from the Sikh Community will be engaging with the government and elected officials to develop the path forward for those impacted by the violence in Afghanistan.

The representatives said that to ensure awareness of the situation and to encourage the government to act swiftly, Canadians are encouraged to reach out to their elected officials to make their concerns and expectations known.

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Hindustan Times

The Canada India Foundation (CIF), a non-profit organisation, has urged Canada to accept Sikh and Hindu minority communities from Afghanistan as refugees following the killing of 19 Sikhs by an IS suicide bomber in Jalalabad.

“This dastardly act is yet another sign of the continuing victimisation of the religious minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan by fundamentalist Islamist forces,” said CIF chair Ajit Someshwar at the foundation’s weekend gala.

He said Canada should help alleviate the plight of Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan the same way it helped Syrian refugees by giving them asylum in the country.

“Just as Canada took the lead in accepting Syrian refugees, the Canadian government should also allow the members of the minority Sikh and Hindu communities from Afghanistan and Pakistan to immigrate to Canada,” Someshwar said.

 

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The Pioneer

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today said she has spoken with a Sikh man, who was admitted to AIIMS here after being injured in the blast that claimed 19 lives in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad last week, and offered all assistance to him.

The suicide attack had on July 1 killed 19 people, including 13 members from the Afghan Sikh community.

“I have spoken to Sardar Iqbal Singh injured in Afghanistan blast and now admitted in AIIMS Trauma Centre. He is progressing well and should be discharged next week. We have offered him all help and assistance,” Swaraj tweeted.

Swaraj had met the relatives of some of the victims of the terror attack last week.

The bomber had targeted a minority communities delegation as it was travelling to the governor’s residence in the eastern city of Jalalabad for a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.

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Shivani Bhakoo & Gurvinder Singh

Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, July 8

There are about 25 Afghan Sikh families in city, who left Afghanistan about a decade back just because they were not “safe” in the war-torn country. They feel reluctant to talk to media initially and their only concern is that Indian government should provide them citizenship, housing and basic facilities so that they live life peacefully.

25 Sikh families from Afghanistan seek Indian citizenship
A Sikh family that came from Afghanistan few years ago and is presently living in Ludhiana. — ANI

Narrating her tale of woes, Kulwant Kaur, a widow, said that she had come to India about eight years back with her son and daughter while her husband was killed by militants in Afghanistan. “We are living in penury, still we feel safe here. Come what may, we are not going back to that country again. I work as a domestic helper. Government should provide us with job and other basic facilities,” she said.

Another family, on the condition of anonymity said they were “tortured” in Afghanistan.

The women were not safe at all. “Here, at times we get the daily food from a gurdwara. Some of us are daily wagers while some other drive auto-rickshaw or are rickshaw-pullers. We have our passports, other documents, etc. Realising our plight, the state and Central government should support us,” said another Sikh, wishing not to be quoted.

Shammi Singh (54) lives in a rented dilapidated house in a narrow lane of Chawni Mohalla. The two-room house without a kitchen has one bed, which has accommodated the family of six, depicting the condition the family now lives in.

Due to increasingly hostile environment for Sikhs in Afghanistan, he along with other families had to come to India in 2012. As a youth, he never imagined having to leave Kabul. “Earlier, there used to be around 1.8 lakh Sikh families in Afghanistan and there was no discrimination on the basis of religion. A significant proportion of trade was in the hands of Sikhs and Hindus.

“We used to celebrate Baisakhi in a grand way and Sikhs from Kabul, Jalalabad and other cities used to participate in the celebrations and Afghan Muslims used to invite us for Eid,” he says.

But things started changing gradually, forcing Sikhs to leave. The situation has turned worst since 2008 with Sikhs being called out as ‘Qafirs’, he says. “They even started objecting to the way we cremated our dead by consigning them to flames and wanted burial,” he adds.

Many families, including his, managed to come to India in 2006.

But it is not just the financial travails that worry them, the government has still not granted them citizenship. A constant fear of being thrown out of the house always lurks around.

Pleas of financial help to religious bodies and administration have yielded little and nobody comes forward to help, he says. “We request the government to give Sikhs who have come from Afghanistan citizenship and accommodation because we are struggling not just every day, but every hour,” he says.

Former SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar had extended help to these families. Makkar said two of the families were even provided with entire expenses to go back to Afghanistan as they wanted that. “The issue needs to be addressed by government. We on our own part can provide them food and other financial help at times but that is not a permanent solution. They are the responsibility of government and it should take care of them. Besides, SGPC should also provide them financial assistance,” said Makkar.

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