Archive for September, 2021

Last Hindu(s) in Kandahar

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Source: The Northlines

New Delhi: The minuscule Sikh and Hindu community of war torn Afghanistan is living under the constant threat of Taliban who have taken reins of Afghanistan in their hands spreading a wave of panic not only among all the minorities but among the peace loving Afghan nationals also. For all these years, the local Muslim of Afghanistan have not been able to accept them as Afghanistanis owing to religious fundamentalism and both the Sikh and Hindus are dubbed as ‘kafir’.

Brief history of Sikhs, Hindus of Afghanistan

Sikh’s first master Guru Nanak Dev had visited Afghanistan during his fourth ‘udasi’ (travel) beloved to be between 1519 -1521 along with his Muslim companion Bhai Mardana. Baba Nanak had visited Kandahar, Kabul, Sultanpur, Jalalabad where historical Gurdwaras are situated.

“Sikh and Hindu of Afghanistan had over five decades old relation with India especially the trading relation. After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the resurgence of Taliban most of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan migrated to India”, explained Dr Harish Sharma, a former head of department of history at Guru Nanak Dev University, was quoted as saying by BBC.

Similarly, there are historical Hindu temples in Afghanistan including Asa Mai temple, Kabul, Devi Dwara, Kandhar, Dargah Hindu Temple, Jalalabad and Ghazni, Gardesh Hindu Temple, Gardesh etc. According to some Sikh NGOs, there was over 2.25 lakh population of Sikhs and Hindus in 1970s, but gradually their number started declining and now there are not more than 300 Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan with 285 alone in Kabul.

Recent victimization of Sikhs and Hindus

Sikhs and  Hindus had made their place in Afghan society and had set up different businesses like micro financing, medicine, ‘hakimi’(medical practitioner), cloth etc. Till 1970, they were in considerable number but gradually they began migrating from Afghanistan to other countries mainly India since Muslim fundamentalists started their exploitation and the things worsen when Taliban established their government by force in Afghanistan in 1996. From time to time, the minority Hindu and Sikh had come under attack by the Taliban forces, Dr Sharma explained.

On July 1, 2018, nineteen Sikhs and Hindus were killed in an ISIS’s suicide bomb attack while they were going to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Prominently among others who were killed in the attack included  Afghanistan’s lone Sikh candidate Avtar Singh who was running for parliamentary elections.

The incident evoked a sharp criticism from across the world and focused attention of global Sikh bodies on the plights of Sikhs living in Afghanistan and help started pouring in from countries including india, Canada, America, Australia etc.

Following the incident, a few rich Sikhs from Afghanistan migrated to European countries and India. Another major attack on Sikhs was on March 25, 2020, when terrorists struck at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib killing 26 worshipers. In one of the most recent incidents, the Taliban had forcibly removed the ‘Nishan Sahib’ (Sikh religious flag) from Gurdwara Thala Sahib situated in Babu Khel in Chamkani district of Patkya province of Afghanistan.

Why India is a favoured destination? 

Puneet Singh Chandok is the President, Indian World Forum, very well versed in Persian and Pashtou languages, who is one of the key persons facilitating Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to reach India. He told BBC, “Despite being Afghan nationals, majority of Sikhs have their relatives in India and often visit to meet them and attend family functions. They also also have business relations with India with many of them involved in medicine trade and import medicines and other commodities from India.”

They also visited India to pay obeisance at Golden Temple and other historical Gurdwara. For the last quarter century, they have been performing this gesture at Zero line on mid night of August 14/15 in the memories of those who have lost their dear ones during the partition of Greater India.

Two Afghan Sikh MPs said this about their evacuation? 

The situation was such that I was forced to leave my country said Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, a Punjabi Sikh Afghan politician, upon landing at Hindon Airbase, India. Anarkali is one of the Afghan Sikh nationals who on Saturday arrived India at Hindon Airbase with other Indian and Afghan nationals. She said she had a lot to tell to the Indian media but presently the time was not right.

She told Zee Media that she was a Senator in Afghanistan and was given the security personals but after Talibans took control of Kabul she was feeling insecure. While sharing her last day experience in Kabul, she revealed that it was difficult time, adding “we were about 70 Afghan Hindu and Sikhs who were waiting their turn to get in to the airport, and were standing outside the Hamid Karzai Airport but they had to run to the safe places after the armed men started checking their buses.”

She also urged the Indian government to evacuate the remaining Hindu and Sikhs standard in Afghanistan.

Another Afghan MP Narinder Singh Khalsa, among those evacuated from Kabul, breaks down while talking to media at the Hindon Airbase. In an emotional tone, Narinder Singh said that he had never dreamt that he would leave the country in such a manner where he and his ancestors had been living.

The Afghan MP said his father was assassinated in Afghanistan and they were having good business and houses there but now we became zero. Expressing gratitude to the Indian government, he urged India to evacuate their community men who are still in Afghanistan. Courtesy: Zeenews

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Source: Times Now News

44 Afghan Sikhs have reached India from Afghanistan. They are currently in a Delhi Gurudwara, in search of shelter and proper meals. The Afghan Sikhs have demanded the Indian government to provide them with proper jobs, school admissions for their children, and a healthy living atmosphere in India. While speaking to Mirror Now, an Afghan Sikh urged the government to speed up the evacuation of those still left behind in Afghanistan, as the ground situation in the country gets worse. They seek Indian citizenship by the government and get their refugee status uplifted as soon as possible. Watch the video to know more.

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Source: Gandhara

Zablon Simintov, Afghanistan’s last Jew, has left the country after the Taliban takeover.

The 62-year-old had suffered separation from his family in Israel and endured civil wars and the 1996-2001 Taliban oppression to stay in his homeland, Afghanistan.

Moti Kahana, an Israeli-American businessman, confirmed that Simintov and 29 of his neighbors were taken to a “neighboring country,” the AP reported. Most of the Afghan evacuees accompanying him were women and children.

Simintov, who lived in a dilapidated Kabul synagogue, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi in March that he would leave Afghanistan if the Taliban returned to power following the withdrawal of Western forces.

“After our important festivals [of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in September], I will leave Afghanistan,” he said. “If you have decided to leave then it is difficult to stay,” he added. “If the Taliban return they are going to push us out with a slap in the face.”

His increasing worries over the past two years leading up to the Taliban takeover convinced him to leave despite trying to stay in Afghanistan as long as he could keeping kosher and praying in Hebrew.

Simintov, whose wife and two daughters have lived in Israel for more than two decades, used to say it was God’s will that he lived in Afghanistan. But he has worried about his future there ever since Washington began talking about a peace deal with the Taliban in 2018.

“Peace talks are making people worried that if the Taliban come and if they behave the same as they used to during their regime [that began in the 1990s], then people will be worried,” he told the BBC in 2019.

Simintov is not the only one leaving his homeland, which in the mid-1900s boasted a 40,000-strong Jewish community.

Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh minorities have also shrunk from more than 200,000 in the 1980s to just a few hundred families today.

Most members of those communities in Afghanistan have already left while others plan to join exiled members of their community in India. Militant attacks have targeted their temples and leaders, killing scores, while criminals kidnap community members for ransom.

There is a risk that some of Afghanistan’s non-Muslim minorities, many of whose members fled during the tumultuous decades following the 1978 communist coup, could vanish completely now that the Taliban has returned to power.

For its part, the Taliban has attempted to assuage the fears of non-Muslim Afghans. The militants have visited Sikh temples to try and assure the remaining members of the community of their commitment to their safety and well-being.

“The Islamic Emirate will take serious and effective steps to grant human rights, rights of the minorities and the marginalized communities within the framework of the holy religion of Islam,” a September 7 statement by the Taliban government said.

But members of minority communities find it difficult to trust such statements.

Sandeep Singh, 20, relocated to India earlier this year. He told Radio Azadi that in addition to the security threats, his community faced systemic discrimination in Afghanistan.

“When I used to go to school [in Kabul], both the students and the teachers would ridicule me,” he said. “They would pull my hair and turban,” he added. Sikhism requires its adherents to wrap their hair in a turban.

Bushra, 17, is a Sikh high school student in Kabul. She told Radio Azadi that she regularly faces harassment and ridicule because of her faith. “Everybody comments on my appearance and taunts me for having small eyes,” she said. “They make fun of how I dress.”

Soni Singh, an Afghan Sikh who now lives in exile in New Delhi, says it is difficult for the community to integrate into their new country but it’s also unfeasible for it to return to Afghanistan.

“When we return to Afghanistan and try to use our skills to get ahead, we are told that we come from another country,” he said. “Our children are called names because we do not trim our hair,” he added. “They call us Hindus despite the fact that we are Sikhs.”

A Crucial Transition

Afghanistan’s religious minorities faced discrimination despite the country’s previous constitution guaranteeing protections.

They had gained limited government protection, the freedom to worship, and token representation in the government. But their future now hangs in the balance as the Taliban-led government announced a hard-line cabinet composed of Sunni clerics.

In 2001, months before the demise of its regime, the Taliban had caused an international uproar after they announced a plan that required all Hindus in the country to wear yellow badges.

Islamic law, as interpreted by the Taliban, will play a larger role in the country’s politics and public policies. The Taliban has revived its Ministry of Vice and Virtue, which indicates a keenness to return to more literal interpretations of Islamic law.

Afghan clerics and Islamic scholars have insisted that discrimination against non-Muslims has no place in Islam.

“If religious minorities live in an Islamic country, its government is obliged to protect them,” Mufti Bilal Ahmed Safir, a religious scholar in Kabul, told Radio Azadi. “Their lives and properties should be protected and they should be granted all the rights given by Allah.”

During the 1990s, the Taliban and rival Islamist groups pledged to protect minorities, but most Hindus and Sikhs fled to India.

Last month, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) called for an evacuation of religious minorities from Afghanistan because they were at extreme risk of persecution by the Taliban.

“The Taliban’s imposition of their harsh and strict interpretation of Sunni Islam in the areas that they have taken over poses a grave threat to all Afghans of differing interpretations [of Islam] and other faiths or beliefs,” USCIRF Chairwoman Nadine Maenza said. “The outlook for the country’s religious minorities is particularly bleak, with threats of Taliban persecution mounting,” she added. “As Afghans are forced to flee their homes on account of their beliefs, the U.S. government must ensure that the most vulnerable among them have a pathway to seek refuge in the United States.”

Sardar Gurbachan Singh Ghazniwal, 50, did everything he could to stay in Afghanistan. He even lived inside the Gurdwara, the Sikh temple, in Kabul for years after losing his businesses and properties in the southeastern city of Ghazni.

But after the Islamic State militants attacked Kabul’s Gurdwara last year and killed 25 Sikhs — including nine of his relatives — Ghazniwal made up his mind to move to India.

“Whenever I travel in a bus or taxi, my fellow [Afghan] Muslim brothers ask me, ‘Where do you come from in India, Sardar?’” Ghazniwal told Radio Azadi. “They even don’t consider that I speak Pashto and Dari (the two main Afghan languages) as if I had come from Afghanistan. Even when I speak fluent Pashto and Dari, I am not considered an equal [citizen].”

The looming uncertainty caused by the Taliban’s takeover of the country might force most, if not all, of Afghanistan’s non-Muslim citizens to follow Ghazniwal’s path.

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