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Continuity and Change in the Diaspora

A research paper on the Afghan Hindu and Sikh diaspora community in the West and how it has changed in recent years in regards to topics such as language, religion, and social customs.

Abstract:

Whether it was due to conflict or in search of better opportunities, migrating populations have provided opportunities for culture to develop in unique ways. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent conflicts led to the emergence of an Afghan Hindu and Sikh diaspora as members of that community left the country to find safety in the West. This diaspora has experienced several changing trends in recent years. My goal in writing this paper was to explore how the culture of the Afghan Hindu and Sikh community has changed through the question: “To what extent has the emergence of a diaspora been a force for cultural change in the Afghan Hindu and Sikh diaspora community in the West?”. I referenced different ethnographies conducted in the past that studied the Afghan diaspora, and conducted informal interviews with various knowledgeable community members to gather qualitative data and personal perspectives. I investigated the context of this diaspora and how immigration to other countries has affected language, identity, and the institutions of religion, marriage, and family in these Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. I also examined the various factors that have influenced those changes. Moving in the midst of new culture added many more layers of complexity to an already multi-faceted communal identity. Diaspora has also changed the way religion and customs are practiced, as they pick up Western influences, and intermarriage with other communities has become more common. Furthermore, the mother tongue is being spoken much less by those in the second and third generation, and many fear it will become extinct in the near future. However, Sikhs have retained much more continuity than Hindus in regards to language, religious traditions, and marriage as a result of a much more close-knit community.

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Click here to read the thesis by Chitra Venkatesh Akkoor who completed this work in 2011 as part of her PhD degree in University of Iowa. Chitra made multiple trips to Germany and spent significant amount of time with Afghan Hindus in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Cologne to complete this work.

 

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Source: GetWestLondon

Afghan Hindus in Ealing will be holding their annual Diwali Fete this weekend, celebrating the sixth anniversary of the charity.

The event will be held on November 8 at the Asamai Community Centre, Johnson street, Southall.

This is an annual event that the Asamai youth committee holds for its members with more than 300 people expected to attend.

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Last year’s Afghan Hindu Diwali Fete at the Asamai Community Centre Southall

Proud member, Komal Supra said: “Afghan Hindus migrated to England about 15-20 years ago. Hindus in Afghanistan have always been the minority group and remain in a minority in England too. However we are a very hard-working, determined and obedient minority group within the UK. Every single Afghan Hindu family is registered with the Asamai cultural trust that runs the Asamai community centre.

“Many youths, adults and older generations are involved with the trust and regularly attend all the events and help out with day to day activities. None of these members get paid for their help. The trust also holds free Hindi classes every Sunday for the members. The teachers are also volunteers.

“The fete is a wonderful celebration of how everyone works hard to come together. The fete will include activities for the whole family. We have stage performances by kids from our Hindi classes, free food stalls for members, a games stall, raffle draw and many more attractions to keep visitors entertained. I am very proud to say I am a member of the Asamai Cultural Trust and active member of AsaMai Youth Committee.”

Asamai Cultural Trust is a registered charity formed and run by Hindus from Afghanistan who live in the UK. The Trust was formed in 2008 to give help and support to all Hindus from Afghanistan adjusting to their new lives in Britain.

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Source

Shivam Saini

Every day, Ariana Afghan Airlines, Safi Airways, Kam Air, SpiceJet and Air India bring as many as 650 Afghans to New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport from Kabul – students, traders, asylum seekers, tourists and, most of all, patients looking for treatment that is not available in their country.

Once the winter sets in, and the Delhi weather becomes more amenable to the Afghans, this number will rise to 2,000.

Such is the rush for seats that flying to Kabul (it fetches Rs 9 per kilometre per seat) has become more profitable for airlines than flying to London, Singapore or Dubai (Rs 4 each).

As a result, there is a community of Afghans taking shape in Delhi, around which has sprung a small but thriving economy.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reckons there are 9,000 Afghan residents in Delhi and its suburbs (which are home to over 10 million people) – 90 per cent of these are Hindus and Sikhs who began to move to India in small batches after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in larger groups after the Taliban came to power in 1996.

But there is an even larger floating population that comes for a few days, weeks or months. The Indian embassy in Kabul issued 65,000 visas last year.

After he lands at the airport, an Afghan’s fate in the city is in the hands of the tarjuman, literally a Dari-English-Hindi (Dari, a variant of Persian, is spoken by almost half of Afghanistan) translator but also a guide, confidant and facilitator.

Hiring a tarjuman can cost him Rs 500 a day. (The tips at the end of the assignment, before the visitor boards the flight back to Kabul, can be as high as Rs 10,000.)

In his blue checked shirt and fitted jeans, Haroon, 40, has the air of a seasoned tarjuman.

He came to India barely a year ago and has picked up a smattering of Hindi and English, but that’s good enough for him to be in business. In fact, he operates at the top end of the market. “I deal with only the VIP category – mainly patients – for Rs 1,000 a day.”

And then there’s his other “job”. Located off a bustling street frequented by Afghans, Haroon’s office in South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar is a cubby hole with dark-blue walls, shaded by a tree that blocks its signage: FRRO Registration.

This is just one of the many local counters where facilitators help Afghan nationals register online with FRRO, or the Foreign Regional Registration Office, on their arrival in India for a fee of Rs 100-150.

“Every day our office helps as many as 30 to 40 Afghans register with the FRRO,” says Haroon. There are hundreds oftarjuman in Delhi.

Freelancers such as Haroon have competition these days. Dheerendra Singh Tomar, 38, a Mumbai lad who relocated to Delhi in 2006, was quick to sense the opportunity.

He has raised a corps of 50 translators, called Afghan Helpline, who receive the Afghan at the airport, help him find accommodation, show him around, and also see him off.

“Since I had heard that some translators were fleecing international patients, I decided to bring a few trusted interpreters under one umbrella and let them work after due identity checks,” says he.

Tomar has priced his services too at Rs 500 a day – the same as a freelance tarjuman. If all his translators are engaged, Tomar’s venture can yield Rs 25,000 a day, Rs 7.5 lakh a month and Rs 90 lakh a year.
But his agency has begun to hit the freelancers – mostly displaced Hindus and Sikhs. “I often get intimidating calls from some translators, who feel threatened by the transparency I’m trying to bring into the business,” says Tomar.

He hasn’t stopped with Afghan Helpli#8800 he also manages CureMax, a month-old medical tourism company that runs a swanky multi-specialty clinic tucked away in a basement on Delhi’s Siri Fort Road. Most of his patients, of course, are Afghans.

What Tomar does on a modest scale, larger hospitals are doing in grand style. At Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, 30,000 international patients came for treatment in 2011, of which 36 per cent, or over a third, were Afghans.

According to a spokesperson of the hospital, most Afghans come to the oncology, cardiology and orthopedic departments.

Other South Delhi hospitals such as Max Devki Devi have also gained from the influx of Afghan patients.

These hospitals, thus, have dedicated desks for Afghans, free translation services, and even information centres in Kabul. The chemists aren’t far behind. In South Delhi markets, drug stores with bright green and red signs in Dari have sprung up along bustling lanes.

“They buy medicine in bulk for three or six months, till they come back again for treatment. They have been coming in such great numbers that I’ve picked up Dari from them,” says a chemist in Lajpat Nagar, who also stocks Olay beauty products, which finds more customers among Afghan men than women.

The flood of Afghan medical tourists has also meant a thriving rental accommodation business.

Ironically, in Hindu- and Sikh-dominated South Delhi, where most homeowners are wary of renting their property to local Muslims, the Afghans face hardly any problem.

On a muggy Sunday morning in Hauz Rani – a village in South Delhi overlooking Max Devki Devi Hospital – a sleepy-eyed Afghan tarjuman in floor-sweeping pajamas sloshes his way through a sludge-covered narrow lane squeezed between several tall tumbledown houses.

He stops outside a three-storey house and cranes his neck to peep through its slightly open front door. A salwar suit-clad woman swings the door open, gives him a knowing look, and leads the way to an apartment inside.

“[It’s available for] Rs 900 a day, with geyser and TV, electricity extra,” she says. It’s a two-room apartment, painted in tacky green, with a kitchen off the main bedroom and a bathroom.

Another two-bedroom apartment in the locality is getting a makeover. Inside an en suite bedroom, wires dangle from the ceiling; below, on a floor strewn with wood chips, sits a bed on which lies a dusty fan.

“(It’s for) Rs 1,200 a day; there’s woodwork, a TV, AC, kitchen.  It will be rent-ready in one day,” informs an Indian facilitator who also runs a grocery in Hauz Rani.

“This shopkeeper will get a cut of at least Rs 300. During winter months [when the trickle of Afghans becomes a flood], a decent apartment worth Rs 1,500 a day costs Rs 3,000. Let’s walk further. I’ll show you more, better houses,” says Amin Ibrahim, a 20-year-old Afghan from Mazar-i-Sharif, the fourth-largest city of Afghanistan.

This is Ibrahim’s sixth visit to India; since 2009, he has flown to India for his gastroenterology treatment, has accompanied his mother for her orthopedic surgery, his elder brother for neurological treatment, and is again visiting for his brother’s aesthetic surgery.

On Saturday evening, a hesitant Ibrahim had agreed to be part of a house-hunting expedition the next day and was badgered into posing as spouse.

His preliminary advice: “Wear a kurta, not too short, not too long, hair tied up, wrap a dupatta around your head, put on a pair of jeans, avoid eye contact, and conceal your pimples. You could pass yourself off as an Afghan woman in Delhi. Just do not speak – that will give the game away.”

The steady stream of Afghans in the national capital has also spawned a burgeoning restaurant scene, but mildly-spiced food geared to the Afghan palate is not the only thing that brings newly-arrived Afghans to these eateries.

“Our restaurant is a one-stop shop. Many Afghan patients carrying luggage head here straight from the airport. We get people to help them with accommodation, hospitals and translation,” says Ismail Pirzada, who runs Kabul Delhi restaurant in Lajpat Nagar. Ninety per cent of Pirzada’s customers are Afghans, most of whom are patients
looking for a taste of home.

You can feast on a meal of Qabli Pulao (long-grained steamed rice containing mounds of lamb or chicken and garnished with julienned carrot, raisins, almonds and pistachios), manto (steamed dumplings stuffed with mutton and onions),borani banjan (eggplant) et cetera here for Rs 300-400.

No Afghan meal is, however, complete without bread, or naan. “During peak season, we sell 1,000 naans a day,” reveals Sarvar, 40, over a cup of piping-hot chai sabz (green tea), as he squats on a red rug spread out on a platform inside his cave-like shop on Bhogal’s Central Road.

From five in the morning till well past midnight, five men and a scalding clay tandoor churn out loaves of bread from fermented wheat flour – naan gerda (round), naan khasa (oval), roghani (slightly greasy) – which sell briskly at Rs 10 apiece.

As evening wears on, a multitude of Afghan refugees, mostly hired as salespersons and translators, throng the many Afghan restaurants and bakeries that have come up along Central Road, a vibrant replica of a Kabul street.

Away from the hustle of the marketplace and further down the street, a red hoarding reads: Learning Academy. Inside a basement, across at least five rooms, Prawal Mani Tripathi’s finishing school offers Afghans lessons in English for Rs 500-1,000.

“The current batch comprises 40 Afghan students. After October 15, this number will go up to 70,” says Tripathi, 30, a fast-talking Bihari who set up this academy last year.

“All my students, whether Indians or Afghans, are required to give presentations from time to time on Mahatma Gandhi,” says Tripathi.

No wonder, then, that his classes give lessons in much more than English – discussions among Afghan and Indian students on polygamy, ethnic strife, the Kashmir issue and suchlike make for a unique melting pot.

“Once an Afghan man, accompanied by his burqa-clad wife, demanded that he be allowed to sit in class while she learns English and that there would be no eye contact,” says he. “I rejected the first condition; accepted the second. She completed her course in three months.”

For some women, Delhi provides an escape from conservative Afghanistan.

“They respect women here and no one cares what you wear, at least here in Delhi,” says Majooba Suresh, 28, who’s dressed in a natty pink top and slim-fit denim trousers.

This is ironical since Delhi is infamous for being the most unsafe place in India for women.

A former Oxfam gender manager in Afghanistan’s northeastern province of Badakhshan, she has come to India for dental treatment, accompanied by her husband and two children.

A few short steps away from Suresh’s squeaky-clean apartment in Lajpat Nagar, painted a pleasing pink, stands a glass-fronted cosmetic store with clinical white walls.

Inside, Freba, 25, hair swept back in a ponytail, is neatly arranging beauty products on a glass shelf.

For someone who fled her country a year ago with a younger brother and five-year-old daughter to escape a divorced husband’s unrelenting efforts to gain custody of their only child, Freba is reasonably settled in her new life.

A native of Wazir Akbar Khan, an affluent neighbourhood in northern Kabul, she is registered as an asylum seeker with UNHCR and gets by on a salary of Rs 12,000 per month.

Ask her how she’s coping and Freba comes alive. “Ye ab ghar hai; azaad lagta hai” (This is home now; it feels free), she beams in pidgin Hindi, looking out the glass door.

 

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Master Ratan Chand Kandhari




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Source: The National

Also on: Sikhnet.com 

Christopher Lord – May 29, 2011 

The photographs that document the artist Gauri Gill’s visit to Kabul in 2007 suggest a city that has been left for dead. In black and white, her shots are almost devoid of people: we see an illustrious library greying with dust, a bombed-in palace and a line of cattle seeming to approach its once-grand entrance. Anonymous hands grasp at the cages of the city’s Ka Furushi bird market, as groups of tiny canaries whirr in a startled flapping of wings.

Yet among these sombre images, which form part of her current solo show at London’s Green Cardamom gallery, Gill has exhibited a number of found photographs taken by a community of Afghans who offer a quite different – perhaps unlikely – vision of their homeland. In pairing these together, this latest collection, titled What Remains, reflects on the distance between observation and experience, and the unquenchable longing that comes with displacement.

In 1992, Afghanistan had a 50,000-strong community of Hindus and Sikhs. They were business owners, money-lenders and owned houses with white-leafed orchards. But with the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979 and the subsequent Taliban regime, this number has dwindled. There are around 2,000 left. Those with money have fled to Europe; those without go to Delhi.

The Afghan Sikhs displaced to India now exist without citizenship in the Tilak Nagar neighbourhood in the west of India’s capital city.

“I first came to Kabul for a workshop with Afghan photographers who were looking for other ways to document their city beyond war and destruction,” says Gill, when we meet in the London gallery representing her work. “On the way back to India, I landed in Delhi and took an autorickshaw. The driver was Punjabi Sikh – as am I – but his Punjabi was very different from mine. It was mixed with Persian words and phrases, and he explained that he was Afghan.

“He had left in the 1970s when Kabul was quite different from what I’d seen. He described a halcyon, idyllic Afghanistan – a place of blossoms and waterfalls.”

The rickshaw driver introduced Gill to west Delhi’s Afghan Sikh community – referred to as the “Kabulis” by the rest of the neighbourhood – via the Khalsa Diwan Hindu-Sikh Refugee Society. Incorporating a Gurdwara, the Sikh temple, the society runs classes in English, sewing and typing, and the artist began to photograph the day-to-day life of the centre. On a floor laden with thick Afghan carpets and glasses of green tea, Gill listened to the memories of several generations of refugees who remain on visit visas in India and often unable to work.

The Kabulis handed Gill a stack of their photographs, each one bordered with a kitsch, psychedelic pattern (clearly the handiwork of one print shop somewhere in Kabul). In these photographs, she noticed, the city seems warmed by familiar eyes. The children, old people, smiling unknown turbaned men who pose in front of the remnants of Kabul’s romantic past seem deeply entrenched in a city that appears to be collapsing around them and which they would very soon after be forced to leave.

“As they were talking about Afghanistan, this old man came and sat next to me: ‘Even now when I sleep,’ he said, ‘my dreams are of Jalalabad.'”

Gill noted down this line and other recollections that she heard in the Gurdwara, and has inserted them – in fittingly kitsch italics – into the found photographs given to her. In What Remains, she exhibits these alongside her own shots from Kabul, and so presents a fascinating disparity between her impressions and the memories and dreams of a people displaced.

“These are two quite different versions of a place, and show that photographs become fictions if we try to find an authentic representation of a place,” she said.

Some of the statements that Gill collected from the Gurdwara are curious: One anonymous person ponders that someone “must have put the evil eye” on Afghanistan, “like in Kashmir”. Another talks about how Hindus and Sikhs were referred to as “big brother[s]” by the Afghan Muslims, who would trust them to take care of their money.

But most interestingly, a reference is made to the community’s refugee status as “going back to India”. While some Hindus and Sikhs went to Afghanistan from India during British rule of India and post-partition, the community’s presence has been there since the 1500s. Does Gill think that when the Hindus and Sikhs were in Afghanistan, their dreams were of India? “I think it was probably hard for them to let go,” she says. “Now it’s going to be pretty hard for them to let go of Kabul and Afghanistan.

“One of my previous series was called The Americans, which was looking at several generations of south Asian-Americans. Even when there isn’t a longing for a place, there are pulls, distant bonds that tie you to a place.”

So much of What Remains gravitates around this notion of longing. How does our relationship with a place change when we’re forced out of it rather than by our own choosing? “People are taken from one place and placed somewhere else. Then, in this case, there’s a double jump of history and they’re brought back – often against their own choosing. I think this element of choosing is key. Some of them didn’t choose to go to India, and feel quite bitter about the way they’ve been treated there.”

Gill hosted a series of writing workshops for the children of Khalsa Diwan Hindu-Sikh Refugee Society: “I was very interested to see the raw response of the kids when asked about Afghanistan and see how they would filter this experience.”

Some of these texts are included in the show, and range from rapturous adoration for an unknown Afghanistan, probably drilled into them by their parents (including a strange tale of the Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan strolling through Kabul), through to bewilderment about the state of their country today.

“In some ways, I wanted all these versions to come in and contradict each other,” says Gill, referring equally to the haphazard, scattered placement of the images and texts on the gallery wall. “History is hard to hold on to solidly. But these are all little fragments, and not representative of the entire Kabuli-Sikh experience.

“It’s a case of how ordinary people get swept along in massive changes and how that translates through generations.”

What Remains marks the return of a series of exhibitions begun by Green Cardamom’s founder Hammad Nasar in 2009. Titled Lines of Control, these shows – which took place in Dubai, London and Karachi – explored notions of both the chaos and creative kiln found in countries that undergo various different forms of partition.

Gill’s solo show is part of the latest Lines of Control series, which will culminate in a huge group show of works at Cornell University in New York state in 2012.

“The people of this community had to pack up and leave their shops, their homes, and yet still hope to go back,” says Gill. “But now they have to face the fact that they have to be in this new place, and in that sense there’s a sort of partition: people are picked up and thrown into some other country somewhere.”

The artist continues: “Part of this is really about the modern world. There are two levels to globalisation, those with agency are free to move around on their own will and means. But then there’s another side in which people are forced to move to big cities.” This economic migrancy, Gill observes, is as much about internal partitions as the changing ideologies that have shredded Afghanistan’s multifarious cultural fabric. She talks about this constant beating drum of people moving in search of economic or social stability.

“The world in a way is all connected but there are also people who have to pay the price,” says Gill. “I envy those who have lived in the same house for 20 years.”

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