Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Link to the book on Amazon.com and  Amazon.in


Can an Afghan be a Hindu or even a Sikh? History says yes. Islam entered Afghanistan in the 7th century. The Hindu Shahi rulers of kabulistan were replaced only by the end of the 10th century by the Ghaznavides, who maintained Hindu forces. For three-quarters of the 13th century, The pagan Mongol ruled the region. Timur the lame fought with the jats in Central Asia in the 14th century. Babur, who captured Kabul in 1504, refers to Kabul as hindustan’s own market. Further, Guru Nanak visit in the early 16th century laid the foundation of Sikhism in Afghanistan. Several documents record the native Hindus and Sikhs in the Afghan society and their thriving trade. But today, almost 99 percent of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs have left the country. The khurasan of yore accommodated Hindus and Sikhs as its own, yet today’s Afghanistan refuses to see them as natives. Will history claim justice for the original ‘lalas’? Afghan Hindus and Sikhs narrates the history of their rich contribution and turbulent journey in the last millennium.

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Media Diversified

Sanmeet Kaur shares her personal experiences of life as an Afghan Sikh in the UK

When you type the words ‘Afghan Sikh’ into a search engine, you will most likely be presented with the following headlines: ‘Why are Afghan Sikhs desperate to flee to the UK?’ Afghan Sikhs: one of the most vulnerable minorities in the world’. In August 2014 the plight of this small community hit national headlines when thirty-five immigrants were discovered stowed in a shipping container at Tilbury Docks in Essex. One man was found dead whilst others were taken to hospital suffering from severe dehydration and hypothermia. I remember reading the story and feeling a horror that I hadn’t felt in a while. It was reminiscent of my own journey to the UK. A story of being stowed away in similar circumstances and being detained even though we had committed no crime other than to run from the devastation orchestrated by the very countries now desperately trying to close their borders. This is the story of my people and it is one that remains largely untold.

Growing up in the UK, I always struggled to understand my heritage. How could I be Afghan if the majority of the Afghans were Muslim? How could I be Afghan if I spoke Punjabi, a language spoken by Sikhs with its roots in India? If religion played such a huge factor in deciding which diaspora I belonged to, it made most sense for me to turn to the Punjabi community as we shared the same faith of Sikhism. However I found this was complicated by the fact that my spoken Punjabi did not match theirs. Unlike most Sikhs, Afghan Sikhs speak a unique dialect known as ‘Kabli’, which is an amalgamation of Persian Dari and Punjabi. Over time I learnt to stop looking outwards and to instead focus on the Afghan Sikh diaspora as one that stood its own ground. I came to realise that the Afghan Sikh community faced dual persecution as Afghans fleeing decades of wars waged on their land and as Sikhs fleeing religious persecution as one of the smallest religious minorities in the country.

My family came to the UK when I was 5 years old and growing up I did my best to ‘assimilate’. Until recently I hardly ever thought about my background. I was too busy trying to be ‘British’. I would insist on only listening to English music, refuse to go to Southall because it was full of ‘freshies’ and hated every time I had to wear traditional clothes. As I reached my twenties and became to question my identity and place in the world, it struck me that nobody knew about my people.

Having studied history at university, I threw myself into research but was disappointed to find little other than a few articles on our journeys to the West. To the outside world it is almost as if we didn’t exist until we landed here. My questions about my community’s history remain largely unanswered. For now, I have only the stories that my family recount to me. Often these stories speak of events that affected the Sikh community as a whole, such as the 1984 Sikh massacre in India. My dad recalls how the murder of thousands of Sikhs in their own homeland affected those outside of India and hardened the perception of the Indian state as one that does little to respect minority rights.

At other times, his anecdotes are unique to the Afghan diaspora. For example, one of my favourite facts about my dad is that he can speak Russian. My dad was 10 years old when Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union in 1979. His most formative years were spent under Soviet rule so it came as no surprise when he reached working age that he took frequent trips to Moscow where he worked in the trading industry. Quite amusingly, to my grandparents’ generation the word ‘Russian’ is synonymous with ‘foreign’ so whenever I speak English around them, I’m often asked to translate from ‘Russian’ to ‘Kabli’.

As a religious minority in Afghanistan, Sikhs face severe persecution. Treated as second-class citizens, few attend mainstream school and many frequently face verbal and physical attacks, their un-cut hair and proud turbans instantly marking them out as different. As a teenager, my mum recalls going to the Gurdwara on Vaisakhi, a key event in the Sikh calendar, when the Afghan guardsmen at the gates revealed the guns hidden underneath their shawls and began to indiscriminately shoot at the crowd. She had grabbed her baby brother and lay on the ground pretending to be dead. I have tried to search for any official recording of these events but again nothing appears. Their suffering does not exist on paper.

That is not to say the good times did not exist. For me, my parents’ wedding video is perhaps the best testament to this. My parents got married in Gurdwara Karte Parwan, one of the few Sikh temples remaining in Kabul. Neighbours, both Muslim and Hindu, came along to festivities held at my grandparents’ house. My favourite image of Kabul is that of a car adorned with flowers driving my parents home from the Gurdwara, with the Hindu Kush Mountains visible in the background and the popular 1992 Bollywood song ‘Kabhi Bhoola Kabhi Yaad Kiya’ accompanying the scene.

Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul (Photo, Wikimedia).

The Afghan Civil War (1989-1992) and the advent of the Mujahedeen and later the Taliban, brought along a new wave of persecution and terror that would see hundreds of Sikhs fleeing their homes. The horrors of the war had been accompanied by a rise of fundamentalist ideology, which forced many to mark themselves as different in public. Although the rights of minority religions are protected under the Afghan constitution, the Taliban made Sikhs and Hindus publicly identify themselves by wearing yellow patches on their clothing as well as having to mark their homes, businesses and places of worship with a yellow flag.

In the years since my family left, the rising intolerance towards the minority group has seen attacks on the Sikh funeral custom of cremation. As cremation is a practice forbidden in Islam, Sikh funerals have been a focal point of dispute, with protestors frequently disrupting funeral processions. Alongside this homes and land have been illegally confiscated, leaving an already weakened community facing near-extinction. Although no official census exists, community leaders estimate that in the 1990s nearly 50,000 Sikhs lived in Afghanistan. Today, fewer than 400 families remain.

As the refugee crisis came to the fore in 2015 I remember watching in despair at the humanity afforded to the most vulnerable minorities in our country. Afghan refugees in particular are amongst those now most likely to have their requests for asylum rejected. Although the country is now deemed ‘safe’ by the Home Office, a UN report released in July 2017 revealed that the number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, with the Taliban’s homemade bombs resulting in 40% of civilian causalities in just the first sixth months of 2017. For minority groups such as the Afghan Sikhs, this is compounded by the fact that their religion makes them an instant target for other forms of violence. In 2012 the Guardian reported on the distressing case of 23-year-old Afghan Sikh, Baljit Singh, who was deported to Afghanistan by the British government. Upon arrival he was taken aside by Afghan officials and imprisoned for 18 months without a conviction. His crime, he was told informally, was that he was falsely claiming to be Afghan. In prison he was verbally and physically attacked; his turban kicked off his head and at one point he even had boiling water thrown in his face. After months of appeals, he was finally allowed to return to the UK.

In Britain, the majority of Afghan Sikhs live in London and often come together in Southall, where the local Gurdwaras act as a focal point. The customs of home have continued into a foreign land. At weddings Afghan music blasts from the speakers and guests wear a mixture of traditional Indian and Afghan clothing. At home we regularly eat Afghan food including ‘bolani’, a baked flatbread with a vegetable filling, to my favourite, ‘mantu’, a meat-stuffed dumpling. My dad still listens to the songs of Ahmad Zahir, a popular Afghan singer often referred to as the ‘The Elvis of Afghanistan’ whose gravestone was reportedly destroyed by the Taliban shortly after they seized Kabul in 1996. As much as I grew up confused about my Afghan heritage, all these things make it hard for me to reject my roots.

When a close family member passed away last year, one of the first thoughts that ran through my mind was that he never had the chance to return to his homeland. He left Afghanistan not knowing he would never return. But his story lives on through us: the Afghan Sikh community.


Sanmeet Kaur is a recent history graduate and aspiring writer from London. She has written for gal-dem zine and enjoys all things books, politics and intersectional feminism. Twitter: @sanmeeet

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Click here to read the research paper

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.


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.


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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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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