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Source: The Indian Express

A year after 25 Afghan Sikhs were killed in the Kabul gurdwara attack in March last year, United Sikhs, an NGO affiliated to the United Nations, paid tribute to the deceased, and honoured the surviving families in New Delhi on Wednesday.

The attack had taken place inside the Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurudwara.

Chaibul Singh, 25, was in Ghazni in Afghanistan on March 25 last year when he got a call from a family member informing him about the gurdwara attack. Chaibul’s childhood friend and his uncle were among those killed.

In September 2020, Chaibul came to India on an emergency flight with eight other family members. They are yet to be officially classified as refugees or citizens of India. They have no Aadhaar card, which makes it difficult for them to find jobs. “That one incident changed our lives. While we had shops and homes there, we had to leave everything behind. Now, I work here for Rs 8,000 and my younger brother does a menial job earning Rs 7,000 a month. Lack of documentation and difficulty in speaking Hindi also works against us. We used to speak Pashto or Punjabi in Afghanistan. People find it difficult to understand my Punjabi dialect here,” added Chaibul.

Parvinder Singh Nanda, director, United Sikhs, said they had been working hard to support these families, as it was difficult for them to sustain by themselves.

“To even get medical treatment, they require money and some ID proof. We have helped them get passports, assisted with educational assistance and also provided them free medical assistance through the Delhi government. The next step is to seek assistance from the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, the process for which is under way,” he added.

Surbeer Singh, 39, of Ghazni, Afghanistan, a widely-respected religious leader of Sikh Afghan families in Delhi, says, “The Indian government has helped us by bringing us to the country through emergency flights. I know of at least 87 families who came to India, along with mine. We don’t need Aadhaar cards. We need to get resettled.”

Surbeer Singh’s concluding statement is illustrative and will stay with you. “I cannot get out of my mind the image of the three-year-old girl who was killed in the massacre. There were children, elderly people and women in the Gurdwara that day. The attack left people in shock. While we never feared anything earlier, this incident changed that and we were forced to start looking at other options.”

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Source: The Tribune

Describing Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan as “proud citizenry” of his land, the Afghanistan Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar on Tuesday said that it would be the responsibility of the government to provide them with protection and security.

“We got to do that”, he said during a press conference here.

Disagreeing with the perception of Hindus and Sikhs being “especially” targetted in Afghanistan, Atmar said: “The violence against Afghans, unfortunately, did not spare our minorities either. So, it is not a kind of persecution against specific minorities per se. It’s the general violence against the entire nation and unfortunately, this part of the population has been disproportionately affected”.

Last July, India had said it would facilitate a settlement of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan.

There are about 1,000 Sikh and Hindus left in Afghanistan, and the sense of insecurity was heightened after the massacre in Gurudwara Guru Har Rai, Kabul, in May last year, followed by the kidnapping of a Sikh Nidan Singh Sachdeva.

“They are citizens of Afghanistan, and Afghanistan is proud of them. It has been like, that for centuries, and will be like that. It is the responsibility of not just the Afghan government, but the Afghan people too to protect their federal brothers,’’ he declared.

Soon after the May 15, 2020, massacre at the Kabul Gurdwara, Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee Joe Biden had promised to raise the annual global refugee admissions cap to 1.25 lakhs if he won the November US Presidential elections.

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Source: The Indian Express

Sunny never got to see his son. As his last rites were done by members of the minority Sikh community in Kabul, his wife watched on video call.

EVER SINCE his son was born last October, Sunny Singh alias Manto (27), a small-time medicines and spices trader, would call his wife in Ludhiana several times a day from Kabul, eager to know what the baby was doing. 

“He would say that he cannot wait to hold Gurvansh in his arms. He would say that once did, he would never leave him,” says Shivani aka Sneha, wife of Sunny, an Afghan Sikh who died in a blast at Kabul Saturday.

He never got to see his son’s face. As his last rites were done by members of the minority Sikh community in Kabul, his wife watched on video call.

“My husband had gone to Kabul in August last year and our son was born in October. He had not returned to Ludhiana since then. He was living in Kabul to earn for us but his heart and mind were always here. On Friday night, he spoke to me till late night and kept asking if the baby was doing fine. But he has died without seeing his son. There can’t be anything more unfortunate,” says Shivani (21) from Mundian Kalan of Ludhiana, who had got married to Sunny in February last year.

Sunny would travel to Kabul often to run his medicines and spices business at his shop in Shor Bazar. On Saturday, Sunny Singh died in the blast, while two other Sikhs — Sher Singh (60) and Chucha Singh (55) — were injured in the attack.

Harinder Singh Khalsa, another Afghan Sikh whose family lives in Meena Bazar of Ludhiana, while speaking to The Indian Express from Kabul, said, “Sunny, Chucha Singh and Sher Singh were in their shops in Shor Bazar when the explosion took place. The shops were completely damaged. Families of Chucha Singh and Sher Singh are also in Ludhiana. Sunny was born in Kabul and his cremation was done here only Saturday. His mother and brother are in Kabul but wife and son are in Ludhiana. He was planning to go to Ludhiana, but fate had some other plans.”

Khalsa said most members of the minority Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan have been rescued and sent to Delhi since the Islamic-State (IS) sponsored terror attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul in March last year claimed at least 25 lives. However, those still left behind in the war-torn country are fighting an everyday battle for survival and are being forced to live hand to mouth. 

‘We live in constant fear’

“A few members from the Sikh community are still left in Kabul, Jalalabad and other cities of Afghanistan. They are here by compulsion. They are really poor and cannot afford to leave the country because their work and business will be affected. Those who could afford to leave have already left for Delhi but those still left behind are the ones who are living hand to mouth. Sunny was one of those poor Sikhs who was living in Kabul to earn for his family and whatever few thousands he would earn, he would that money to his family in Ludhiana. We appeal to the Indian government to rescue remaining Sikhs from Afghanistan too, else they be killed very soon. We live in constant fear,” said Khalsa, adding “There are some 200-250 families of Afghan Sikhs from pishori biraadri who are in Ludhiana but their men keep traveling to Kabul for work”.

hivani says that ever since she heard the news of her husband’s death, she has gone numb wondering what the future holds for her and her son, who is suffering from a heart ailment since birth. 

“Hamare sar par chhat bhi nahi hai filhaal (We do not even have our own home as of now). I have been living with my brother. There can’t be a more unfortunate thing than my son not being able to meet his father even once in his lifetime. My father had died when I was just six months and my mother got me married last year,” says Shivani.

“Those from the Sikh and Hindu communities still left in Afghanistan should come back immediately. I used to stop my husband from going back to Kabul but he would say that if he does not go, how will he earn? He would say that if he doesn’t work, we won’t be able to make our own house. But after losing him, I can only say that life is more important than a house, money…Those left behind in Kabul should be saved immediately..,” she adds.

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Source: The Peterborough Examiner

KABUL – Two separate explosions rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul on Saturday, killing at least three people including members of the minority Sikh community and wounding four others, Afghan officials said.

The first explosion hit a store in the heart of the capital, causing it to collapse and kill at least two Sikhs, according to two Afghan police officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Islamic State group has targeted Sikhs and other minority communities in Afghanistan. A nationwide spike in bombings, targeted killings and violence on the battlefield comes as peace negotiations in Qatar between the Taliban and the Afghan government have stalled.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdaws Faramarz said six people were wounded in the blast in the store and no one was killed. He said police were investigating what caused the explosion. The discrepancy between the two numbers could not immediately be accounted for.

In Saturday’s second explosion, Faramarz said a sticky bomb was attached to a police car and went off in northern Kabul, killing a police officer.

Tensions in Afghanistan are high amid a string of targeted killings. Some are claimed by the local Islamic State affiliate, but many go unclaimed, blamed by the government on the Taliban who have denied responsibility for most attacks.

With growing threats from IS, Afghanistan’s once-thriving community of Sikhs and Hindus has dwindled from as many as 250,000 members to fewer than 700.

IS claimed responsibility for an attack last March in which a gunman rampaged through a Sikh house of worship in the heart of Kabul, killing 25 worshippers and wounding eight.

IS claimed it carried out 82 attacks in Afghanistan in 2020, killing or wounding 821 people, including 21 assassinations. Most of the victims in its attacks were either security personnel or Shiite Muslims. However, the perpetrators of many targeted killings are unknown.

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Source: Al-Jazeera

Hindu and Sikh refugees in India still wait for nationality a year after a controversial citizenship law was passed.

By Srishti Jaswal

Amritsar, India – Surbeer Singh was just three years old when his family fled Nangarhar province in Afghanistan to escape religious persecution and war in the 1980s. They have since lived in the northern city of Amritsar, waiting to be granted Indian citizenship.

Last December, India’s Hindu nationalist government amended the country’s citizenship law to expedite nationality for persecuted immigrants – except Muslims – from three neighbouring countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

But exactly a year since the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed by the country’s parliament, no immigrant has been granted citizenship under the CAA.

A Sikh refugee, Surbeer, 33, is among some 31,313 eligible refugees in India, most of them from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who have been waiting for years to get Indian citizenship.

He is worried about his status as his visa expired in July. “I am living on borrowed time on a borrowed land,” Surbeer said.

“They ask me to return to the place I fled [from]. How can I go back now? For me, India is my home,” he told Al Jazeera, adding that the Afghan embassy asked him to return to Kabul to obtain his visa.

“We faced religious persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We face identity discrimination in India,” said Surbeer.

In Amritsar, a community of refugee families lives together in an area just five kilometres from the Golden Temple, one of the holiest shrines in the Sikh religion.

Face discrimination

Surbeer, who works as a spare parts dealer, is one of the lucky few refugees to now own a house. “When we came to India, we struggled in a small rented room in Krishna Nagar of Amritsar. Over the years, I worked hard and eventually I bought a flat in Golden Avenue of Amritsar with help of my relatives. It is registered on my wife’s name as she is an Indian citizen.

“We are doing fine with God’s grace. We eat well, sleep well and work well. The only issue is of visa and identity,” said Surbeer, who lives with his family of five.

“In Amritsar, people at times call us Afghani and Pakistani. At times, the schools ask for legal documents, our kids are afraid of showing their Afghani and Pakistani passports. People don’t prefer marrying our sons. They don’t do business with us,” he said.

Hundreds of such families have settled in the border districts of the Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan as well as the capital, New Delhi.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the CAA aimed to help such refugees who have lived in India for years without any legal status.

But the controversial law, which sparked anti-Muslim riots in New Delhi, could not be availed by refugees as the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) failed to draft guidelines to operationalise it.

Al Jazeera mailed a detailed questionnaire to a MHA spokesperson but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Hindu refugees return to Pakistan

Last month, more than 200 Hindu and Sikh refugees returned to Pakistan in financial hardship as the law was not in operation, drawing critics to question the government’s sincerity towards refugees.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and it does not have a national policy on refugees, even though it is home to more than 200,000 refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

The refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are granted long-term visas (LTV) initially for five years and then renewed every two years.

“LTV is no less than a house arrest. We are not allowed to leave the station without permission,” said Saran Singh.

As per their current visa norms, such migrants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are allowed to engage only in private employment. Children of such visa holders mostly drop out after schools as they are not allowed to move out of the city to pursue higher education.

“However the problem arises when our kids have to pursue higher education. At times technical education is not available in Amritsar and our kids are not allowed to leave the station without permission under the LTT visa norms,” said Saran Singh.

“Even if I have to go beyond the Golden Gate of Amritsar (borders of Amritsar city) for a check-up in hospital, I have to seek prior permission which may take days,” the 53-year-old said, referring to the curbs on his movement. Saran Singh arrived from Peshawar in Pakistan in 1999 along with his family of seven.

Harbhajan Singh, 42, who lives in Amritsar, says that he was held by the police for questioning as his brother visited the Golden Temple from Delhi without prior permission from police. Harbhajan and his brother, Harbans Singh, both fled Peshawar in 2012 but eventually were granted visas for Amritsar and Delhi respectively.

Shiv Kumar, a Hindu, left Pakistan’s Peshawar in 2005 along with his family seeking refuge in India.

“For different family members, the visa renewal date is different. It is such a complicated process that it takes the complete engagement of at least one family member who is given the responsibility of paperwork for all of us,” the 29-year-old told Al Jazeera. He is the sole earner in his family of six, including his elderly parents.

Protests against CAA

Many refugees have lived in India all of their lives but still have not been granted citizenship.

Surbeer from Afghanistan says his brother Arwinder Singh, who was born in India in 1994, is still not an Indian citizen.

“He wanted to study further, but the visa restricts him from leaving Amritsar. He dropped out of his education after class 12.”

But for many Muslim immigrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, getting Indian citizenship is impossible, as the new law bars Muslims from seeking citizenship.

Shabnam Khan (name changed) was married in 1996 to an Indian Muslim man in Fazilka village of the border state of Punjab.

“I am now a mother of two sons. I was hopeful that I will be accepted as an Indian, but 24 years have passed, I am still a Pakistani.” Khan is still living in India on a LTV. Now 40, she still faces the same issues as others while renewing her visa. “The COVID-19 lockdown made it even more difficult. In a year we have to visit Delhi at least twice or thrice for documentation. Every time they raise some objections which are only cleared if we agree to pay a bribe.”

The CAA was opposed by Muslims and liberal Indians, who said that by making faith a basis for citizenship, the law ran against the spirit of India’s secular constitution.

Many Muslims feared that the CAA, coupled with the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which aims to identify undocumented immigrants, could be used to disenfranchise them.

Xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric pushed by leaders of the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has not eased their fears. Home Minister Amit Shah, considered Modi’s right-hand man, described Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites” and “infiltrators” and a threat to national security.

The BJP has also threatened to throw out Rohingya refugees seeking shelter in India.

Two BJP spokesmen Al Jazeera spoke to declined to comment on why the CAA has not been implemented so far, but Shaheen Kausar, a social activist closely associated with anti-CAA protests said the intention of the government was dishonest from the beginning.

“All these are tactics to divert the attention from the issues which might harm their interests. Such laws are brought so that they can take away voices of resistance and dissent. If the government cared so much for the refugees why isn’t the law implemented so far?” Kausar asked.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, a politician with the Shiromani Akali Dal party in Punjab, said he supported the government when it brought in the new citizenship law. “It was supposed to provide relief to those who were waiting for years.

“I fail to understand what was the government’s purpose when they brought this law? Only the community can judge if the law was communal or a political stunt but those who were hopeful of help, they have been let down.”

Surbeer Singh showing a refugee card issued to him by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (L) and a photograph of his children who are Indian Citizens (R) [Srishti Jaswal/Al Jazeera]

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Sikh Afghan refugee shot dead

Source: The Hindu

All angles, including property deals are being looked into for leads: police

A 70-year-old pradhan of a gurdwara was shot dead by two bike-borne men outside his house in west Delhi’s Vikaspuri. No arrests have been made in the case yet, he police said on Tuesday. 

DCP (West) Deepak Purohit said that the victim has been identified as Attam Singh, a refugee from Afghanistan, who had come to India 28 years ago and settled here. 

According to the police, a PCR call was received around 5.30 p.m. on Monday about a firing incident. When the police reached the spot, they were informed that the injured had taken to a hospital where he was declared dead with bullet injuries on his head. 

Sale of property

The probe revealed that he had come from Afghanistan 28 years ago and settled here. He was one of the senior members managing the Anandpur Dham Gurudwara in Karala and was also dealing in sale purchase of property near the gurdwara. “We are looking into some recent deals he was involved in,” Mr Purohit said.

CCTV footage of the incident shows two men shooting at Singh. The victim was shot dead when he was stepping out of his car in front of his house. The accused flee the spot after shooting him. 

The police said that several persons, including family members and gurdwara staffers are being questioned to ascertain the identity of the accused and the motive behind the murder. All angles, including property deals are being looked into for any leads, the police said.

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Source: SikhNet

by Inderjeet Singh

he President of Afghan Hindu & Sikh Welfare Society, Khajinder Singh Khuranapassed away last month in Delhi. He was forefront in arranging accommodation, securing funding and other facilities for the recent Afghan Sikh refugees. I am sharing his short biography which I have translated from the upcoming book in Punjabi on Afghan Hindus and Sikhs by Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana, former member of the Afghan Great Assembly (Loya Jirga) 1990 -92.

Sardar Khajinder Singh was born in 1953 in the house of Bhai Mohar Singh Khurana and Mata Parkash Kaur in Shor Bazar, the old part of the city of Kabul. He completed his primary education at Khalsa Religious School, Kabul and was later enrolled in ‘Nadria Lacey’ for higher secondary education. Following this he joined the ‘British Council Kabul School’ to learn English and gained a certification which assisted him to serve in the UNESCO Kabul Office.

Later he joined his family business, where he proved to be a very successful in the import/export venture between Kabul & Dubai along with his brother Amarjit Singh, Manmohan Singh & Balbir Singh. He was part of the managing committee of Guru Nanak Religious School, Karte Parwan Kabul from 1975-80.

Sardar Jai Singh Fani (1941-77) the only independently elected Sikh Parliamentarian from Afghanistan was the younger brother of his Bhai Mohar Singh. The change in regime in December 1979 led the family to migrate to Delhi in 1980. He married Bibi Rajinder Kaur on January 2, 1983 at Gurdwara Greater Kailash, Delhi. He was later blessed with two sons and a daughter. Due to the unfavourable security conditions in Afghanistan, he left Afghanistan permanently in 1988.

Dr Khurana (not related) met Khajinder Singh in 1992 and found leadership qualities in him. Both joined the newly created Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society, Delhi and started community service together under the guidance of late Shri Ganga Ram (former Afghan Parliamentarian). In the year 2000, he was made the First Joint Secretary of the organisation, which he served very well till 2003. In May 2001, his book on history of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan in Punjabi, Kabul di Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas was released.

In early 2017 I contacted him in Delhi and he kindly sent a copy of the book to me in UK. I have duly referenced his work in my book, Afghan Hindus & Sikhs History of a Thousand Years.

Following the death of Shri Ganga Ram in 2003, Khajinder Singh became the President of Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society. He led the charity ably but his services for past five years are noteworthy. The killing of innocent Afghan Sikhs on 1st July 2018 and 25th March 2020 in Jalalabad and Kabul shook the community. He collaborated with the Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society for temporary settlement of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in India, as well as the efforts of in acquiring Indian citizenship for them. Charity Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan UK and Central Night Germany Committee’s assisted in evacuating about 450 Afghan Sikhs from Kabul to Delhi in August this year.

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December 2019 offers citizenship to non-Muslims fleeing religious persecution from three nearby countries. Initially as a bill it was only limited to Pakistan and Bangladesh only. Khajinder Singh rose to the occasion and met Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee members, Akali Dal and Central Government Minsters to impress them to include Afghanistan citizens in the bill.

He understood the importance to lobby about the issue and build an opinion among the stakeholders.

On 13th September due to cardiac arrest he left this mortal world for the heavenly abode. The Afghan Sikh and Hindu community will remember his selfless services till their last breath. On a personal level I lost an elder friend whom helped me in my research, and it will be very difficult to fill his void in my life.

Wahe Guru Ji Apne Charna Vich Niwas Bakshan!

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Source: South Florida Times

Gagandeep Singh Soni, 13, was attending school at the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier this year when he heard gunshots outside his classroom. Joginder Singh, his friend and classmate, had left to fetch tea for the entire class. A gurdwara is a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs.

Hearing the commotion, Gagandeep stepped out of the classroom and peered over the flight of stairs. To his horror, his friend was lying in a pool of blood downstairs, with a bullet lodged in his head.

“It was 7:30-7:45 in the morning, and we were in our class when we heard the gunshots. Joginder had gone to get tea for us. They killed him and his body was lying at the bottom of the stairs. We locked ourselves in the classroom and stayed inside till things normalized. We were terrified and scared,” Gagandeep said.

Gagandeep was among the 200-odd Sikhs trapped inside the gurdwara when armed assailants attacked on March 25. The 13-year-old lost his friend, who was one of the 27 killed that day. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, claimed responsibility shortly after the attack.

The Sikhs are a minority in the Muslim-majority nation of Afghanistan. Once a community of around 700,000 in the 1970s, their number has declined sharply over the last four decades. Most have fled the war-torn nation amid threats of violence and persecution.

The recent attacks have prompted another wave of refugees fleeing to New Delhi, India. Gagandeep is one of them.

The refugees have been given temporary shelter by the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) across the gurdwaras in the national capital.

(From left) Manjeet Kaur Soni, Jagmeet Singh Soni and Gagandeep Singh Soni at the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara in New Delhi, India, on October 17, 2020. (Courtesy: Vipul Mishra.)

“We have made arrangements for them at three major gurdwaras — Bangla Sahib, Rakab Ganj and Moti Bagh. It’s a temporary shelter, and they will be shifted to rented accommodation in various parts of the city,” said Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president of DSGMC and a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal, a Sikh nationalist party from Punjab.

Sirsa was instrumental in facilitating the transportation of the refugees, with help from India’s home ministry and a number of organizations.

“After the incident, I met Amit Shah (India’s home minister) and asked him to help us out. He agreed, and we booked chartered flights and special planes to get them to India. The cost was borne by the voluntary Sikh organizations and members of the Sikh diaspora across the world,” he said.

The Afghan government also stepped up efforts to smooththeir transit.

“Their (Afghanistan’s) government has been more than helpful to the Sikhs and Hindus. In this case as well, they were quick to respond after the attack. They made all possible efforts to rescue those who were abducted and provided medical assistance,” a spokesperson for India’s External Affairs Ministry told Zenger News.

Among the refugees in India are brother and sister duo Manjeet Kaur Soni, 23, and Jagmeet Singh Soni, 27. Their father, Nirmal Singh, was killed in the March attack. Nirmal was the granthi or head priest at the gurdwara.

“It was the death anniversary of one of our relatives, and we had condolence prayers that day. As we went towards the praying area, shots were fired at us. Terrified, we went inside and locked ourselves in for over six hours,” Manjeet said, tears welling up in her eyes. “They killed my father, my sister-in-law and her three-year-old daughter.”

Such experiences have created a culture of trepidation and distress among the population of Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by conflict since 1979.

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, Afghanistan, once a beacon of secularism, fell into the hands of Islamist guerrillas (mujahideen), who could not come to an agreement on power sharing and civil war ensued.

“I loved going to school and my parents also encouraged me. But the situations became worse when I was in class XI. I started getting threats from some locals, which included the mujahideen as well. I had to quit school because of them,” said Manjeet, who then lived in the eastern province of Paktia.

As the country sank deeper into turmoil, it became more difficult for minorities, including the Sikhs, to survive the wave of Islamic extremism.

“Things became very difficult for us after the Soviet invasion. My parents were born here (Afghanistan) in the mid-1900s. I grew up in a different atmosphere and there was peace all around. Things started going downhill after the invasion in 1979 and have never become any better. The Sikh community lived in constant threat and fear,” said Tajinder Singh, 55, a resident in the central city of Ghazni.

Tajinder’s hands trembled in distress as he spoke of his life gone by, and his voice choked when he recalled certain instances.

“We have left everything behind, our home, kith and kin, culture. At this age, what will I do? Imagine being a refugee in a different country, a country where you might get a house but you will never be able to call it home,” Tajinder said.

The Sikh population in Afghanistan has primarily lived around Kabul, Jalalabad, Ghazni, Gardez and Nangarhar, among a few other cities. They have always played a key role in the Afghan economy and were involved in trade and exports. However, today’s Sikh youth must take on multiple roles in order to feed their families.

“Before the war, the export and import of garments to and from India and Europe was in the hands of the Sikh community. They were in the businesses of automobiles, construction, dry fruits, etc. They lived prosperous lives. But, now it’s different. Look at me, I work as a multimedia journalist/presenter, singer and also run a small cosmetic shop,” said Manjeet’s brother, Jagmeet.

The refugees in New Delhi said that they had fared better under the regime of former Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

“In the early 2010s, especially 2013, was a very good year for us. There was employment for everyone, kidnappings and killings were less, even the bomb blasts were rare. Afghanistan witnessed such a peaceful time after decades,” said Jagmeet.

Also at the time, the Taliban did not force its ideologies and customs on the Sikhs, allowing them to practice their religion and not interfering in their way of life. The women, too, were relatively safer.

“The Taliban didn’t bother us most of the times, except a few rare incidents. They would let us celebrate our festivals such as Diwali, Baisakhi, Gurupurab, etc., in peace. At times, they would also come along with us and celebrate outside their mosques. They did not force anyone to adopt Islam,” said Jagmeet.

However, things have taken a turn for the worst since 2018 when the Islamic State gained control in the country. They have made life more difficult for the Sikhs.

“They are barbaric in nature. If they can kill days-old infants and their mothers in hospitals, they do not have any religion. They can kill anyone,” said Surbeer Singh Khalsa, 40, a resident of Ghazni.

Many of the refugees who have come to India looking for peace and stability, however, do not wish to live in India for long. Without financial aid from the government, they have find ways to sustain themselves in a foreign land.

“We do not want to live here for long, maybe a couple months till this pandemic subsides,” Surbeer said. “This country has no employment opportunities, the cost of living is extremely high, there is a lot of pollution, social division on caste lines and the medical expenses are unaffordable.””

“We would like to move to either Europe, Canada or the U.S. whenever things settle a bit for us.”

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Source: Concord Monitor, Star Tribune

By TAMEEM AKHGAR Associated Press Published: 9/27/2020

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus is shrinking to its lowest levels. With growing threats from the local Islamic State affiliate, many are choosing to leave the country of their birth to escape the insecurity and a once-thriving community of as many as 250,000 members now counts fewer than 700.

The community’s numbers have been declining for years because of deep-rooted discrimination in the majority Muslim country. But, without what they say is adequate protection from the government, the attacks by the Islamic State group may complete the exodus.

“We are no longer able to stay here,” said a member of the tiny community, who asked to be identified only by his last name, Hamdard, out of fear he may be targeted for speaking out. Hamdard said seven relatives of his, including his sister, nephews, and son-in-law were killed by Islamic State gunmen in an attack on the community’s temple in March, which killed 25 Sikhs.

Hamdard said that fleeing his homeland is as difficult as leaving a mother behind. Still, he joined a group of Sikhs and Hindus who left Afghanistan last month for India, from where they will eventually move on to a third country.

Although Sikhism and Hinduism are two distinct religions with their own holy books and temples, in Afghanistan the communities are interwoven, having been driven into a kinship by their tiny size, and they both gather under one roof or a single temple to worship, each following their own faith.

The community has suffered widespread discrimination in the conservative Muslim country.

Under Taliban rule in the late 1990s, Sikhs and Hindus were asked to identify themselves by wearing yellow armbands, but after a global outcry, the rule was not enforced. Also driving the exodus is the inability to reclaim Sikh homes, businesses and houses of worship that were illegally seized years ago.

Aside from the March attack by IS gunmen, a 2018 Islamic State suicide attack in the city of Jalalabad killed 19 people, most of them Sikhs, including a longtime leader who had nominated himself for the Afghan parliament.

“Suffering big fatalities for a small community is not tolerable,” said Charan Singh Khalsa, a leader of the Sikh community living abroad, who declined to say where he was living out of fear for his safety. 

He left Afghanistan after his brother was kidnapped and killed in an attack by gunmen in Kabul two years ago. He said the last three years have been the worst period for all Afghans, but especially so for Sikhs and Hindus.

Community leaders have slammed recent governments for failing to step up security in the face of the IS threat.

Afghanistan’s government in 2010 decided to dedicate a chair in the national assembly to religious minorities, and there have since been two Sikh representatives.

But Khalsa called these posts “symbolic”. He criticized the government for taking too long to grant political representation powers to the community and for failing to “provide security to our places of worship.” 

A senior Sikh community leader told The Associated Press that the group is in negotiations with the government over its security needs and the repairing of the temple after it was destroyed in March’s attack. The community leader spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the negotiations with the media.

At a press conference last month, President Ashraf Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said that members of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu community will return once peace is restored. The president’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the AP, but other Afghan officials have pledged to assist the community.

“We will use all our facilities to provide security to the people,” Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Arian said, without elaborating. “We are committed and responsible for their (Sikhs and Hindus) mental and personal security.” 

It is not clear what kind of security measures are being discussed, nor when they might be seen on the ground.

Until then, the community’s flight is accelerating, with large numbers of Sikhs and Hindus continuing a recent trend of seeking asylum in India, which has a Hindu majority and a large Sikh population.

In August, a group of 176 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus went to India on special visas. They were the second batch since March, with the first 11 members arriving in India in July.

Khalsa said that a group of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Canada and European countries has volunteered to sponsor the exodus of those remaining in Kabul who cannot afford air tickets and temporary accommodation in a transit country.

Several Canadian legislators have asked the country’s immigration ministry for a special program for Afghan Sikh and Hindu refugees, requesting that they be brought to safety in Canada amid the increasing security threat.

For Afghan Sikhs, the thought of being uprooted is painful, despite the circumstances.

“It’s hard to leave our birthplace but we have no other option,” said Hamdard. “Afghanistan does not want us anymore.”

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Source: pIndia

Not too long ago, India provided refuge to twenty-one Hindu and Sikh families from Ghazni in Afghanistan. The constant threat to their lives and the hardships they have to endure is not something that is secret. Islamic terrorism and extremism has made the lives of ethnic and religious minorities in the war torn country a living hell.

While the Hindu and Sikh families came over to India, one man remained. He had to stay behind in order to take care of the Hindu Temple that still exists. His name is Raja Ram. He may have never set his feet in India but his name bears the unmistakable mark of the intimate relationship he shares with out country.

Raja Ram told Radio Free Afghanistan, “We all love our homeland, but they had to flee after the attacks.” “To everyone, their homeland is Kashmir,” he added. He further said, “Members of our community have left with broken hearts because of their worsening circumstances here.” His wife and four children have come to India, in the hope of a better future, but he chose to remain to take care of the Temple. He is paid nearly $100 by the Afghan government a month to take care of it.

The last Hindu of Ghazni still hopes that there will come a day when his wife and children will be able to return to the place they call home and live in peace. But perhaps, he knows in his heart that these are mere fantasies and it does not do well for people to dwell too much in them. “I hope that everyone will return to Afghanistan once there is peace here. The Hindus and Sikhs are sons of this soil — they are Afghans, too,” he said.

Hindus and Sikhs were once an 80,000 strong minority in Afghanistan but they are now vanishing. Most of them have come over to India while some, with the means for it, chose to leave for the West. In India, the beleaguered minorities have found a home and an opportunity to build a future for their children.

While they still miss their homeland, sometimes, as is human nature, they are grateful for the opportunity India has provided them with. And it is in their hopes that India finds the true meaning for its existence. It is the sacred duty of our country to provide shelter to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists whose lives are in jeopardy in our neighbouring Islamic states.

The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, was the first steptowards recognising this sacred duty that India bears towards these unfortunate victims of Islamic extremism. It was opposed tooth and nail by many but the misery that such refugees have to endure illustrates perfectly the necessity of it. In neighbouring Pakistan, we are daily witness to the savagery that the Hindu and Sikh minorities are subjected to.

The story of the last Hindu of Ghazni, Raja Ram, also demonstrates the sacrifices that Hindus have made through the ages to ensure the continued worship of our Gods and Goddesses. All alone in a hostile environment, with his children and wife away in a distant land, he chose to remain to ensure that a candle is still lit in the Temple that has been placed in his care. It is through these monumental sacrifices that our civilisation is sustained and the flag of our ancestors continues to fly high.

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