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Mehr Chand Kapoor

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Source: International Affairs Review

It is wrong to assume that Hindus and Sikhs are recent migrants to Afghanistan. Diwan Niranjan Das, an Afghan Hindu, negortiatedindependence of Afghanistan with the British government in India in 1920.

Inderjeet Singh is the author of the recently published ‘Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: A History of a Thousand Years’. In the wake of the March 25th 2020 attacks on the 400 years old Guru Har Rai Sahib Gurdwara in Kabul, IAR spoke to him on the history and future of the Hindu and Sikh community of Afghanistan.

Can you tell us how Sikhs came to be in Afghanistan? And what is their ethnicity? Are they originally from the Punjab or are they ethnic Pathans/Tajiks/Hazaras?

An Afghan manuscript Hudud Al Alam compiled in 982-83 CE puts a number of regions in Eastern Afghanistan, like Laghman and Parwan provinces, as part of Hindustan (India). It mentions [the existence] a number of idol temples in various cities of Afghanistan, including [in] Kandahar and Kabul. It was around this time that the Hindu Shahi dynasty lost Kabul to the Turkic ruler Sabuktigin, father of Mahmud Ghaznavi. It is wrong to assume that Hindus totally vanished from Afghanistan at that point and Hindus and Sikhs are recent migrants to the country.

Author Inderjeet Singh

Guru Nanak visited Afghanistan in 1521 and the some of the Hindus who were living there become his followers or Nanakpanthis. Later his son, Sri Chand who started the Udasi sect also visited Afghanistan in 1540. Guru Amardas (1552-74) established number of missionary seats known as Manjis and one of them was in Kabul. Sikh chroniclers record the visit of Sikhs from Kabul and Afghanistan to Punjab during the 17th  and 18thcenturies. Hence, we have historical Gurdwaras in Kabul, Sultanpur, Jalalabad, Kandahar and other cities. In terms of gotras, the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan are mostly Khatris and Aroras.

Are there more Sikhs than Hindus today in Afghanistan, and if yes, why?

There are about 800-850 Sikhs and about 50-60 Hindus in Afghanistan. More than half are in Kabul and rest are in Jalalabad and Ghazni. Some other cities do have Sikhs and Hindus, but they are likely only a handful of about 4 to 8 persons, with families shifted to India.

The Soviet invasion of the country in 1979 led to a resistance supported by the USA, Pakistan and other countries. The Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989 and in the next 2-3 years the Mujahedeen who fought the Soviets were able to capture the country. About ninety per cent of Afghan Sikhs and almost all Hindus left Afghanistan in 1992 just before the Mujahedeen captured the last bastion, Kabul from Dr Najibullah’s government. At that juncture, Dr Najibullah informed the Indian government that he was unable to protect the Sikhs and Hindus. The Indian embassy in Kabul issued them speedy visas even as Kabul city was being bombed by the Mujahedeen. Both the governments showed urgency and 2-3 people (and in some cases even 4 people) were given visas on one passport.

Before 1992, relations between the Afghan and the Sikh and Hindu communities were good. Diwan Niranjan Das, an Afghan Hindu, was the Minister of Finance and Commerce under Amir Amanullah Khan (1919-29). He is particularly remembered for negotiating the independence of Afghanistan with the British government in India in 1920. Subsequently there has been a Sikh MP in Afghanistan till date including Jai Singh Faani who was directly elected as an independent candidate in 1969.

The Afghan Hindu-Sikh community in 1960s. Most are wearing the traditional Afghan turban or karakul

The Afghan government recognised economic contribution that the Sikhs and Hindus had made in Afghanistan local [Afghans] treated them very well. People trusted them with their money more than they did the banks. Most of them were into money lending, local banking, or owned businesses.

Let me share an incident. In 1954, the local government decided to widen the road and Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar at Jalalabad came under that modernisation plan. This meant that the gurdwara had to be demolished and the local government would give land [for the gurdwara] elsewhere. When the Sikhs failed to convince the local authorities not to demolish the gurdwara, a petition was made to the Emperor Zahir Shah in Kabul who issued a royal edict and the gurdwara was handed back to the Sikhs. The road widening plan was changed. After 1960s Afghan Hindus and Sikhs took more interest in modern education. I personally know doctors from amongst the Afghan Hindu and Sikh community. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana who is former member of the Afghan Grand Assembly (1990-92) is writing biographies of about 40 doctors/physicians among the community.

However, 40 years of civil war has made the community bitter. Some Afghans have also become [religiously] more fundamentalist but even today an Indian gets a nice welcome in Afghanistan.

What is the current economical and political status of the Sikhs in Afghanistan today? Are they economically strong? Politically powerful? 

The 40 years of civil war have made Afghans bitter and, in some cases, more fundamentalist. Sikhs boys are bullied in school and at times Sikhs are taunted and asked to convert but others are fine. Many of the houses of Sikhs had been illegally captured by warlords and powerful neighbours during the Mujahideen era.

The current regime of President Ashraf Ghani is sympathetic to Sikhs and has allotted 5 million Afghanis for repair of gurdwaras and temples. The government is currently renovating the premises of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad, but no government has done anything to free the illegal occupation of the houses of Afghan Sikhs in Kabul.

Narinder Pal Singh Khalsa is the nominated member of the Afghan Parliament and his brother is the Adviser to the President. They are doing their best under difficult circumstances. More than 10,000 civilians have been killed each year in the past five years. In 2019, half of the civilian casualties were due to attacks by the Taliban and they were fellow Sunni Muslims, killed to gain negotiating power with the Americans.Afghanistan is a dangerous place to live in but minorities are more vulnerable.

Why do you think this specific attack by IS-K took place? Do you think Pakistan is behind it? What could be the motivation?

In some quarters India has also been blamed but we must look at the wider picture to understand the situation. ISKP (Islamic State – Khorasan Province)/Daesh has claimed the responsibility for the attack.  ISIS has declared an unofficial war against Shias in Afghanistan. Their places of worship, weddings, tuition centre, and gatherings have been targeted numerous times over the past five years. Sikhs are also infidels in their eyes. This is a continuation of their war on infidels. The whole world knows their carnage of Yezidis in Iraq.

Do all or most Sikhs from Afghanistan want to migrate from Afghanistan?

I cannot speak for all 850 people, but the Indian Express [recently] reported that they have made a petition to the Indian Embassy in Kabul and to the Indian Government through Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee. Some prefer to migrate to a western country like Canada as it is easier to build a future there, even from scratch. However, as it seems less likely now, many them want to come to India purely from a security angle. There are anumber of widows who have never stepped outside their houses which is on the gurdwara premises in most cases. It will be very difficult for them to work and earn enough to live on.

What should India do?

Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who want to come to India should be evacuated and the same kind of urgency which was 

demonstrated in 1992 [by both governments] is required. And then they should be given citizenship quickly.

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A Remembrance…

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REMEMBERING – AFGHAN SIKHS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN SINCE 1988 Every year during Vaisakhi, the Afghan Sikh community remembers the Afghan Sikhs (male, female & children) who lost their lives in 1988, 1989 & 2018. Last year it was decided that this remembrance event will be held on 29th March every year. This got missed due to ongoing Coronavirus and recent killings of the Sikhs in Kabul. Let’s remember them and revisit these ghastly events. 13 April 1988 – A gunman entered the Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, Jalalabad when the place was full of devotees. He killed 13 Sikhs and 4 Muslims security guards. Dalair Singh Arora and Harwinder Singh Batra confronted him and managed to kill the terrorist. Dalair Singh lost his life and is remembered for his bravery. Harwinder Singh lives in London now. March – Oct 1989 – The Mujahideen attacked Jalalabad with intention to capture the city. The local tribal chief impressed upon Mujahideen for peace, but latter said they had to attack, and the chief gave them the map of old township and marked that area where Mujahideen could bomb. And this area was where Sikhs lived in Jalalabad. For 6 months the missiles were fired on the area and 102 Afghan Sikhs died and over 500 were injured in these attacks. 1 July 2018 – During a gathering of Afghan Sikhs in Jalalabad waiting to meet the President, a suicide bomber blew himself and killed 17 Sikhs and three Hindus including community leaders Avtar Singh Khalsa and Rawail Singh. 25 March 2020 – The gunmen entered Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji in Kabul and killed 27 Afghan Sikhs including many women and young children.

A post shared by Inderjeet Singh (@book_afghan_hindus_and_sikhs) on

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Source: The Wire By: Angshuman Choudhury

An Afghan Sikh family arrive to see their relatives near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. Photo: Reuters/Mohammad Ismail

On March 25, three gunmen stormed the Guru Har Rai Gurudwara in the Shor Bazar area of Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, killing at least 25 and injuring 15. Most of the victims belonged the Sikh minority of Afghanistan. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), which is the Islamic State’s arm in Afghanistan and Pakistan, claimed the attack not long after the mindless bloodshed. The Indian government condemned Wednesday’s heinous attack in strong words, calling it “cowardly”.

While Sikhs have been targeted by Afghan militant groups in the past, this was certainly one of the biggest attacks on the minority in recent times.

Immediately after the attack, certain commentators and media houses began to push the importance of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) to protect the Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan. The CAA, which came into force earlier this year, eases Indian citizenship requirements for asylum seekers from six religious denominations from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh who came to India on or before 31 December 2014. Sikhs are amongst those six beneficiary communities.

The CAA has come under intense criticism from domestic and international quarters for expressly leaving out Muslim refugees and thus, negating the constitutional principles of secularism and equality before law. Since it was tabled in parliament late last year, India has seen fierce street protests and civil unrest. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government has so far refused to recall the amendment.

After the attack, BJP leader from Delhi, Kapil Mishra, tweeted: “What would those who were distributing langar in Shaheen Bagh be thinking today?”

Mishra, who was banned by the Election Commission during the Delhi election campaign for a communally-loaded tweet, was not-so-subtly referring to the anti-CAA protestors who had been on a sit-in protest in East Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh area since 14 December. Sikh groups had set up langars (community kitchens) near the protest site to distribute free food, an act that received much praise. Mishra seemed to be suggesting that the Shaheen Bagh protestors, many of whom are Muslims, were responsible for the dastardly attack against Sikhs in Kabul.

Another pro-BJP commentator, Abhinav Prakash, who is also an assistant professor at Delhi University, tweeted that “all those opposing CAA are supporters & cheerleaders of such routine massacres.” Several other pro-Hindutva pages and voices argued how Wednesday’s attack proves that the CAA is much-needed. An editorial in the Free Press Journal arguedthat anti-CAA protestors “would not cry themselves hoarse against a law which neither directly nor indirectly seeks to hurt them” if they understood that “attacks on non-Muslims in Afghanistan and Pakistan are routine”.

These are highly misleading narratives that conceal not just the anti-constitutional nature of the CAA, but also the sociopolitical reality of Afghanistan. There is absolutely no doubt that the Sikh and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan are under constant threat of attacks by Islamist groups, such as the Taliban, ISKP and Haqqani Network.

Islamist extremism in Afghanistan

Only two years ago, a deadly suicide bombing in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar Province, killed Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate running in the country’s parliamentary elections that year. They were no better off during the oppressive Taliban regime during 1996-2001. According to a recent report by the Afghan news agency, TOLO News, 99% of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan left the country over the last three decades.

But Hindus and Sikhs are not the only religious minorities living in fear of extremist aggression in Afghanistan, a Sunni Muslim majority country. Muslim minority sects, such as the Shias, too are under constant threat of attacks by Islamist militants. According to informal third-party estimates, Shias make up about 10-15% of the population of Afghanistan. The bulk of Afghan Shias belong to the Hazara ethnic group.

An Afghan Sikh woman mourns for her relatives near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

Only two weeks back, on March 6, ISKP claimed an attack on a Hazara ceremony in the Shi’ite-dominated Dasht-e-Barchi neighbourhood of Kabul, which killed 32 people. In September 2018, at least 22 people, mostly Hazaras, were killed in an ISKP-linked twin explosion in the same area. Two people were killed and forty injured in July 2019 when ISKP militants attacked a Shi’ite mosque in the central province of Ghazni. At least 143 people were killed in four separate ISKP-linked attacks on Shi’ite areas and mosques in the 2016-17 period.

According to Javed Kohistani, a retired Afghan general and political expert, Daesh “was formed mainly based on anti-Shiite agendas for taking over Shiite governments in Syria and Iraq”. Sectarian tensions between Afghan Sunnis and Shias started emerging around 2011, fuelled by a complex mix of external and internal factors. Since then, particularly after the ISKP’s entry, Shias have faced the full brunt of Islamist extremism in the country.

According to Rustam Ali Seerat, an Afghan research scholar in South Asian University, an “unholy alliance” between the Taliban and Daesh has put Afghan Shias and Hazaras in a high risk of “massacres and even annihilation”. The Shi’ite Hazaras aren’t just much-favoured targets for Islamist militants, but also subjects of systematic discrimination by the Afghan government.

“On the one hand, the terrorist groups target Hazaras with deadly attacks and, on the other hand, the Afghan government removes Hazaras from the government [posts] and tries to prevent Hazara areas from prosperity in development and economic policies,” says Ahmad Behzad, a Hazara in the Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the Afghan Parliament).

There is also evidence of Hazaras facing social discrimination within Sunni-majority Afghan society. Melissa Chiovenda, an anthropology doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, told Al Jazeera in June 2016 that “even open-minded non-Hazaras with a high degree of education” admit that “they feel a certain discomfort when they encounter Hazaras in certain positions of authority in Afghanistan.”

Besides the Shi’ite minorities, the ISKP and Taliban are also accused of targeting Afghan Sunnis, both through targeted bombing of religious gatherings and politico-strategic attacks against government targets. Fair to say that the Afghan political-security landscape is far more complex than the straightforward ‘Muslims vs non-Muslims’ binary that pro-Hindutva groups in India routinely project.

Therefore, the fact that the CAA leaves out endangered Muslims, especially vulnerable sectarian minorities like the Shia Hazaras, is deeply problematic. India is already host to a significant population of Afghan Muslim refugees, including Shia Hazaras. Out of the 15,559 Afghan refugees registered with UNHCR India (according to the August 2019 factsheet), around 10% are Muslims, which includes Hazaras and other Shi’ite groups. The CAA won’t ease their pathway to Indian citizenship.

The current UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Michele Bachelet, also noted that the CAA discriminates against the Afghan Hazaras and Shia refugees in an intervention plea filed at the Supreme Court of India on March 4. Worse, the CAA also excludes under-threat Muslim sectarian minorities in Pakistan and Bangladesh, such as Ahmadiyas and Bohras.

Besides, contrary to what pro-Hindutva groups argue, the CAA’s retrospective cut-off date means that Hindus and Sikhs who are currently living in Afghanistan (such as those targeted in Wednesday’s attack) and would want to seek asylum in India in the future won’t be able to avail its exclusive benefits. It’ll only protect those who have already fled Afghanistan and are no more under Islamist threat.

The CAA is ultimately bad in law, as argued by top constitutional experts. Sure, it is some sort of an asylum law, but a grossly discriminatory one. If India genuinely wants to protect vulnerable people in its neighbourhood, it needs to enact a wholesome asylum policy that doesn’t privilege one group of people over others, takes into account non-religious forms of persecution (like ethnic and political) and doesn’t put a hard cut-off date.

The CAA doesn’t achieve that. It is nothing more than a sloppy, half-hearted and prejudicial piece of legislation that doesn’t have any place in a secular country like India.

Angshuman Choudhury is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi, and former GIBSA Visiting Fellow (Oct-Dec 2019) at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin.

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By Asia Samachar TeamBRITAIN |
Afghan Sikhs and military service: A 1973 photo capturing the first ever Sikh doctor from Jalalabad. Prof Dr Bhagat Singh Hakimzada (left hand side) and Prof Dr Saran Singh Motizada (slightly on the right hand side) in military uniforms. Both graduated in 1972 and went for military service which was compulsory for every Afghan male from the age of 22. It was a one year service for postgraduates upon their graduation, and two years for the rest. In early 1970s, after military service, every post graduate was granted permission to wear military uniform on some special occasions. Sikhs would wear especially on Nagar Keertan (Sikh religious procession). – Photo & Information courtesy of Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana

As you read this article, the fate of Sikhs and Hindu minorities in Afghanistan stand in the balance.

The 25 March attack on the gurdwara in Kabul may just the defining marker for the end of the long and cherished history of Sikhs in this part of the world. In that attack, 25 men, women and a child, were brutally murdered by gunmen.

The ISIS/Daesh have claimed responsibility. It was an attack with a simple purpose: wiping out the so-deemed ‘infidel’ community out of Afghanistan.

“Their politics is horrendous. Sikhs are but a small pawn in this whole scenario. In fact, Sikhs are not even a player in this whole thing. They are too small, too insignificant,” Inderjeet Singh, author of the Afghan Hindus & Sikhs – History of a Thousand Years, told Asia Samachar.

“It will be a feather in their cap if they can chase Sikhs out of the country. They will consider it a victory,” he said.

Here are excerpt of the interview with the author of the first English book on Afghan Sikhs.

What was the first thing that ran through your mind when you heard about the Kabul attack?

The possibility of something like this happening was always at the back of my mind. So, when it came, I felt sad, but not shocked. If you follow the series of previous bombings, you knew that the Kabul Sanggat were sitting in a precarious area.

Many Sikhs may not have ground knowledge of those incidents. Some may think this only happening onto Sikhs. Not at all. Taliban has blasted a lot of bombs to gain an upper hand in the negotiations with the US. People condemn the killing, but no one condemns the killers. We are talking about people in Afghanistan.

Their politics is horrendous. Sikhs are but a small pawn in this whole scenario. In fact, Sikhs are not even a player in this whole thing. They are too small, too insignificant.

It will be a feather in their cap if they can send Sikhs out of the country. They will consider it a victory.

The ISIS/Daesh has claimed the responsibility for the attack. If Sikhs are small and an insignificant minority, why the attacks upon them?

Their ideology includes the killing for kafirs/infidels, including Sikhs. Some may not know that ISIS include Shia Muslims in their list of infidel community who should either be brought into Islam (strict form of Sunnism, their interpretation of Islam) or be killed. ISIS has declared an unofficial war against Shias in Afghanistan. Their places of worship, weddings, tuition centre and any gatherings have been targeted numerous times in past five years. Sikhs are also infidels in their eyes. This is a continuation of their war on infidels. The whole world knows of the carnage they unleashed on the Yazidis.

ISIS have claimed that this is their ‘revenge for Kashmir’. What are your thoughts on that.

It is a human tendency to justify their actions. Sikhs were targeted and killed on 1st July 2018 in Jalalabad when there was no Kashmir issue or the Delhi riots. Sikhs are a small minority in India and recently it was well recorded that during recent Delhi riots, on number of instances, Sikhs had saved Muslims from the rioting crowd.

Washington Post reported that one of the terrorists who attacked the Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib at Kabul was an Indian Muslim from Kerala. Indians know the difference between Sikhs and Hindus. The first person these terrorists killed was an Afghan Sunni Muslim security guard outside the Gurdwara Sahib. ISIS will kill anyone who comes in the way to creating their so called ‘Islamic Caliphate’.

Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib, Kabul, attacked on 25 March 2020, killing 25 people

What is the solution to this problem?

ISIS will not come to a negotiating table. They are the closest thing we have to pure evil on this earth. Their propaganda videos were so powerful that many Muslim youngsters in the West left their homes to join ISIS in Syria. Where is the counter narrative? It must come from Sunni Muslims clergy. Every ISIS terrorist believe that he will get ‘martyrdom’ after killing infidels and get 72 hoors (virgins) in next world. The Islamic Hadith clearly states that killing a human is a sin and non-Islamic population should be treated as dhimmis. We have lost the propaganda war. Where is the counter narrative? Where are the videos from intelligent Sunni Muslim clergy who can refute ISIS and related organisations interpretation of Islam? Unless you defeat this evil ideology, we can’t win over them. The world must work together to combat this wickedness. They are a threat to world peace and humanity.

At this juncture, what is is the future of Sikhs in Afghanistan?

Very bleak. There are about 800-850 Sikhs in Afghanistan and they are ethnically Afghan, but most Afghans refute it. There are many are widows with children who have never left their houses (which is Gurdwara). Who will provide shelter and food? In India they will be relatively safe, but the state does not provide welfare. The Sikh community need to set up an organisation with proper planning, funding to decide for their food, shelter and schooling for children. There is a cost to this. Some may be able to migrate to Canada. At this juncture, they have officially made a request to the Indian authorities to allow them to seek refuge in India.

Tell us more about the gurdwara that was attacked?

Guru Har Rai Sahib (1644-61), the seventh Sikh Guru, had sent Bhai Gonda to Kabul to preach Sikhi. He built a Dharamsaal (earlier name for gurdwaras) at that time. This Gurdwara Sahib was taken over by Ahmed Shah Masood in the early 1990s as it was the strongest structure in the area, and it became his base where he attacked and defended from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The Gurdwara Sahib was very badly damaged. The Taliban was removed in October 2001. In the subsequent years, resilient Afghan Sikhs abroad provided funds and the Gurdwara Sahib was renovated again by 2014. It houses 150 Afghan Sikhs who have lost their homes during the 1980s and the early 90s to the war and illegal occupation by powerful neighbours or warlords.

AFGHAN SIKHS DOCTORS FROM NANGARHAR PROVINCE: (L-R) Dr Nirmal Singh Nagpal, Dr Tara Singh Wadhwa, Late Dr Raghbir Singh Bir, Dr Kulbir Singh Darwesh, Dr Saran Singh Hakimzada and Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana Ji. They graduated with Mds from Medical College of Nangarhar University, Jalalabad, in the 1970s. This photo was taken in London in 2015. Dr Khurana is writing biographies of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus doctors which should be published in a few months.

Tell us about the history of Sikhs in Afghanistan.

Guru Nanak visited this part of the world in the first decade of the 16th century. We have historical Gurdwaras and places in Kabul, Jalalabad, Sultanpur, Kandahar and in other cities. His son, Baba Sri Chand, who started the Udasi sect has also visited Afghanistan and we have Gurdwaras commemorating his visit in Kabul and Kandahar. Bhai Nand Lal, a close Sikh of Guru Gobind Singh (1675 – 1708), whose Persian verses are sung by Sikhs in Gurdwara Sahibs with great devotion, was born in Ghazni. We have a Gurdwara Sahib there as well. During the 1980s, as per the Afghan authorities, the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were close to three lakhs (300,000). As a Sikh, I would not like my historical heritage to be abandoned but security is a huge issue. We can leave few caretakers and rest if, they wish, could migrate to safer countries.

Is there a hope for peace, with Taliban – USA deal? What does it means for minorities?

It all depends if the Taliban is able to control ISIS? If not, then you will continue to have attacks on minorities. Taliban was particularly harsh on women during their rule from 1996-2001 and women parliamentarians are genuinely worried. Sikhs found a way to deal and live under Taliban by giving them a payment (perhaps Jaziya). Everyone is concerned living under their rule. Personally, I was really disgusted when over the past 18-24 months Taliban attacks have resulted in the killings of many innocent (Sunni) Muslims civilians, just to have better negotiating power with USA. This is not a trait of an organisation that wants to rule the country. The Afghan media in the country and Europe condemn the killings but not the killer.

How do local Afghans treat Sikhs?

The 40 years of civil war have made Afghans bitter and in some cases, more fundamentalist. Sikh boys are bullied in school. At times, they are taunted and asked to convert. Their houses have been illegally captured by warlords and powerful neighbours during the Mujahideen era. They are mostly living in Gurdwara Sahib. The regime is sympathetic to Sikhs and has allotted 5 million for repair of Gurdwaras and Temple. The government is currently renovating the premises of Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar in Jalalabad but no government has done anything to free the illegal occupation of the houses of Afghan Sikhs in Kabul.

I personally know Afghan Sikhs who lived during 1960s to 1992 and they all state that Afghans would treat them very tolerably. Dr Joginder Singh Tej Khurana, a former Member of Afghan Grand Assembly (1990-92), has compiled a short biography of some 40 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus doctors and physicians. Some 90% of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus left the country in 1992 just before Mujahedeen captured the last bastion, Kabul city. Sadly those days are gone now and may never return. I feel privileged that I am the first person to write their rich history in English.

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Source: Asia Samachar, The lawyer

Meeno Chawla with her parents on graduation day – Photo: Personal Facebook page

I came from Afghanistan in 1995 to England as an immigrant. The 1989 civil war in Afghanistan had a huge impact on the whole country but particularly for religious minorities. Afghanistan used to have a flourishing Afghan Sikh community but because of continuous marginalisation and discrimination, people left. My parents as well as many Afghan Sikhs left for a better life, which included opportunities and basic rights. Those who remain in Afghanistan continue to suffer and face difficulties through constant seclusion and fear.

Women in the Afghan Sikh community have traditionally been homemakers, and this was often reinforced in my childhood by members of the community. In Afghanistan there was a lack of educational and work opportunities for girls, especially those from religious minorities. I live with my parents; they have four daughters. I am the youngest and at my birth there were negative reactions from the community as sons were preferred due to passing on the family name. However, my parents have been extremely supportive with my studies and life choices; they have encouraged me to pursue a career at the Bar. My mother works in a fabric shop, where she reinforced the importance of being independent and pursuing a career despite the odds through hard work.

I chose a career in law as I want to use advocacy to engage in work that has a direct impact on the lives of others, because both my family and I personally have experienced being in a position of vulnerability and disempowerment. This is why I wish to pursue a career which involves representing people when their fundamental rights and liberties are at stake.

I wasn’t considered the brightest at school and was told by a teacher that I should ‘reconsider a career in law as I wasn’t clever enough,’ but I used this as my motivation to do well at school. During my summer holidays, I did work experience at two law firms to get an insight into the different areas of law and how law works in real-life.

I went on to study Law with Criminology at university. I went to networking events and did work experience at the Courts and mini pupillages to get a better understanding of the profession. I was a case manager on the Innocence Project at university. I worked on a case involving a potential miscarriage of justice for two years. This experience was the turning point for me, where I decided that I wanted to become a barrister and be a voice for those who don’t possess much knowledge of the legal system.

After graduation, I decided to volunteer at a charity, which helped people with their housing and debt claims. Later, I joined the Crown Prosecution Service, I was overwhelmed with the knowledge and the high pressure yet fast-paced environment, but I loved every moment of it and still enjoy my job today! I work closely with prosecution barristers in preparation of their cases and assist them in court. My work taught me how the Criminal Justice System works and that defendants need a Criminal Justice System which they can trust, and which ensures they are being represented. While working at the CPS, I was studying the Bar Professional Training Course part-time. I decided to study the course part-time because despite a scholarship from Middle Temple, I could not afford to pay the full-time fees. The late-night studying, doubts and stress were worth it because I got through it successfully.

In October 2019, I was called to the Bar of England and Wales as the first Afghan Sikh. This was a proud moment for me, my family and my community. I used to question whether I would fit in and soon realised my background is and will always be my strength. My secret weapons are perseverance, hard work and a passion to learn on this ongoing journey.

Equality and diversity are critical for the rule of law and professional legitimacy. Barristers represent everyone, and the Bar should be more representative of society. Given my background and unique life-experiences, I want to be part of that process and hope people will choose a career in law despite the odds against them.

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𝘼 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙗𝙪𝙩𝙚 𝙩𝙤 𝙈𝙧 𝙂𝙖𝙟𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙚𝙧 𝙎𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙝, 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙢𝙚𝙧 𝙈𝙋 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 محترم سردار گجندر سینگ وکیل اسبق شورای ملی( ولسی جرگه ) افغانستان از سال ۱۳۶۷ الی۱۳۷۱ بتاریخ ۲۰/۰۱/۱۲ در شهر لندن چشم از جهان پوشید 𝘽𝙚𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙥𝙖𝙧𝙩 𝙤𝙛 𝙖 𝙢𝙞𝙣𝙤𝙧𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 𝙝𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙧𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙚 𝙨𝙥𝙚𝙖𝙠𝙚𝙧 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙪𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙜𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙞𝙣𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙫𝙞𝙚𝙬𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙙𝙞𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙖 𝙨𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙘𝙚𝙨 𝙨𝙪𝙘𝙝 𝙖𝙨 𝙍𝙖𝙙𝙞𝙤, 𝙏𝙑 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙣𝙚𝙬𝙨𝙥𝙖𝙥𝙚𝙧𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙧𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙖𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙨𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙮. 𝙃𝙚 𝙖𝙡𝙬𝙖𝙮𝙨 𝙚𝙣𝙘𝙤𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙜𝙚𝙙 𝙃𝙞𝙣𝙙𝙪 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙎𝙞𝙠𝙝 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙪𝙣𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨 𝙩𝙤 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙚 𝙛𝙤𝙧𝙬𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙢𝙖𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙢 𝙨𝙤𝙘𝙞𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙘𝙪𝙡𝙩𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙡 𝙖𝙘𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙞𝙩𝙞𝙚𝙨. 𝙃𝙚 𝙬𝙖𝙨 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙡𝙡 𝙞𝙨 𝙢𝙮 𝙞𝙣𝙨𝙥𝙞𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣. 𝙏𝙤 𝙡𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙣 𝙢𝙤𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙈𝙧 𝙎𝙞𝙣𝙜𝙝'𝙨 𝙡𝙞𝙛𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙝𝙞𝙨 𝙘𝙤𝙣𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙗𝙪𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣 𝙩𝙤 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙨𝙤𝙘𝙞𝙚𝙩𝙮, 𝙗𝙤𝙩𝙝 𝙞𝙣 𝘼𝙛𝙜𝙝𝙖𝙣𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙞𝙣 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙐𝙆, 𝙬𝙖𝙩𝙘𝙝 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙛𝙪𝙡𝙡 𝙙𝙤𝙘𝙪𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙛𝙞𝙡𝙢 𝙤𝙣 𝙔𝙤𝙪𝙏𝙪𝙗𝙚: https://youtu.be/usmOTLiWQTw

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Source: Dawn

JAHANDAD KHAN

I have seen more than a few visitors to the city of Nankana Sahib become confused after interacting with the town’s Pashto-speaking Sikh community. Conventional history books and media portrayals have conditioned us to view Sikhs as a Punjabi people and Pashto speakers as Muslims. Most Pakistanis and Afghans I know are oblivious to the fact that the majority of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus have been speaking Pashto and Dari as their first languages since long before the genesis of modern nation states in South Asia. Thus, I was excited to start reading Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a Thousand Years by Inderjeet Singh, hoping to understand more about the origins of a vibrant community that has largely been ignored by historical scholarship and is sadly now on the verge of extinction in Afghanistan.

To counter the modern view that Afghan Hindus and Sikhs are primarily the descendants of merchants who migrated from Punjab at the time of the Sikh empire’s expansion two centuries ago, the book starts with narratives from contemporary historical accounts that point towards the presence of large communities of Hindus residing in Afghanistan around the time of the first millennium AD. Singh offers historical evidence that Hindus served as officers as well as physicians at the court of Mahmud of Ghazni. The book also sheds light on other indigenous faiths that thrived at the time, indicating that Afghanistan was historically a region where diverse spiritual traditions interacted creatively with one another.

The book traces Afghanistan’s first contact with Sikhism to the travels of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith and the first of 10 gurus, as recorded in the Sikh Janamsakhi [birth stories] traditions. According to these, Guru Nanak passed through Balkh and Kabul in Afghanistan while on his travels during the reign of the Mughal emperor Babur. A stream near the Afghan city of Jalalabad marks the location where Guru Nanak and his companion Bhai Bala miraculously aided a local shepherd who was dying of thirst. At the Arghandab River, a Muslim fakir is said to have submitted to the wisdom of Guru Nanak’s spiritual message. The book also narrates stories of the Afghan devotees of the later Sikh gurus including Guru Amar Das, Guru Arjun, Guru Hargobind, Guru Har Rai, Guru Tegh Bahadur and Guru Gobind Singh.

A must-read for those among us willing to critically re-examine our ideas about the past, sets the record straight about a vibrant and often misunderstood community

I was inspired by the story of “Kabul Wali Mai”, an Afghan lady from Kabul who was a follower of the third Sikh guru. She led the Sikh spiritual centre at Kabul in the 16th century and rose to prominence through her devotion to public service. Modern generations of Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians should be able to look up to her as an example of a courageous woman who defied the patriarchal norms of her day to contribute to the wider society.

A chapter in the book on Sahajdhari Sikhs and dual-belief Hindus raises thought-provoking questions about modern Afghan Sikh identity. It focuses on the Sahajdharis, people of Hindu backgrounds who adopt the basic spiritual tenets of Sikhism without ascribing to the outward appearance of Sikhs. The book argues that while the Sahajdharis of Punjab were rapidly integrated into the fold of mainstream Sikhism within the last century, the boundaries between Sikh, Hindu and dual-belief Hindus remained fluid among the Afghans until recently. Perhaps because of their status as a tiny religious minority in Afghanistan, the country’s turbaned and non-turbaned Sikhs and Hindus maintained ties as a close-knit community who frequented each other’s places of worship.

In the preface to his book, Singh writes “I have resisted from providing any analysis and offering new theories as I want readers to form their own interpretations.” His book provides sufficient references from reliable primary sources to make the case that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have as much right to be regarded as natives of Afghanistan as other communities. The book appreciates the complexity of their past by linking their origins to the broad networks of trade, diplomacy, politics and conquest prevalent in the region over the centuries. Singh hints that the history of Afghanistan’s Hindus and Sikhs is as diverse as that of Afghanistan itself. However, as the majority of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus do share last names with families residing in the subcontinent, I would have enjoyed reading more of the author’s subjective views on the patterns of migration that could explain their geography and demographics in Afghanistan.

Singh forces readers to reckon with entrenched ideas about religious and national identity. The most insightful chapters in the book are also the hardest to read. In these, the author discusses in painstaking detail the cycles of bullying, violence and majoritarian tyranny that forced the vast majority of Afghanistan’s Sikhs and Hindus to leave their homeland after the 1980s. Pakistan still has a sizeable population of Hindus and Sikhs, many of whom are Pashto speakers with close ties to the Afghan Sikh and Hindu community. Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a Thousand Years is a must-read for those among us willing to critically re-examine our ideas about the past to build empathy, kindness and respect towards our Sikh and Hindu citizens.

The reviewer is founder of the Indus Heritage Club, an Islamabad-based travel company working to promote Pakistan as a destination for Sikh heritage tourism

Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a
Thousand Years
By Inderjeet Singh
Readomania, India
ISBN: 978-9385854385
272pp.

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