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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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Source: FirstPost

When Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were forced to leave their home and the land of their forefathers, what did they carry as souvenirs? Nothing, but a few seeds of memories. But what they left behind in 1947 was an immeasurable wealth of culture — a syncretic lifestyle evolved and enriched over centuries.

Not long back, communities were bound by spiritual values — by the underlying thread of humanity and mutual respect. All this was wiped out. Yet, a few residual shades remind one of the possibilities of what could be. At the last surviving Hindu temple in Kabul, the Asamai temple, the Bhagwat Geeta, the only enshrined scripture, is in Gurmukhi. Although, the priest at the temple can read only Urdu. A reminder that languages and scripts are not owned by specific religions, but are a heritage for humankind.

At Asamai temple in Kabul, the only enshrined scripture, Bhagwat Gita, is in Gurmukhi. All pictures courtesy Amardeep Singh

Unfortunately, the exiled communities in alien lands found that the seeds of memory fail to grow into trees that would bear the fruits of culture-left behind. In two generations, the culture is lost, even when re-planted on a different land. “Look at all the Gurdwaras of north Punjab, it’s all marble and gold. It’s sad if our younger generation starts believing that our forefathers knew so little; if we present a blinkered view in the name of our heritage. What about art, architecture, forts, havelis, temples, Gurdwaras, battlegrounds and the human stories?” rues Amardeep Singh, Singapore based self-taught writer, photographer and now a documentary maker who produced two coffee table books, Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, followed by The Quest Continues: Lost Heritage: The Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, based on his photographic documentation of Sikh legacy in over 90 towns and cities across five states of Pakistan.

Under the shadows of guns, Amardeep is shooting for a documentary in Afghanistan, tracing the legacy of love and brotherhood of Guru Nanak’s footprints across nine countries. In doing so he is challenged with unscripted events on a daily basis. The first one being to visit the actual sites themselves where the founder of the Sikh religion addressed congregations of diverse faiths between 1500 AD to 1524 AD. Amardeep has to chart out his own course by making human bonds which alone could pave his way ahead. A vast geographical area where Nanak preached his messages is now a conflict zone.

Holding an AK 47, Khalida appeared to be an ‘iron lady’, who opened her home to offer hospitality and shared fond memories of growing up with Nanakpanthis of Khost ( Afghanistan).

He attempts to document the impact of Nanak’s words five centuries later; to record the remnants of syncretic culture lost to the melee of the Partition and other geopolitical developments. His work is neither political nor academic. He narrates tales of people and places that survived the storms of hatred and destruction to still blossom with love and brotherhood.

Post-Partition, Guru Nanak’s words have been boxed within the Sikh identity; whereas Khalsa was just one arm of Nanak’s broad humanism. His legacy was larger than any religion across countries he travelled — present-day Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. For each geographical unit, Amardeep encounters hurdles on every step, be it visas, permissions or the risks involved in entering conflict zones. In these countries, he is tracing the legacy of a borderless land Nanak traversed in five major journeys he undertook to cover roughly 28,000 km, mostly on foot. His companion was Bhai Mardana, a rebab player of Muslim faith, from his hometown. “In his times, he would have travelled in and out of India-Pakistan border more than 15 times, to Afghanistan, three times, Tibet, twice, and so on, but then he didn’t have to cross borders and present visas. He travelled to Mecca, Medina, Baghdad, Jaffna, Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, Tibet, the traces are still there — at Hinglaj temple, Balochistan, Pakistan, Imam Raza Shrine, Mashhad, Iran, or Sita Eliya, Sri Lanka.”

India’s independence was gained at the cost of the culture of the Indus belt, where the religious identities were blurred among Nanakpanthis — Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, Sikhs and the Sufis. Among the Sindhis, Balochis and Hindus, Nanak was deeply entrenched along the Indus belt. Today that culture is wiped out of the memory, communities are fragmented, and are boxed into religious compartments as about 80 percent of the land where this culture evolved is now in Pakistan. When people of this land were forced to migrate and were settled in the Gangetic plains, their syncretic nature was lost. As such, the Partition of 1947 raised religious identities to a new pitch, undermining other legacies, observes Amardeep.

As the world prepares to celebrate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev in November 2019, Amardeep travels to 150 inter-faith sites, visited by Nanak. “That he preached monism, not monotheism; to him, religious faith was secondary to humanity. This has been forgotten even by his followers,” he says. Although his documentary will be ready for release only by November 2020.

Amardeep Singh with Dr Raghunath, the only Nanakpanthi in Kandahar.

Nanak’s verses are about spirituality, the history of his travels was documented 50 years after his death by Bhai Gurdas, based on oral traditions. The core repository of these travelogues is Janamsakhis and Udasis. “It’s a maze which doesn’t have consistency, because they were written by men of faith,” observes Amardeep, who has to stitch together diverse tales, to join the dots and lend his narrative an element of objectivity. “Though historians have written extensively about these travels, some scope for oral tradition has to be allowed for the sake of narrative.”

The narrative of Nanak’s travels is huge and the canvas vast. Mapping the routes alone took months; shooting across nine countries will take about a year’s time. The film is titled Allegory — A Tapestry of Guru Nanak’s Travels, and will attempt to unravel the hidden meaning behind the journeys Nanak undertook and spent two decades of his life in spreading the message of universal brotherhood. “I want the younger generation to have access to the true identity of Guru Nanak, not boxed within religion, but of his greater philosophy and spiritualism, that is still evident in places he visited. There are still traces of the values he preached; lived and experienced by Nanakpanthis, spread across regions.”

Pockets in Balochistan, Sindh, NWF, across the Indus belt — Nanakpanthis have multiple identities. They are Nirmala, Udasi, Sehajdhari, who are not turbaned. Then there are Pashto Sikhs who wear a turban, but are very different from the Sikhs of North Punjab. There are Jogis too, who are followers of Nanak. Why multiple identities of Sikhs disappeared from the Gangetic plains? Amardeep unravels the underlying unifying thread of Nanakpanthis, not boxed by religion, by going back to the sites of Nanak’s travels. About 50 percent of the sites are inaccessible due to multiple reasons; mainly armed conflict. Which makes travelling back in time and space all the more relevant — to understand why in more than 500 years since Nanak, humanity could not let go of the essence of his words.

There are instances that rekindle hope in the middle of conflict zones. For instance, Amardeep comes across Dr Raghunath, a Nanakpanthi Hindu, who hasn’t left Kabul against all odds to serve the natives of the land. He helps the film crew in locating the abandoned sites across Kandahar region Nanakpanthis had made in the memory of Guru Nanak’s travels. Everything is not lost.

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

InderjeetSinghBook

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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Afghan Sikh Tragedy

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