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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

A post shared by Pritpal Singh 🇦🇫 🇳🇱 🇬🇧 (@theafghandutchsikh) on

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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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Source: Hindustan Times

By Saaz Aggarwal, Hindustan Times

Can a Hindu or a Sikh be a real Afghan? Or could it be possible that people left their homes in India to settle in a country where they would always lead challenging lives because of their religion?

This book is a systematic and earnest compiling of a wide range of information about the origin of this once strong and mainstream, but over the last few decades blighted, community. It is clearly structured and written in simple language. An earnest and poignant plea for recognition, it aims to prove once and for all that Afghan Hindus and Sikhs are an indigenous people and not recent settlers. 

A superficial and prejudiced understanding denies native origin to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus by claiming that they were brought to Afghanistan as slaves by Mahmud Ghaznavi in the 11th century, or later when they fled Babur’s territory in the 13th century – or even to the influx of Sikh and Hindu traders in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Inderjeet Singh disputes this with a large number of written records, starting from the rule of Kabul by the Hindu Shahi kings which ended in the 10th century, all the way to the present. From his citing of these, the reader learns that Hindus worked in responsible positions under the Ghaznavi rulers in the 11th and 12th centuries, serving as physicians, important court officials, and even army generals. He exposes a trite understanding of history by underlining that Genghis Khan’s 75-year rule was the rule of an infidel: his name was Khan but he was not a Muslim. In fact, his was a period that introduced unfamiliar religious traditions along with non-Sharia taxation, non-Muslim personnel in high office and a liberal approach to all religious practice which reduced the status of Islam in the area. The book also has descriptions of Hindus during Timur’s 35-year rule. Then, in the 16th century, the Sikh religion emerged and spread as Guru Nanak travelled and preached, and the community developed in the area. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the migrations continued, supplementing the indigenous population. Lifestyles are seen through the eyes of the many travellers across this region. Inderjeet Singh also documents the gurudwaras of Afghanistan, providing important historical information and their present depleted condition. Some have proof of antiquity with dates on handwritten copies of the Guru Granth Sahib.

hrough the 19th and 20th centuries, as the beautiful landlocked country developed into a battlefield of international intrigue, the Hindu-Sikh community became a victim of internal as well as external attacks – denied of the freedom to eat, drink and perform their religious rituals; facing violent processions when they tried to cremate their dead; their real estate in peril; their children mocked in school and told to go ‘home’.

This book is largely a clean read with little slips that a sharper proofreading eye could have caught. To extend the whines, I could also point out that it did not give me a sense of the difference between Afghan Hindus and Afghan Sikhs. I asked Inderjeet, and he said that in a way Afghan Hindus are similar to Sindhi Hindus. (Most Sindhi Hindus observe the tenets of Sikhism, their prayers are largely from the Guru Granth Sahib and their ceremonies at the gurudwara. However, mainstream Sikhs generally disapprove of their easy affinity with Hindu ways; neither do they classify themselves as Sikh.) Inderjeet specified that Hindu places of worship in Afghanistan do not keep Guru Granth Sahib; that Hindu and Sikh attend each other functions; that their numbers are approximately 2:3.

On 22 June 2019, when India played against Afghanistan in the World Cup Cricket match at Southampton, the stadium was packed with fans cheering loudly for India (and against Pakistan, not Afghanistan). There were Afghan fans too, and I was intrigued to see one box of Sikhs with flags of both countries. I messaged Inderjeet Singh asking if he was in the stadium. Silly question. He replied confirming that they must be Afghan Sikhs, of whom there were 10,000 in London. And 20,000 in Delhi – in contrast to just 8000 in Peshawar today, depleted to half over five years by kidnapping, extortion, and the murder of prominent Sikhs, which caused many to flee their homeland.

Saaz Aggarwal is the author of The Amils of Sindh; A Narrative History of a Remarkable Community

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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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Global Voices

If any one attack this year has spotlighted deepening insecurity in Afghanistan it was the July suicide bombing that killed 19 people and injured 10 as Sikh and Hindu representatives made their way to a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

For the ISIS group who claimed the targeted suicide bombing in Jalalabad city, the bombing was a coup. Not only was the group able to create a deadly explosion in an area that should have been cleared for President Ashraf Ghani’s arrival, they were able to kill a man who would have been the country’s first ever Sikh representative in parliament’s popularly elected lower house, Awtar Singh Khalsa. A prominent Sikh activist, Rawail Singh, was also killed.

In total the attack killed 17 Sikhs and Hindus. As such, many social media users described it as an attack on the diversity they cherish, and that ISIS is known to loathe.

The Afghan constitution stipulates that the President of Afghanistan should be a Muslim. But electoral legislation supports the political participation of Sikhs, who number over a thousand in Afghanistan, and Hindus, of which there are only a few dozen remaining.

According to amendments to the electoral law in 2016, one seat out of 249 seats in the lower house is secured for a representative of either the Hindu or Sikh communities. Women’s rights activist Anarkali Honaryar has held her seat in the upper house since 2010, following a presidential decree by ex-President Hamid Karzai, and has emerged powerful voice for minorities.

Awtar Singh Khalsa would have been the first representative from the two communities in the lower house had he not been killed in the attack. Now his son, Narinder Singh Khalsa will take his place following a request from the community, knowing that he has a target on his back.

Edged out of society

While more than 300 Hindu and Sikh families currently live in Afghanistan, the number of Sikhs and Hindus entering higher education institutions is zero.

Rawail Singh and his daughter Komal, Rawail Singh’s Facebook page.

Sikhs and Hindus overwhelmingly stop education during middle school, a trend driven by bullying (both from teachers and schoolmates) and economic pressures.

Research from the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2009 showed that Sikhs and Hindus are effectively barred from most governmental positions and face wide-ranging social discrimination.

Many have relocated to Kabul after being displaced during conflicts in the Kandahar and Helmand provinces. Most commonly, they run grocery stores.

Data from 2016 suggests that 99% of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu citizens have left the country in the last three decades.

Back in the 1980s, when they numbered over 220,000, they were able to find jobs in politics and play a more significant role in society. Sikh and Hindu community intellectuals argue that in a country ruined by war, many Afghans have forgotten this role their community used to play.

The July 2 attack was followed swiftly by a protest of Sikhs in New Delhi, where Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Dr. Shaida Abdali, also joined the protesters.

But in the aftermath of the violence many of Afghanistan’s remaining Sikhs see their future in Afghanistan’s bigger neighbour, with which they have greater cultural and religious ties. A total of 25 Sikh families reportedly applied for Indian citizenship immediately after the bombing.

Many Afghans feel a sadness witnessing their fellow citizens leave the country:

For those Sikhs and Hindus that remain, the patriotism and sense of community embodied by Rawail Singh and Awtar Singh Khalsa are the main motivations for staying in Afghanistan.

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