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Article by Anwesha Ghosh for The Diplomat – August 2016

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Source: BBC News

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Source: Khaama Press

The Central Council of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan along with members of civil society organization urged to allocate a seat for Sikh and Hindu minority in Afghan parliament.

A seat waas considered for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in Afghan election law which was passed by Afghan parliament house, and was signed by president Hamid Karzai.

However the Afghan house of representatives deleted the article mentioning which designated a seat for the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan in election law.

Deputy chief of Hindus and Sikhs Council Rayel Singh on Wednesday said that if our demands were not met, then we will have to ask the government to exile us from Afghanistan so that we should seek asylum through United Nations in other countries.

Mr. Singh further added that the Hindus and Sikhs minority in Afghanistan faced similar issues and difficulties during the past one decade as other minorities, but the government has not considered to respond to their issues.

He said that the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan had considerable contribution in business and economy of he country, however their shops, properties and houses have been taken by force, and even their rights of citizenship is being taken from them.

Mr. Rayel Singh said that they are being humiliated during their funeral ceremony and while they are cremating their dead bodies, and even they are being attacked during the cremation ceremonies.

He defended the rights of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan for seeking a seat in the lower house of the parliament which is in accordance with the intenational law and Afghan constitution, and insisted that allocating a seat for Hindus and Sikhs could help them overcome their social, economic and cultural issues.

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Source: Outlook India .com

Due to unrest in Afghanistan the population of Sikhs and Hindus have declined drastically, as about 3,000 people belonging to the two communities have been left in the war-torn country, a woman Sikh MP of the country’s lower house of parliament said here today.

“Before 1991, there were an estimated 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus. They migrated, leaving their successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities, to safer places in India, Europe and Canada,” said Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, who is also a leading campaigner for the rights of Afghan women.

30-year-old Honaryar said that there number has gone down since 1991 due to unrest in her country and only “3,000 Sikhs and Hindus” are left in the country.

She is here to attend first two-day South Asian Punjabi conference.

The Afghan MP said that women in the country are worst affected as they were married at a tender age.

“The women in Afghanistan are worst affected as their parents, majority of them from business community, marry them at the age of 13 to 14, and they are not even fully educated and grown up,” she said.

She also lamented about the lack of proper choices for young Sikhs and Hindus for marriage due to the tiny population.

“Educated Sikh girls and boys in Afghanistan have been facing difficulty to settle their matrimonial life in that country as suitable matches available for them are limited,” said Honaryar, who is also a dentist.

Honaryar is a well-known women rights activist and has been awarded UNESCO-Madanjeet Singh Prize for promotion of tolerance and non-violence.

She also thanked the Indian government for rebuilding their country.

Honaryar said that Afghanistan government has opened two Punjabi schools meant for Sikhs– one in the name of ‘Guru Baba Nanak’ in Kabul province and another in Jalalabad province in the name of 7th Guru Har Rai ji.

The MP also expressed hope that Sikhs and Hindus may get their own proper cremation ground in Kabul province.

She said that “some people still think we are foreigners.

They think we are Indians who are working and living there for a while. But we are Afghans too, and we should have all the rights and opportunities that other Afghans have”.

Meanwhile, former education minister in Jammu and Kashmir government said that the 400-year-old dilapidated Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Math in Kathmandu, Nepal will be restored to its original shape.

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Source: Gulf News

Outsiders may have trouble distinguishing between the turbans worn by Afghan Sikhs, with their tighter folds, varied colours and tucked-in edges, and those worn by Afghan Muslims, usually black or white with the end hanging down the wearer’s back.

The subtle differences, however, and what they represent, have fuelled widespread discrimination against Afghan Sikhs, members of the community say, prompting many to move away amid concern that the once-vibrant group could disappear.

“For anyone who understands the differences in turbans, we really stand out,” said Daya Singh Anjaan, 49, an Afghan Sikh who fled the capital, Kabul, for India after seeing his Sikh neighbours slain. “I’m sure the remaining Afghan Sikhs will vanish soon. Survival’s becoming impossible.”

There are no exact records on when Sikhs, a 500-year-old monotheistic people from western India and modern-day Pakistan, arrived in Afghanistan, although most accounts place it around 200 years ago. Mostly traders, they prospered and numbered about 50,000 by the early 1990s, concentrated in Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni.

But decades of war, instability and intolerance have fuelled waves of emigration, reducing the community to just 372 families nationwide, said Awtar Singh Khalsa, association president of the Karte Parwan gurdwara, or temple. This is the last of eight gurdwaras that once operated in Kabul, he said.

During the Afghan civil war of the mid-1990s, most of Kabul’s solidly constructed gurdwaras were appropriated by battling warlords who shelled one another, destroying seven of them along with a Sikh school that once taught 1,000 students. Under Taliban rule, Sikhs had to wear yellow patches, reminiscent of the Jews under Nazi rule, and fly yellow flags over their homes and shops.

Among the goals laid out by the United States and its allies after toppling the Taliban government in 2001 was religious tolerance for minorities, who account for about 1 per cent of Afghanistan’s population.

In practice, Sikhs say, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s weak and embattled government rarely counters prejudice by the majority population, which emboldens attackers. Hooligans rob, insult and spit at them on the street, they say, order them to remove their turbans and try to steal their land.

Particularly dispiriting, Afghan Sikhs say, are charges by the Muslim majority that they should “go home,” even though they have lived in Afghanistan for generations and are protected, at least theoretically, by freedom-of-religion safeguards in the Afghan Constitution.

Another disturbing example of the indignities they face is the treatment of their dead, many said. Cremation, a tenet of the Sikh faith, has been quietly practised in Kabul’s eastern district of Qalacha for more than a century.

In recent years, however, some Sikhs who have tried to carry out cremations have been beaten up, stoned and otherwise blocked from doing so, at times decried as statue-worshipping infidels whose ceremonies “smell”. Islam considers cremation a sacrilege.

Many Sikhs said they have complained repeatedly to the government to little avail. “In the last decade, the Kabul government has specified ten different places for Sikh burials and cremations, but villagers keep giving Sikhs problems,” said Anarkali Honaryar, a senator representing the community. “Even when President Karzai issued a decree, nothing changed.”

While in New Delhi in May, Karzai said that Sikhs are a valued part of Afghanistan and that he was sorry so many had left. “We’ll do our best to bring the Sikh community and Hindus back to Afghanistan,” he said.

Sikhs, Jews and other minorities enjoyed tolerance and relative prosperity until the late 1970s when decades of war, oppression and infighting set in. Although many Muslim families have also suffered hugely, Sikhs say they have faced worse pressures as a minority subject to forced religious conversions and frequent kidnapping, given their limited political protection and reputation for being prosperous.

Pritpal Singh, an Afghan-born Sikh living in England who has documented the plight of Afghan Sikhs, said his brother was kidnapped shortly before the family left in 1992.

“I really looked up to him; it was such a shock,” he said. “They asked for crazy money and we couldn’t pay, so they killed him.”

As conditions worsened, Sikhs turned increasingly inwards, building a high wall around the last gurdwara to prevent passers-by from stoning the building, and cremating their dead inside, normally unthinkable, to stem angry mobs.

Khalsa said he has met repeatedly with Karzai but nothing changes, and meetings with bureaucrats and politicians often end with demands for money.

“Corruption is unbelievable,” Khalsa said. “The Taliban were far better than this government.”

For those emigrating, India and Pakistan visas are much easier to secure than those to Europe, so some stop there first, then travel illegally to the West.

Although securing a short-term visitor visa to India is relatively easy, obtaining citizenship is a “nightmare” given India’s bureaucracy and general indifference, said Paramjit Singh Sarna, an Indian community leader in New Delhi assisting Afghan Sikhs. It does not help that Sikhism originated in India and that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.

Sarna said many Afghan Sikhs live in limbo in India. As “outsiders”, they are unable to buy land or work, their travel is restricted, their children born stateless.

Dhyan Singh, a 62-year-old Afghan Sikh who has lived in New Delhi since 1989, said he misses Afghanistan despite the problems.

“Just last night, I dreamt I visited the Kabul gurdwara,” Singh said. “It’s only fear that keeps me away.”

–Los Angeles Times

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