Source: The Indian Express

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We live in constant fear’

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

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

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

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

Source: The Peterborough Examiner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: The Wire

Having fled religious persecution in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the refugees who were promised permanent citizenship of India face bureaucratic harassment every year when they extend their visas.

Chandigarh: Torn between his identity and his livelihood, 48-year-old Sardar Singh, who had fled Afghanistan in 1992 in the wake of attacks on the local Sikh community, died as a refugee in Amritsar in 2015.

Similarly, 62-year-old Anant Kaur, another refugee from Afghan’s Nangarhar province who had settled in Amritsar in the late 1990s, died as a refugee in May 2020, still hoping for permanent citizenship of India especially after the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December 2019.

Under the CAA, non-Muslims from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan who had fled to India due to religious persecution and settled in the country before 2014 were promised citizenship. But though the Act was passed in December 2019, it is still inactive since the Central government has not yet framed and notified its rules.

On a visit to West Bengal last month, Union Minister for Home Affairs Amit Shah blamed the delay on the COVID-19 outbreak.

But Manjinder Singh Sirsa, president of the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee, who last September helped almost 200 Sikh families from Afghanistan to settle in Delhi, does not accept this justification.

“It is not a valid argument. If the Centre can push through agriculture bills during the pandemic, why can it not frame the rules of the CAA?” Sirsa told The Wire.

While the delay in implementing the CAA raises questions on the real intent of the Act, which seems to target Indian Muslims and triggered countrywide protests in December 2019 and the first months of 2020, the circumstances of Sikh and Hindu refugees in India remain unchanged.

‘A painful wait’

“It is painful to keep waiting for legal citizenship in a country we thought was our natural homeland when we fled here years ago,” said Anant Kaur’s husband, 64-year-old Amrit Singh.

His 29-year-old son, Manmeet Singh, who deals in the sale and purchase of old tyres with his two younger brothers, Ajit Singh and Gurcharn Singh, said that their income is about Rs 400 to Rs 500 a day. Sadly, almost half their earnings are spent on renewing their Indian visas every year.

“Sometimes we are asked to produce our Afghan identity documents. Sometimes it is other paperwork. We are sick of travelling to Delhi every so often,” Manmeet said. “We might have earned better if all three of us were well educated. But our family has been undergoing a continuous struggle ever since we left our home in Nangarhar and there has been little time to study.”

Going back to Afghanistan is out of the question, said Amrit. But remaining in India is difficult without permanent citizenship, because there are several restrictions on refugees.

“Many Afghan families who earlier lived here in Amritsar shifted to Delhi for a better future. We are somehow stuck here,” he said.

‘Free us from visa extensions’

Over the last two decades, about half a dozen families of Afghan Sikh refugees and about 30 Pakistani Hindu and Sikh families made Amritsar their new home. Most of them trade in vehicular spare parts and old tyres at Jahajghar market on Chamrang road.

But every year, these refugees must extend their visas if they want to remain in India. This can sometimes be a stressful process, as 33-year-old Surveer Singh, who runs Khalsa Tyre House in Amritsar, explained.

“Our Indian visa expired on December 30, 2020. Until now, our family had its annual visa extension based on the identity cards issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. But this year, our visa extension has been delayed because government officials in Delhi told us to get my passport extended first,” Surveer said.

He continued: “When we approached the Afghan Embassy to renew the passport, they told us to go back to Afghanistan to renew it. How can I go to Afghanistan? I don’t know anything about the country. I was barely two years old when I came here. I am Indian. I am an Afghanistan national only on government papers. If we can’t get permanent citizenship, at least free us from the pain of visa extensions every year. We have been getting visa extensions for the last three decades and running from pillar to post every year for extensions is sheer harassment.”

Like many other non-Muslim refugees, Surveer had rejoiced when the CAA was passed in December 2019. “But our happiness was short lived. The situation is the same even after the Act. If we were in Canada or another country, we would have got our citizenship papers a long time ago,” he said. “We took refuge in India, considering it our own country. Our only grudge is that we are still waiting for citizenship. The longer we stay here, the harder the rules get for us.”

The visa extension process is long and bureaucratically arduous, said Shiv Arora, whose Hindu family moved to Amritsar from Pakistan in 2005. There is a lot of paperwork and so many inquiries that it sometimes takes a month to secure an extension. Since each member of Arora’s family of five must renew her or his visa at a different time of the year, the Aroras spend almost every second month tied up in the extension process.

“We have been staying in India under the long term visa extension. Till five years ago, our visa was extended for two years at a time. But it was reduced to one year thereafter. I have heard that some refugees in Delhi get their visas extended for five years at a time, but we were not lucky enough to get them,” Arora said.

Refugees who live in India on visas are also restricted by several visa rules. “To travel outside Amritsar, even if it is for two minutes, I have to get permission from the security branch first and then report to a police station when I reach my destination,” said Arora. “When I return to Amritsar, I have to report to the security branch again. As a result, I rarely leave Amritsar. We have several relatives living in Punjab, but can’t visit them. And business travel is not possible. I have to leave that to my partner or a staff member.”

Arora still believes that his family’s citizenship in India will come through some day. “Till then, there is no denying the fact that we can’t live the lives of normal Indians,” he said.

‘Tired of living as refugees’

Saran Singh has lived in Amritsar since 1999, driven out of Pakistan’s Peshawar area by religious persecution. The 51-year-old has applied for permanent citizenship of India as many as 10 times in 22 years. “But we are still forced to live here on visa extensions, the rules of which keep changing,” he said.

For example, according to Saran, an earlier rule had stated that refugees who had been in India since before 2009 did not need passports to extend their visas. But now, passports are necessary.

“I did not renew my passport when it expired in 2015. Should I now go to Pakistan to renew it after I left the country? This means a huge expenditure and I will also have to close my shop for more than a month,” Saran said. “Under the old rules, we were eligible for citizenship after seven years. But I have been in India for 22 years without receiving my citizenship. My family is tired of living in India as refugees.”

Under the CAA, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians who arrived from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014, will be granted permanent citizenship.

In September 2020, close to 200 Sikh families left Afghanistan for India after a terror attack at a gurdwara in Kabul’s Shor Bazaar in March, in which at least 25 members of the community died.

For their first few months in Delhi, according to Manjinder Singh Sirsa, the refugees stayed in various gurdwaras. Now they have been settled in rented accommodation in and around Delhi with the help of a few NGOs who give them financial assistance so they can manage their expenses at least for one year.

But having arrived after the CAA’s cut-off date of December 31, 2014, these 200 families are likely to suffer a long and difficult road to permanent citizenship of India.

“We are happy that they are safe and allowed to stay in India on a long term visa and we will definitely fight for their permanent citizenship,” said Sirsa. “Abhi tak toh CAA ka bhi benefit nahi dik raha hai logon ko (There is no benefit from the CAA as of now). Let’s see how we can ease their lives here.”

According to media reports, there are fewer than 100 Hindu and Sikh families in Afghanistan, the remnants of a once large community of nearly 250,000 people.

Vivek Gupta is a Chandigarh-based reporter who has worked for several news outlets including The Hindustan TimesThe Indian Express and The Tribune.

Source: Al-Jazeera

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

By Srishti Jaswal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Face discrimination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hindu refugees return to Pakistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protests against CAA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Durga and Shiva Carvings

Source: The Hindu

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

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

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

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

Sale of property

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

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

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