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Life is hellish for Afghan Sikhs.

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Life is hellish for Afghan Sikhs.

News Source: http://www.tribuneindia.com

Kabul, September 27 - Persecuted by an increasingly hostile local community, a few thousand hapless Sikhs left behind in Afghanistan, have now been forced to cremate their dead in the compounds of gurdwaras in this strife-torn city.

The attempt to cremate a body last week in Kabul led to major tension between the Sikhs and the local community following which the last rites were performed under heavy security cover. The predominantly Muslim local community has become increasingly hostile to the ritual of cremation considering it as blasphemous.

The two Sikh MPs in the Afghanistan Parliament, Avtar Singh and Ravinder Singh, raised the issue with President Hamid Karzai. It remains to be seen whether the Karzai regime can give them some solace and reduce their misery.

Barely 4000, the Afghani Sikhs are at the crossroads of history. The locals label them as "kaafir" while in India, they are dubbed as "Kabuli". This means they have been virtually disowned by both the countries as they live a life of hell in Afghanistan.

"Mr Karzai is extremely fond of Sikhs and Hindus and is very sensitive towards their problems but he cannot do much to stop the local animosity. The only option which, again, is not easy for us is to migrate to India," says a tearful Amrik Singh, a quack selling herbal medicines, who has never been to India.

The Sikhs were a strong and thriving community of about one lakh prior to the turmoil following 9/11. They now live under constant fear.

Though the Sikhs consider Afghanistan as their 'watan', they no longer wish to stay here. With most of the affluent Sikhs and Hindus having migrated to India a few years back, the ones still here do not have the resources to migrate to India as they have no relatives or ties back home. In fact, none of them has ever travelled to India, leave aside Punjab.

"Each day is a living hell as we are humiliated. Our children are mocked at for wearing turbans," says 60 year-old Raj Singh from Rozgan area. He says his family has already moved to Tilak Nagar in Delhi and the minute he is able to sell his property for a decent price, he will leave Afghanistan forever.

The Sikhs and Hindus are still present in sizeable numbers in the Kabul, Jalalabad, Gazni, Kandahar, Khost and Kundaz provinces of Afghanistan. In Kabul, they live mostly in Karta-e-Parwan, where they have a gurudwara.

"My children went to Delhi to attend a relative’s wedding but are simply not willing to come back. They say they will beg in India but will not return to Kabul," says Amrik Singh.

The Sikhs say they teach their children only Gurmukhi at home. Since they are hated and scoffed at in school, most of them have left regular schools. "We sound exactly like Afghanis and can barely understand Hindi or Punjabi. We wear turbans and go to gurdwara daily to attend kirtan and langars," says 35 year-old Mohar Singh.

Most of the Sikhs are petty shopkeepers and do not have resources to move to India to start life afresh in another country.

A majority of the Sikhs agree that the older Afghanis had love and affection for them and there was complete harmony. It is only recently that there is growing intolerance and fanaticism.

"I am pained at the plight of the Sikhs and Hindus and the deplorable condition they are living in. I have not been able to sleep since a six-month old girl was cremated in the compound of the gurdwara where I am staying," says Dr Indira, a gynaecologist working in a reputed corporate hospital of Delhi. She came here for two days to trace her roots but has stayed back to comfort the pained community.

India 's Ambassador in Kabul, Rakesh Sood, says there is no question of going back to India as these Sikhs and Hindus have always been in Afghanistan. "India cannot extend them financial help or assist in migration simply because they share a common faith with us," he remarks. He says there has been some problem over cremations but that can be resolved by giving them an alternative site.

It is the growing intolerance and economic consideration, which are probably making the locals so resentful of the Sikh and Hindu presence in Afghanistan. "One country says you are from the other nation and vice versa leaving us in the lurchâ€, says Raj Singh.

- By Pratibha Chauhan

Tribune News Service

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Guest Javanmard

1.Iran is not Afghanistan.So your comment doesn't make sense.

2. Afghan Sikhs are Afghans and Panjabis in the UK HATE THEM!

Your comment is again just one of your typical hateful remarks against me because I blocked you on msn. Get a life.

I am just saying that Afghan Sikhs collaborated with the Taliban: fact!

Didn't Panjabi Sikhs collaborate with the British? yes, fact!

I am not inventing things but I surely praise those Sikhs who resist against any oppressor!

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dekh ke cal-ub vich baitee kuree kalee,

han de munday ne akkay ko see demali

kendha kuri nu balaon nu jee kardha....kendha bhangra paun nu...

eh eh ahai, eh eh hai, eh eh ehai ehai ehai

aj bhangra paun nu jee karda aj kurri nu balaon nu jee kardhaa!

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Rather than rely on an obscure interview with one or two Sikhs, try asking the thousands of Afghans who live in the UK why they decided to leave Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

Sure, when the Taliban came into being, they were not just heroes for many in Afghanistan but also heroes to the west (who created, trained and supported them) and most of the Muslim world too.

Anyone who brings order into chaos and fight foreign invasion is welcomed by the local populace (be it that they didn't get on with Shia).

But we all know the Talibans reputation didn't remain sweet scented after the Russians left. The real part why many Afghan Sikhs left (which happened before and after the Taliban arrival) has not been discused.

The Taliban oppressed all minorities, it's that simple - minorities inc the Sikhs and Shia.

As we all know the Afghan Sikhs survive through their commercial prowess, so whilst the Shia who make up over 20% of the populace, had tribal lands and were armed - were able to fight the Taliban, the tiny minority of trading Sikhs living under a big brother style watch were unable to do much - their loss of warrior tradition also didn't help.

As for all UK Punjabis hating Kabuli Sikhs, codswallop!

My local Gurdwara in South West London has a large Afghan sangat in attendance and they make up probably 1/3 of the local sikh population, there is nothing but mutual respect for each other, even though some can't speak Punjabi - but amazingly can sing perfect Gurbani kirtan and do perfect paath.

Even in Southall, I have never heard derogotary comments about Kabuli Sikh, I see them attending all the local Gurdwarai there.

Sure there is prejudice against Pakistani and Somalis by many Punjabis (not all) , but I have personally never ever heard of a bad word said against Kabuli Sikh.

As for the Sikhs colloborating with the Taliban, how was that exactly, aside from the large majority leaving under Taliban rule, the few that remained learnt to survive, be it through fear or cleverness.

In any case, the use of the world colloborated is wrong, wihlst they may have co-operated, they certainly did not have a partnership with a common objective.

As for the Sikhs and British, I hardly call the 1st and 2nd Anglo-Sikh wars colloboration. And employment in the British army afterward was purely for survival and economic means by working in the only many knew.

Sure, there were Sikh traitors, but that hardly justified labeling a whole people.

Sikhs quitting Afghanistan

By Rajeshree Sisodia in Kabul

After living in Afghanistan for more than two centuries, economic hardship is pushing many in the country's dwindling Sikh community to emigrate to India, their spiritual homeland.

Gurdyal Singh: Taliban did not bother us (by Rajeshree Sisodia)

Gurdyal Singh appears no different from any other Afghan man, complete with his black-as-coal beard and an immaculately tied scarlet turban.

But the 40-year-old father-of-four chuckles as he clears up the mistaken belief that he is a Muslim.

"I am Sikh but I think of myself as being Afghan," he says as he tends to a Sikh temple in the Karta Pawan district of the capital.

The Guru Nanak Durbar Gurdwara, tucked away in a quiet corner of central Kabul for the last 25 years, is one of around 43 Sikh and Hindu temples in Afghanistan.

"We speak [the north Indian language] Punjabi at home but we can speak [the Afghan languages of] Dari and Pashtun."

A caretaker at the gurdwara, or temple, Gurdyal is one of a handful of Sikhs who has remained after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Afghanistan, he says, is the country of his birth and the home where his family has lived for generations.

Historic ties

Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan for centuries, with the majority originally migrating westwards to the central Asian country from India and what is now Pakistan.

About 80% of Afghans are Sunni Muslim, 19% are Shia and 1% are listed as "other"

Source: US State Department

A small minority of Sikhs were Afghan Muslims who converted, according to historians in Kabul.

Nilab Rahimi, chief of Kabul library, explains that Afghanistan's near-porous border with India until the advent of the British Raj helped the free flow of people and culture between the two nations.

"Before, we had lots of Sikhs and Buddhists. We had very open contact with India, for centuries. Some [Afghans] converted to Sikhism," he told Aljazeera.net.

Exodus of minorities

But since 1979, when the Soviets invaded the country to support a government allied with Moscow, Sikhs have been leaving in large numbers.

The exodus increased in 1992, when the Soviet-backed government collapsed, and again in 1996, when the repressive Taliban theocracy ruled the country.

"Before the Taliban there were around 500,000 Sikhs in Afghanistan ... now there are few," said Rahimi.

Minority religions in Afghanistan suffered under Taliban rule, as the destruction of the 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha in Bamiyan province five years ago showed.

With Muslims accounting for 99% of the Afghanistan's 30 million people, the country's new sharia-based constitution recognises Islam as a sacred religion.

But Afghan law, drafted after the fall of the Taliban, also guarantees freedom of religion to the nation's small Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and Christian communities.

Despite the recent imprisonment of Abdur Rahman, an Afghan who converted from Islam to Christianity, many religious minorities now experience little or no religious persecution in the country.

The Taliban

It was a different story under the Taliban, when men in Sikh and Hindu communities were forced to wear yellow turbans and yellow salwar kameez [long tunic-like shirt and baggy trousers] while women were made to wear burqas.

Sikh women who did not adhere to this stringent dress code were as susceptible to street beatings by Taliban police as other Afghan women.

The Taliban destroyed Buddha

statues in Bamiyan valley in 2001

But the Taliban, perhaps surprisingly, did not close down the Guru Nanak Durbar Gurdwara. Sikh Afghan leaders are at a loss to explain why.

"The Taliban never bothered us. We were always okay. The Taliban did not close the gurdwara, they let us be," Gurdyal explains as two Muslim women clad in blue burqas enter the gurdwara grounds, removing their shoes at the gate, to seek blessings to heal their sick children.

Gurdyal carefully guides one young mother carrying a small boy in her arms.

"It is better now than it was before [under the Taliban]," Gurdyal says, explaining that Sikhs are relieved they no longer have to abide by repressive codes.

However, while Gurdyal and the rest of Afghanistan's Sikh community have endured civil war and repressive governments over the years, a new force threatens to further reduce their already dwindling numbers - economic hardship.

Economic instability

Sikhs who left Afghanistan since the Taliban was deposed by a US invasion in 2001 cite economic instability and lawlessness - not the threat of communal violence - as reasons for their departure.

Official figures estimate that the country is beleaguered by up to 50% unemployment while around 80% of the population is illiterate.

Lawlessness has contributed to

the exodus of Sikhs

The British Department for International Development says as many as 40% of rural Afghans are malnourished.

Despite the Afghan government and UN agencies making tentative inroads in establishing schools and health clinics throughout the country's 34 provinces, 70% of Afghans continue to live on less than $2 a day.

Enormous aid packages promised by the international community have failed to materialise for ordinary Afghans, with many feeling little effect of the billions of dollars earmarked for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

According to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), 70% of Afghans rely on agriculture as a means of income, but the country is still reeling from particularly harsh drought seasons in the past four years leaving many impoverished.

Vanishing affluence

Afghanistan's persistent poverty levels, few economic prospects and increasing levels of violence by a resurgent Taliban have hit the Sikhs, as well as the Muslim majority, community hard.

Sikhs have always prided themselves as influential members of the commercial community in Afghanistan, particularly in the clothing and currency exchange business.

Many shops and general stores were owned by Sikhs before the upheaval of the 1990s. Since then many have fled to India and the West in search of better lives.

After the fall of the Taliban, some returned only to find their homes, shops and property destroyed by war.

With few economic prospects and a resurgent Taliban threat, many Sikhs chose to leave Afghanistan opting for India, their spiritual homeland and where they still have ties.

Minorities dwindling

Manjeet Kalra, 48, left Kabul five years ago with husband Swaran Singh, 52, daughter Sanya, 16, and son Daman, 15, hoping to escape rampant crime, slow economic growth and unemployment.

Sikhs have been influential in the

currency exchange business

But they were forced to return to Afghanistan recently after almost four-and-half-years in the West after both the British and Dutch governments denied their refugee applications.

"Afghanistan is no good. I don't want to be here. We don't have anything here in Afghanistan," she told Aljazeera.net.

"I don't think us Sikhs will have a good future here in Afghanistan. There are no schools; it's the same future Muslims have in Afghanistan," she added.

Sikh leaders say that no more than 2000 Sikhs currently live in Kabul, Ghazni in the east and Jalalabad near the Pakistan border.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 88% of India's 9700 Afghan refugees are Sikhs and Hindu.

Some Afghan Sikhs who left Afghanistan in the late 1990s have decided to remain permanently in India and become naturalised citizens. Twelve Sikh and Hindu families were granted citizenship this year.

According to UNHCR, dozens of Sikh refugees apply for Indian citizenship every month, with the peak reaching 57 applications in February 2006.

As the Muslim women leave the temple grounds, Gurdyal considers whether he would leave Afghanistan for a better life elsewhere.

"Afghanistan is poorer than India. I have never been to India, I would love to go there [but] we don't have money".

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  • 11 years later...
On 9/29/2007 at 11:11 PM, Guest Javanmard said:

I am just saying that Afghan Sikhs collaborated with the Taliban: fact!

I am not inventing things but I surely praise those Sikhs who resist against any oppressor!

One of the things I found quite surprising from my recent reading was that the "Butcher of Kabul" - Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was actually given sanctuary in Iran from the Taliban. The man who's actions killed thousands of kabulis inc Sikhs, in the mujihadin power struggle in 92-94, never mind the killing and assassinations of his rivals whilst the anti-Soviet enterprise was in effect, was given sanctuary by the Shia Islamic state of Iran.

Iran collaborated with a mass murderer of non-combatants.

I am not inventing things but I surely praise those Shias who resist against any oppressor!

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Coming back to the Afghan Sikhs, I had said some years ago, that the Afghan Sikhs need to help their brethren more, as they are more aware of the problem and the methods to solve it as they have experienced it themselves. All Sikhs should play a part but the afghan Sikhs in the UK, Canada etc need to be in the vanguard. Personally, I cannot see an end to the afghan conflict, as pakistan will not allow any non-compliant givt to function anymore than India will entertain handing over Kashmir to Pakistan.

One thing that could help Afghanistan is the dismemberment of the country. It was created artificially, and IMHO has run its short course.

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2 minutes ago, chatanga1 said:

Coming back to the Afghan Sikhs, I had said some years ago, that the Afghan Sikhs need to help their brethren more, as they are more aware of the problem and the methods to solve it as they have experienced it themselves. All Sikhs should play a part but the afghan Sikhs in the UK, Canada etc need to be in the vanguard. Personally, I cannot see an end to the afghan conflict, as pakistan will not allow any non-compliant givt to function anymore than India will entertain handing over Kashmir to Pakistan.

One thing that could help Afghanistan is the dismemberment of the country. It was created artificially, and IMHO has run its short course.

I think the country is essentially made up of regional clans who hold power in various areas. They will coordinate against outsiders when required, but also fight against each other too. A bit like misls. 

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