‘Send us anywhere’
Send us to France, send us to Germany, send us anywhere – but we can’t stay where we are not respected anymore.
– Ranjit Singh, Afghan Sikh
Fabrizio Foschini of the Afghanistan Analysts Network said that without political power, Hindus and Sikhs have found themselves “in a competition for space and jobs at a time when new arrivals [from the provinces] to Kabul bring with them religious intolerance”.
Sikhs say the difficulty they face in holding funerals exemplifies their deteriorating position in Afghan society. Now, Awtar said, “We have to let police know every time we hold a funeral.” For decades, most Sikh cremations – a practice forbidden by Islam – were held in Qalacha in eastern Kabul. But residents began to complain of the smell.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, the government said Karzai “instructed the relevant authorities including the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Religious affairs and Kabul mayor present in the meeting to carry out an assessment of the problems the Hindu and Sikh community are currently facing”. But many religious minorities in Afghanistan are already disenchanted with their homeland, and say they will leave the country if their conditions don’t improve.
Though neighbouring India and Pakistan – which both have considerably larger Sikh and Hindu populations – may seem like a natural choice for relocation, Ranjit Singh, who left Jalalabad for Kabul three years ago, said they would still face economic hardship there, too. “Send us to France, send us to Germany, send us anywhere – but we can’t stay where we are not respected anymore,” he said.
Mansour, a Muslim man who works at the Kabul gurdwara, said he would be sad to see Afghan Hindus and Sikhs leave the country. Unable to understand the hate lodged against his fellow Afghans, Mansour described them as “good, nice people. If we can work with the Americans, why can’t we work with and accept the Sikhs and Hindus?”
In 1992, more than 15,000 Hindu families fled to neighbouring India, leaving only about 3,000 Hindu and Sikh families in Kabul. Today, just more than 300 Sikh families remain in the capital.
“There is no respect. People will say ‘they are kafirs [unbelievers], we won’t buy from them’,” said 25-year-old Avinder Singh. To make matters worse, a series of land grabs in Kabul’s Taimani and Kartei Parwan neighbourhoods, where Sikhs have historically lived, have limited their economic prospects. “We have nowhere to go, especially if we aren’t making money,” Singh told Al Jazeera.
Singh, who hails from Afghanistan’s eastern province of Nangarhar, was one of many youth at a gurdwara – a Sikh temple – in Kabul who complained of physical and verbal harassment when out on the streets.
Kabul was once home to eight gurdwaras, but only one remains today. One young man named Awtar told of a Sikh man in his twenties who was recently taken to the hospital after being taunted and beaten by a group in Kartei Parwan. Another had his iPhone stolen. “We had few problems during the Taliban. At least then we knew where to go,” Awtar said.
This Story was published in AlJazeera for Full Report See Link
Sikhism in Afghanistan
Sikhism in Afghanistan is limited to small populations, primarily in major cities, with the largest numbers of Afghan Sikhs living in Jalalabad, Kabul, and Kandahar. These Sikhs are Afghan nationals, and generally speak Hindko, the language of Afghanistan’s majority Pashto community, though some speak Dari (the lingua franca) or their traditional Hindi and Punjabi.
Estimates of the Afghan Sikh population prior to the 1979 Soviet invasion have been given as 200,000, and 50,000 prior to the 1992 Afghan Civil War. Estimates of the current number of Sikhs range from 170 to 3,000 families.
Around 300 Sikhs visit Gurdwara Karte Parwan, a primary place of worship in the area, located in the Karte Parwan section of Kabul.
As of 2001, Jalalabad had 100 Sikh families, totalling around 700 people, who worship at two large Gurdwaras. Legend states that the older of the Gurudwaras was built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
Some early Khatri Sikhs established and maintained colonies in Afghanistan for trading purposes. Later, conflicts between the Sikh misls and empire against the Afghan based Durrani Empire led to tension. Sikhs also served in the British Empire’s military during several operations in Afghanistan in the 19th century.
Mujahideen and Taliban eras
During the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, many Afghan Sikhs fled to India and Pakistan, where the Sikh community is well-established; a second wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime. Sikh gurdwaras (temples) throughout the country were destroyed in the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.
Under the Taliban, the Sikhs were a relatively tolerated religious minority, and allowed to practice their religion. However, the Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalised. In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.
Sikh families have immigrated to other countries including India, Pakistan, and England.
Kabul_Gurdwara_Karte_Parwan (133K)Sikhs in Afghanistan continue to face problems, with the issue of the Sikh custom of cremation figuring prominently. City development also threatens to destroy the Gurudwara Karte Parwan and adjoining shrine to Guru Nanak.
By tradition, Sikhs cremate their dead, an act considered sacrilege in Islam. Cremation has become a major issue among Sikh Afghans, as traditional cremation grounds have been appropriated by Muslims, particularly in the Qalacha area of Kabul, which Sikhs and Hindus had used for over a century. In 2003 Sikhs complained to the Afghan government regarding the loss of cremation grounds, which had forced them to send a woman’s body to Pakistan to be cremated, following which the Minister of Religious affairs investigated the issue. Though the grounds were reported as returned to Sikh control in 2006, though in 2007 local Muslims allegedly beat Sikhs attempting to cremate a community leader, and the funeral proceeded only with police protection. As of 2010, cremation in Kabul is still reported as being disapproved of by locals.