A first group of 11 members of the Afghan Sikh community left for India on Sunday, along with Nidan Singh Sachdeva, the 55-year-old Sikh man who had been released from captivity in Paktia’s Chamakani district on July 18.
The Indian Embassy in Kabul confirmed that the minority community members had departed with the eighth group of Indian nationals who had been trapped in Afghanistan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group also included members who had survived or had lost family members in the attack on Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in the Shor Bazar area of Kabul earlier this year.
The embassy and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said it had facilitated the travel of some members of the Hindu and Sikh community who were “seeking permanent residency and citizenship in India.”
Meanwhile, Narender Singh Khalsa, a Sikh and Hindu parliamentarian in the House of Representatives, told a national daily that the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus had gone to India for “treatment and survival” on long-term visas, and had not gone to get citizenship.
“These people will return again after security is restored in Afghanistan and will not leave Afghan citizenship,” Khalsa said.
Sikhs and Hindus are among the ethnic and religious minorities who have been the target of terrorist attacks during the Afghan war, as well as in the past two decades. They live in poor conditions and lack livelihoods and financial security.
Thus, in recent years, large groups have migrated and left Afghanistan, taking refuge in countries such as India, Canada and the United Kingdom. These minorities are in danger of extinction within Afghan society.
Reactions to Sikh migration from Afghanistan
Ghazni representative Arif Rahmani, wrote a Facebook post, titled “My dear homeland, I am sorry!” in response to the migration of Afghan Sikh citizens to India.
He wrote in part; “However, you are happy that you got out of a thousand wounds, sufferings and pain, but millions of people in your other country are still trapped in this community. Patriots who, of course, want to take their lives like you and escape from this land of war, bullying, wounds, suffering, terror and suicide!
But my dear patriot, God, with all this misery, hardship and sloppiness, we are all ashamed that we could not protect you.
It was your right to live this land with honour, pride, comfort and peace. It was your right to be active in the managerial, cultural, scientific and economic structures of this land and water. And it was your right that the world proudly recognized you as an Afghan.
But you see, we cannot protect ourselves. We are slaughtered every day, in the name of religion and God in stadiums, maternity hospitals, schools, mosques, streets and deserts.”
Muhammad Ikram Andishmand, a thinker, writer and researcher, also wrote about the Sikhs on Facebook.
“These were one of the most honest people of the Afghan society and country. Hardworking, calm, harmless and kind.”
He recalled a memory of when he had visited a shop run by a Silk compatriot in Kabul.
“99% of these [Sikhs] most honest, hard-working, harmless and kind citizens of Afghanistan have left the country in the last 30 years because of the oppression and cruelty they have suffered. Members of Afghanistan’s Hindu and Sikh communities have been killed many times over the years. Their property was confiscated, their homes were looted, and their lives were increasingly threatened.”
Sikhs and Hindus are two different ethnicities and religions. There are no more than 10 Hindus in Afghanistan, but all of them have emigrated. The Sikhs have also migrated en masse in recent years for a variety of reasons.
These harmless and honest citizens of Afghanistan have been one of the ethnic and religious groups, in recent years, who have seen the most unkindness from their Muslim compatriots. Many Afghans believe that discrimination and prejudice against these communities is bone-chilling and hateful.
They are stuck with the dilemma of staying or leaving Afghanistan.
On one hand, they are very attached to this country and love their homeland as much as their lives, and on the other hand, they have no hope of living in this country. As time goes by, this group became has more vulnerable.
In the last case, on March 25, suicide bombers and assailants armed with guns attacked their place of worship in Kabul, killing 25 people and wounding eight more.
A memory of the course of research work with the Sikhs of Afghanistan
In 2018, the Porsesh Research & Studies Organisation (PRSO) conducted a study, “Survey of the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs.”
According to the survey, 60.7% of Sikh respondents from different provinces said that they would like to emigrate and leave Afghanistan if the conditions were right. The Sikhs’ optimism about the future of Afghanistan was very low compared to other Afghan citizens as 82.6% of the group’s members said the country was going in the wrong direction.
The PRSO survey found that almost all Sikhs and Hindus, an overwhelming 96.8% said they always or more often, feared for their safety and that of their families.
If we compare this statistic with other Afghan citizens, a survey conducted by the Asia Foundation in 2018, 71.1% of respondents felt fear for their personal safety and security of their families.
I worked for the PRSO survey of Hindus and Sikhs, as an interviewer where I got to hear many untold stories from the communities.
During an interview, I asked a young Sikh if he had ever been insulted or humiliated because he was a Sikh in Afghanistan? If so, I asked him to tell me one of his bittersweet memories of being a Sikh who differs from the other ethnic groups, based on appearance and religious beliefs.
He was silent for a moment, and then he narrated a memory:
One hot summer day in the Karte Char area [Kabul city], I was walking along the public road and was busy with my phone when a fist hit my arm. I stood up and saw four young boys around me. I asked what happened?
One [of the boys] immediately slapped me in the face and said, “Impure Hindu, why are you coming here?” You do not know that you are an infidel and impure, and you defile this road and this region.
I wanted to say that I am not a Hindu, I am a Sikh.”
One of the boys punched him in the head and another one slapped him. The young Sikh ran away when he saw there was no reasoning with the boys. However, what unfolded next was equally traumatizing.
“A taxi stopped nearby, I opened the gate and sat inside, telling the driver to move. The driver looked and cursed at “the impure Hindu” to get out of his car and not to defile the car. I got out of the car and ran till I saw that no one was following me. I stood up and took a few breaths,” he recounted.
“I would get sick and at night when I thought of that scene in private, I cried and cried, till I fell asleep,”
“It was the most difficult moment,” the young man told during the interview. “There were a lot of people there and everyone was watching the scene, and no one came to ask the four of them why I was beaten.”
“Although I love this homeland and I want peace to come and this homeland to prosper, but with all these prejudices and insults of minorities, sometimes there is no hope that the situation of our people will improve. Now the houses, shops and lands of our people in different provinces have been usurped by the powerful and we have nothing left. Life has become so difficult for us that when we walk along the road, they slap us in the face and tell us to leave this country because we are impure, and we defile the road.”
He added, “It is hard to imagine for those of you who have not experienced such a situation, but we [Sikhs] face the same situation in Afghanistan every day.”
He emphasized: “No one in this country understands our situation and they cannot understand our situation.”
Survey of the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, Authors: Ehsan Shayagan, Mahdi Frough and Sayed Masood Sadat – Porsesh Research & Studies Organisation (PRSO), Foundation Open Society Institute (FOSI), Switzerland, and Open Society Afghanistan (OSA), 2019
A Survey of the Afghan People: Afghanistan in 2018, The Asia Foundation, 2018
Contributed by Zackaria Noori; Edited by Anugya Chitransh