Thursday, July 18, 2024

S. Jaishankar a Beacon of Hope for Afghan Sikhs

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Afghan Sikh and Hindu leaders met S. Jaishankar Ji, External Affairs Minister(EAM) on 8th of June 2023. The group sought desperate help from Minister Jaishankar on issues of citizenship, visas, and upkeep of religious sites in Afghanistan. The EAM expressed his solidarity with the group. He states that the group has in hand all the required documents to process their requests legally. 

Jaishankar to meet Afghan Sikh refugees, students from Ukraine - The Daily Guardian
PC The Daily Guardian

Sikhism in Afghanistan

The Sikh Empire a sanctuary for the Jewish people
PC Asia Samachar

In the 1500s Guru Nanak Dev Ji himself travelled to the Hindu Kush region to spread awareness about Sikhism. His presence in Kabul inspired many locals to convert to Sikhism. In the later 1700s and early 1800s the Sikh empire expanded into the current Afghanistan region. Thereafter, a second rise of Sikhism was experienced by the region.

Moreover, during the partition of India and Pakistan several Sikhs fled to Afghanistan in search of safe havens.

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Consequently, Sikhism was the second largest religion of Afghanistan despite having a micro-minority status. In the 1970s the Afghan Sikh population was speculated to be approximately 2-3 lakhs. However, their numbers have consistently decreased due to the Afghan Wars. Reports state that the Afghan Sikh population dwindled to 1000 during 2019. Currently, the last batch of 20-30 Sikh families still reside in Afghanistan.

Why do Sikhs from Afghanistan need help from India?

Afghan Sikh, security guard & Taliban soldier killed in terror attack on Kabul gurdwara - Times of India
PC Times of India

Afghanistan has been a hotbed of wars, insurgency, and terrorism since the last 5 decades. However, the Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan have never participated in the changing political power dynamics in the region. Those that gained power in Afghanistan never openly discriminated against the prevalent Sikh and Hindu residents. Following the takeover by Taliban in 2021, the Sikh and Hindu communities have faced severe religious persecution in their native land. Most Afghan Sikhs have fled Afghanistan and sought refuge in India, the UK, the USA, and Canada.

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The Sikhs and Hindus faced the following acts of oppression at the hands of Taliban:

  1. Sikhs and Hindus were not allowed to cremate their dead. They had to send the bodies of their dead to Pakistan for cremation.
  2. Sikhs and Hindus are being pressured to accept Islam. Most of them were jailed when they refused to succumb to this pressure.
  3. The Kesh of many Sikhs was forcibly chopped off in jails.
  4. Afghan terror groups wanted Sikhs and Hindus to pay jizya at gunpoint.
  5. Sikh and Hindu women wore a burqa to safeguard their modesty due to pressure by radical Islamists.
  6. Hindus and Sikhs faced stone-pelting and harassment at the hands of local radical Islamists.
  7. Forceful occupation of Sikh and Hindu lands or properties by local extremists.

Afghan Sikhs’ Requests to S. Jaishankar

The last group of refugees of Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan are ready to depart for India. The refugee Afghan Sikhs and Hindu leaders met with S. Jaishankar Ji and urged him to grant multiple entry/exit visas to at least 15 individuals. They also requested the freedom to return to Afghanistan to take care of their religious sites like Gurdwaras and Temples.

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This delegation also submitted a memorandum to S. Jaishankar Ji, requesting help for those Afghan Sikhs and Hindus who have been waiting to gain citizenship despite fulfilling the mandatory requirement of 12 years of residency. They hope the Indian government would set up a single window to process citizenship applications from Afghan minorities. The group requested the EAM to establish an “Afghan Nagar” to enable permanent housing of these refugees at a suitable location.

The recent press conference by S. Jaishankar displays his positive attitude towards the needs of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. He states that Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Jain, Buddhist or Parsi minority groups face ethnic violence or oppression in several countries across the world. The presence of CAA like acts encourage such minority groups to seek shelter in India. These acts or bills ensure that India remains a natural place of refuge for persecuted minority groups in the Indian-Subcontinent.

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