The recent incident of Afghan Sikhs rescued from a shipping container from a UK port has again brought to the limelight the plight of the Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.
Both the minority communities have been facing discrimination at the hands of the majority Muslim community. Sikh children are not allowed to go to the schools and if they dare to, they are bullied and beaten up. Also there have been some incidents where Muslim kids have cut their hair. The Sikh women do not go out of their homes because they are insulted and laughed at. And the Sikh men, who once used to be rich traders, have been forced to work as labourers as they are not allowed to do business and buy lands. By all accounts there are absolutely no more Hindus left in Afghanistan.
Talking to many Afghan Sikh men, women and children, reveals a very poignant story about their life in present day Afghanistan. Children say "Pathans beat us and call us 'kachaloo' (a derogatory word that translates to sweet potato), men say "the Muslims always ask us to convert to Islam" and women say "We never leave our house - we are not safe in the streets".
PHOTO COURTESY: SBS Punjabi
The head of Hindu and Sikh council in Afghanistan, Avtar Singh says there are fewer than 500 Sikh families left in Afghanistan who are living their lives in oblivion, and under the constant fear of Muslim community. But sadly, they don't have enough money to leave the country as well.
The head also informed that he has appealed in the Afghanistan parliament and talked to various ministers but no one came forward to help. He said that he also asked gurdwara committees in India who also did not show any interest. Singh also said that he himself is a victim who lost 16 family members to this war of hatred and discrimination, but still he said, "I can't leave my fellow Sikhs in Afghanistan".
Listen to the special programme on Plight of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan here
Sikhs in Afghanistan
Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have a long history, in the country. Some Sikhs settled in Afghanistan after the first Sikh guru Guru Nanak Dev visited the country in the 15th century. But a majority settled down in 19th century for trading purpose. They were traditionally a thriving vibrant community, which was well respected in Afghanistan
Before 1990s, the Afghan Sikh and Hindu population was estimated around 50,000. But at present, there are less than 1000 people living there facing an uncertain future.
The main problem started during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan, when many Afghan Sikhs & Hindus fled to India; a second wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime. Gurdwaras 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.