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Afghanistan’s Dwindling Sikh, Hindu Communities Flee New Abuses

Once a thriving minority, only a handful of Sikh and Hindu families remain

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Afghan Hindu and Sikh families wait for lunch inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016. Image source: Reuters
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  • Once a thriving minority, now only a handful of Sikh and Hindu families remain in Afghanistan
  • The Communities are now concentrated only in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni and the capital Kabul
  • Maximum people belonging to Sikh and Hindu community have moved to India

On a bright day in downtown Kabul, Jagtar Singh Laghmani was in his traditional herb shop when a man turned up, drew a knife and told him to convert to Islam or he would cut his throat. Bystanders and other shopkeepers saved his life.

The incident earlier this month was the latest attack on a dwindling community of Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan, a deeply conservative Muslim country struggling with growing insecurity caused by an Islamist insurgency and economic challenges.

Once a thriving minority, only a handful of Sikh and Hindu families remain. Many have chosen to flee the country of their birth, blaming growing discrimination and intolerance.

“This is how we begin our day — with fear and isolation. If you are not a Muslim, you are not a human in their eyes,” said Jagtar Singh, speaking in his tiny shop in the bustling center of Kabul. “I don’t know what to do or where to go.”

Afghan Sikh Jagtar Singh Laghmani, 50, sits at his traditional herb shop in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 19, 2016. Image source: Reuters
Afghan Sikh Jagtar Singh Laghmani, 50, sits at his traditional herb shop in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 19, 2016. Image source: Reuters

Afghan Sikh Jagtar Singh Laghmani, 50, sits at his traditional herb shop in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 19, 2016.

For centuries, Hindu and Sikh communities played a prominent role in merchant trade and money lending in Afghanistan, although today they are known more for medicinal herb shops.

According to Avtar Singh, chairman of the national council of Hindus and Sikhs, the community now numbers fewer than 220 families, compared with around 220,000 members before the collapse of the Kabul government in 1992.

Once spread across the country, the community is now mainly concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni and the capital Kabul.

Although Afghanistan is almost entirely Muslim, its constitution, drawn up after U.S.-led forces drove out the Taliban government in 2001, theoretically guarantees the right of minority religions to worship freely.

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But as the conflict drags on, Avtar Singh said conditions were worse than under the Taliban, which imposed strict Islamic laws, staged public executions and banned girls from schools.

Hindus and Sikhs had to wear yellow patches that identified them in public, but were otherwise seldom bothered.

“The good old days have long gone when we were treated as Afghans, not as outsiders,” Avtar Singh said from a temple in Kabul, all the while keeping an eye on visitors using monitors linked to security cameras.

An Afghan Sikh woman prays inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016. Image source: Reuters
An Afghan Sikh woman prays inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016. Image source: Reuters

An Afghan Sikh woman prays inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016.

“Our lands have been taken by powerful figures in the government, especially by the warlords. We are facing threats, and this small community is getting smaller and smaller every day,” he added.

Last week, dozens of Hindu and Sikh families left Helmand, where Taliban insurgents, who have a presence in much of the southern province, sent a letter demanding 200,000 Afghani ($2,800) a month from the community.

Hostility

Tensions have surfaced in Qalacha, an area on the outskirts of Kabul where the Sikh and Hindu community owns a high-walled crematorium.

An Afghan Sikh (R) receives karah prasad, a sweet pudding offering given out to a congregation at the end of prayer, inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016. Image source: Reuters
An Afghan Sikh (R) receives karah prasad, a sweet pudding offering given out to a congregation at the end of prayer, inside a Gurdwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016. Image source: Reuters

As the capital has expanded in recent years, the neighborhood has become densely populated and some newer residents oppose Hindu and Sikh cremations, a practice foreign to Muslims, who bury their dead.

“When they burn the body the smell makes our family sick and we don’t want this to happen here,” said Ahmad Timor, a Muslim resident in Qalacha.

The Sikhs say local Muslim hardliners have stirred up hostility against them, and the community now requires police protection for their funeral rituals.

“They throw stones and bricks at us, at the bodies of the dead, whenever there is a funeral,” said Avtar Singh, pointing to a newly built house next to the crematorium.

An Afghan Sikh (R) receives karah prasad, a sweet pudding offering given out to a congregation at the end of prayer, inside a Gurudwara, or a Sikh temple, during a religious ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 8, 2016.

Dahi-ul Haq Abid, deputy minister for Haj and religious affairs, said the government had done what it could to improve the livelihood of Hindus and Sikhs.

“We agree that conflicts pushed them out of the country, but their condition is not as bad as they claim,” Abid added.

“We have allocated them a place to burn their bodies because inside the city people complained about the smell, but they did not agree,” he told Reuters.

Harassment is also common.

Jasmeet Singh, 8 years old, stopped going to school because of what he said was daily harassment. He and other children from the community now either go to private schools or study inside the temple.

“While I was at school, other students were making fun of me. They were removing my turban, hitting me and calling me Hindu and kaffir [infidel],” said Jasmeet Singh, as other boys nodded their heads in agreement.

Increasing numbers of Sikhs and Hindus have moved to India, their spiritual homeland, but some say they remain foreigners wherever they go.

“When we go to India, we are known as Afghans, but when we are here, we are seen as outsiders even if we are native Afghan,” said Baljit Singh, a shopkeeper in Kabul. “We are lost between both worlds.” (VOA)

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Karun Nair Opens Up Over New Opportunities in His Life

Nair has had a moderate IPL so far, scoring 246 runs in 11 matches at 24.60.

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Nair has had a moderate IPL so far, scoring 246 runs in 11 matches at 24.60.
Nair is currently playing for Kings XI Punjab in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL). wikimedia commons

Back in the Indian Test cricket team after more than a year, middle-order batsman Karun Nair says he is now working to become an all-format player in future.

The 26-year-old Karnataka right-hander will replace Virat Kohli in the Indian team, which will take on debutants Afghanistan in Bengaluru from June 14-18.

Captain Kohli will play for English county side Surrey during that time to prepare for the England tour later this year.

Nair is currently playing for Kings XI Punjab in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL).

“I am really excited to be wearing those whites again and representing my country has always been an honour and privilege. I am really looking forward to it,” Nair told IANS in a telephonic interview.

“I have worked really hard over the last one and half years. My form in the IPL and the way I have batted, I consider myself an all-format player and it’s just about getting those opportunities and making the most of them,” said Nair when asked about common perception that the Karnataka willower is a Test specialist.

“It’s just that finding a spot in the one day team is difficult. I need to do better to get those opportunities and I am on the right track. I will do everything I can with the bat to make sure I play all formats,” he said.

Nair, who scored an unbeaten 303 against England in the fifth test in Chennai two years back, will lead the India A side in the four-day matches in the UK. For India A’s One-Day tri-series assignment in the UK, he has not been picked.

Back in the Indian Test cricket team after more than a year, middle-order batsman Karun Nair says he is now working to become an all-format player in future.
Karun Nair will lead the India A side in the four-day matches in the UK. wikimedia commons

“I am really happy to be leading the team. It’s a great opportunity for us as a team to be playing in England and learning how to play cricket in England,” said Nair, who played his last Test against Australia in Dharamsala last year before being dropped to accommodate Rohit Sharma in the playing XI.

“We need to learn to adjust to those conditions. For me as a captain, we have a talented bunch of youngsters who are really exciting,” he added.

Nair has had a moderate IPL so far, scoring 246 runs in 11 matches at 24.60.

Talking about Kings XI who are experiencing a downturn after losing four of their previous five games, Nair said it’s time to get their act together at the business end of the season. Punjab have 12 points from 11 matches.

“It’s almost the business end of the tournament. So we need to get our act together,” he said.

“The matches that we have won, we have completely played as a team. Individual performances have helped like K.L. Rahul has batted exceptionally well in some of the games.

“Chris (Gayle) has also batted superbly in few games. But it has been a collective effort overall,” Nair said.

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Nair also lavished praise on Punjab skipper Ravichandran Ashwin, saying he has done exceedingly well in his first year as captain.

“It’s been brilliant under Ash. He has done exceedingly well as a captain and to be captaining in the IPL for the first time, he has done exceptionally well,” he said.

“He has always been a smart cricketer, if you look at his bowling he always has different plans for different batsmen and he can change it anytime during the game. He takes wise and quick decisions which is definitely needed in T20 cricket. I hope we win more games under his captaincy.” (IANS)