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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
  • 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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Triple Talaq Ban in India: Union Cabinet Passes Bill Making the Practice a Criminal Offence

The BMMA celebrates its victory over the much-debated practice of instant divorce

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Muslim women are often victims of triple talaq, in spite of the ban
Muslim women are often victims of triple talaq, in spite of the ban, VOA News
  • Supreme court had ruled that the practice of triple talaq as illegal in August 2017.
  • On December 15, the Union Cabinet passed a bill which would make it a criminal offence
  • .The bill recommends a sentence of imprisonment for three years in case of a violation.
  • The bill also makes provisions for “subsistence allowance” for the women divorced through triple talaq.

On December 15, the Union Cabinet of India cleared a draft legislation, which would make the controversial practice of triple talaq a criminal offence in India, a violation of which may result in imprisonment for a period of three years for the husband. The recently approved bill, deemed as the ‘Muslim Women’s Protection of Rights on Marriage Bill’, was framed by a group of ministers including the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, and the Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, and was headed by the Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

What is triple talaq

The practice of triple talaq, or talaq-e-biddat, is a Islamic ritual through which a man might divorce his wife by uttering the word ‘talaq’, that is, the Arabic word for ‘divorce’, three times. The controversial practice, which dates back to Islamic scriptures of the 8th century AD, was a common one among the Muslim population in India, often enacted through letters, emails, text messages, Skype and Whatsapp.

The Supreme Court of India bans the practice of triple talaq
The practice of triple talaq still continues, in spite of the ban, VOA News

Triple Talaq Ban

On August 22, 2017, the Supreme Court of India had banned the archaic practice of triple talaq, after a long and hard legal battle fought by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), also known as the Indian Muslim Women’s Movement. “Triple talaq is against the basic tenets of the Holy Quran and consequently, it violates Shariat … What is held to be bad in the Holy Quran cannot be good in Shariat and, in that sense, what is bad in theology is bad in law as well,” they had declared, making India the 23rd nation to ban the practice of unilateral divorce, after Pakistan, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Many non-governmental Islamic organizations, along with certain clerics had opposed the verdict, on the grounds that it was an infringement of their right to religion, which is ensured by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, had decided to uphold Article 14 of the Constitution, which grants every citizen equality before the law. The verdict had met with mixed reactions among the people of India, attracting applause as well as apprehension all over the country.

The Supreme Court of India bans the practice of triple talaq
Women can now demand subsistence allowance for themselves and minor children, VOA News

However, in spite of the Supreme Court verdict, there have been reports of instant divorces performed through the process of oral declaration, as many continued to ignore the various advisories issued by the government.
The new bill approved by the government also makes provisions for Muslim Women to demand “subsistence allowance” for herself and her minor children from her husband, in case she feels victimised by the now illegal practice of triple talaq.

 

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Pakistan : Law Minister forced to step down, Is the notorious Islamic nation on way to collapse?

With growing influence of Islamic extremists on one hand and separatist movements on other hand, it is really a tough road ahead for Pakistan. The den of terror is on way to collapse

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Islamic Terrorism
Supporters of the extremist Tehreek-e-Labaik party Pakistan (VOA)

After few weeks of ongoing drama Pakistan government on Monday made a deal with leaders of an extremist Islamist protest movement, agreeing that Pakistan law minister would step down from his position in return for an end to violent protests that had resulted in brutal clashes and immobilised the Pakistani capital since last few weeks. The law minister, Zahid Hamid, whom protesters had accused of blasphemy, resigned as part of negotiations overseen by Pakistan’s military. Law Minister Zahid Hamid had been accused by clerics of committing blasphemy due to a change in the wording of an oath taken by parliamentarians. The extremists, led by Rizvi, believed the change in wording as representing a softening of the state’s position against members of the Ahmadi sect, who are not permitted to identify themselves as Muslims in Pakistan. Like many times in past once again in Pakistan the government surrendered to the extremists. A dozen of people were killed and around 250 people were wounded in clashes between protestors and security forces.

“On the assurance of the Chief of Army Staff, we are calling off the sit-in,” Muslim extremist and protest leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi representing radical “Tehreek-e-Labaik” told a crowd of around 2,500 demonstrators in Islamabad on Monday.

Islamic Extremists
Supporters of the Tehreek-e-Labaik party (VOA)

This is not the first time when Islamic extremists have highjacked the government in Pakistan. Not a single Prime Minister in Pakistan has been allowed to complete his tenure since the country’s inception 70 years ago. The political situation in Pakistan has never been a swift ride ever since 1947, as four times democratic governments were thrown away by military dictators, one prime minister was killed while another one was hanged by judiciary, many were sent home by presidents and two were dismissed by the Supreme Court, the latest been Nawaz Sharif.

The recent developments have again proved that Pakistan’s democratically elected government has no authority, it is the islamic extremists who hold the jar of power dictating government what to do and what not to do. Few days back only, a judicial panel ordered the release of Islamic militant leader Hafiz Saeed who was the mastermind of deadly Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 from house arrest. Hafiz Saeed have a huge following and popularity in Pakistan, and was to take up leadership of a political party which he planned to start. The matter of concern is future of Pakistan with such terrorists penetrating in power corridors.

With growing extremism on one side, separatist movements are also growing in Pakistan. Baloch freedom movement is gaining pace and a large section of Pashtun population are also demanding an independent Pashtunistan. There are several similarities between the Pakistani Army committing hideous crimes in Bangladesh (what was then East Pakistan) and Balochistan & Pashtunistan. Mass killings, the rape of women, laying human habitations to waste, targeted assassinations – Bangladesh saw it all during its Liberation War of 1971. Balochistan and Pashtunistan continues to witness these horrors. Religious minorities are also often targeted including the Shia and Ahmadi muslim population.

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With growing Wahhabism on one hand and separatist movements on another hand its really a tough job for Pakistan’s government to keep the country intact. Pakistan should now understand that there is no good terrorism and bad terrorism. [bctt tweet=”Pakistan should now understand that there is no good terrorism and bad terrorism. The snake you raise in your backyard is more likely to bite you before it bite your neighbour.”] In such grave situations, civil society of Pakistan must ponder over the state of affairs and should reject terrorism against India, only then a progressive Pakistan can exist. A progressive and stable Pakistan is equally important for neighbouring countries.

–  by SHAURYA RITWIK, Shaurya is Sub-Editor at NewsGram and writes on Geo-politcs, Culture, Indology and Business. Twitter Handle – @shauryaritwik

2 responses to “Pakistan : Law Minister forced to step down, Is the notorious Islamic nation on way to collapse?”

  1. Good analysis, Pakistan must look within and stop religious extremists before they take control of whole nation.

  2. That is a very good and deep analysis. Pakistan is imploding from inside, religious extremist groups have the upper hand while ethnic suppression is igniting separatism. Ethnic Pashtun and Baluch nationalism should be empowered to put an end to the terror-producing machinery in Pakistan that means total collapse of Pakistani dysfunctional, apartheid and panjabi fascist failed state.

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Indian Wheat Arrives Afghanistan via Chabahar Port, making History

India sends its first shipment to Afghanistan via Chabahar port, thus opening new trade route for Middle East also, bypassing the problems created by Pakistan

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Afghanistan has received an inaugural consignment of wheat from India through an Iranian port, opening a new trade and transit route for the landlocked nation that bypasses neighboring Pakistan.

The strategic sea route, officials say, will help improve trade and transit connectivity between Kabul and New Delhi.

It will also potentially give India access to Central Asian markets through Afghanistan, because rival Pakistan does not allow Indian goods to be transported through its territory .

The shipment of almost 15,000 tons of wheat dispatched from India’s western port of Kandla on October 29 reached the Iranian port of Chabahar on November 1. It was then loaded on trucks and brought by road to the Afghan province of Nimroz, which borders Iran.

Speaking at a special ceremony to receive the historic consignment Saturday in the border town of Zaranj, India’s ambassador to Kabul, Manpreet Vohra, said the shipment has demonstrated the viability of the new route. He added that India, Afghanistan and Iran agreed to operationalize the Chabahar port only a year-and-a-half ago.

“The ease and the speed with which this project is already working is evident from the fact that as we are receiving the first trucks of wheat here in Zaranj, the second ship from Kandla has already docked in Chabahar,” Vohra announced.

He said there will be seven shipments between now and February and a total of 110,000 tons of wheat will come to Afghanistan through Chabahar. Vohra added the shipments are part of a promised 1.1 million tons of wheat as India’s “gift” to Afghanistan out of which 700,000 has already been sent to the country.

India is investing $500 million in Chabahar port to build new terminals, cargo berths and connecting roads, as well as rail lines.

The Indian shipment arrived in Afghanistan days after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, on a visit to New Delhi, allayed concerns the Trump administration’s tough stand on Iran could pose a fresh stumbling block to India’s plans to develop the strategic Iranian port as a regional transit hub.

The Indian ambassador also took a swipe at Pakistan, though he did not name the rival country.

“The logic of finding easy connectivity, assured connectivity for Afghanistan is also because you have not had the benefit despite being a landlocked country of having easy access to international markets. We all know that a particular neighbor of yours to the east has often placed restrictions on your transit rights,” Vohra noted.

The shortest and most cost effective land routes between India and Afghanistan lie through Pakistan.

But due to long-running bilateral territorial disputes between India and Pakistan, Afghanistan and India are not allowed to do two-way trade through Pakistani territory. Kabul, however, is allowed to send only a limited amount of perishable goods through Pakistani territory to India.

“We are confident that with the cooperation, particularly of the government of Iran, this route now from Chabahar to Afghanistan will not see any arbitrary closure of gates, any unilateral decisions to stop your imports and exports, and this will provide you guaranteed access to the sea,” vowed Vohra.

Pakistan also allows Afghanistan to use its southern port of Karachi for transit and trade activities. However, Afghan officials and traders are increasingly complaining that authorities in Pakistan routinely indulge in unannounced trade restrictions and frequent closure of border crossings, which has undermined trade activities.

“With the opening of Chabahar Port, Afghanistan will no longer be dependent on Karachi Port,” provincial governor Mohammad Samiullah said while addressing the gathering. The economic activity, he said, will create job opportunities and bring billions of dollars in revenue to Afghanistan, Iran and India.

Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have also plunged to new lows in recent years over mutual allegations of sponsoring terrorism against each other’s soils.

In its bid to enhance economic connectivity with Afghanistan, India also opened an air freight corridor in June this year to provide greater access for Afghan goods to the Indian market.

Pakistani officials, however, have dismissed suggestions the direct trade connectivity between India and Afghanistan is a matter of concern for Islamabad.

“It is our consistent position that Afghanistan as a landlocked country has a right of transit access through any neighboring country according to its needs,” said Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a nearly 2,600 kilometer largely porous border. However, Islamabad has lately begun construction of a fence and tightened monitoring of movements at regular border crossings between the two countries, saying terrorist attacks in Pakistan are being plotted on the Afghan side of the border. VOA