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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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Sewa International Bay Area Chapter Distributes Hot Meals, Masks, and Supplies to 700+ Families

Sewa International also donated 500 masks to the Oroville Hospital and distributed goody packets to kids

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A line of cars waiting to be a part of the Sewa International Food Drive on Saturday, May 30 in Oroville, California.

Sewa International’s Bay Area Chapter distributed hot meals, groceries, masks, and hygiene kits to more than 700 families in a drive-through distribution event held in Oroville, CA on Saturday, May 30, as part of its extensive COVID-19 relief efforts.

In addition, Sewa International also donated 500 masks to the Oroville Hospital and distributed goody packets to kids which included wipes, school supplies, and snack bags of cereal.

“Our cadre of volunteers are working hard to support the underprivileged sections of our society in these trying times.  Our aim is to achieve the well-being of all by providing a stable support structure by developing overall cooperation within society,” said Sewa International Bay Area Chapter President Jayant Somani.

“Through this event, we coordinated with homeless shelters and senior citizen homes across the Concow and Oroville areas to ensure that their important work of feeding the homeless and supporting senior citizens. Sewa is grateful for the enormous support it received from many of the local community organizations in fighting this COVID-19 pandemic together,” said Somani.

Tiny Home Donated

As  part of the Campfire relief initiative, Sewa International, in partnership with the Tiny Homes Organization, donated the third tiny home its volunteers built to Casey, a veteran who had lost his home in the fires that ravished his area last year. Three more tiny homes are being built to be donated by Sewa.

“This is amazing.  I had basically forgotten how people should live.  It had been so long that I got so used to this tent (that I was living in). I had basically lost hope.  This gave me hope.  I can become human again… What you all are doing is amazing — your loyalty and everything.  Please keep doing it, if you can,” said Casey in appreciation of receiving his new home.

625,000 Masks Distributed 

Prior to this event, the Bay Area chapter had distributed almost 57,000 KN95, N95, surgical, face shields and hand- made masks to the United States Postal Service, Valley Medical Center, Kaiser Permanente, San Ramon Police Department, City of Sunnyvale, and City of Cupertino, and many other city, medical, and emergency service responders.

Nationwide, Sewa International has donated over 625,000 masks, 1,000 liters of sanitizer, 63,000 hot meals and food, and over $100,000 to food pantries during this COVID-19 crisis.  Through the hard work of more than 3,000 volunteers across 43 chapters and in collaboration with over 800 organizations across the country, Sewa International has committed itself to supporting all essential workers and service industries in these trying times.  In addition, Sewa International has set up 10 national helpline centers to field and monitor all calls for help and information. Through the information received via these helplines, Sewa International launched the Plasma Registry Drive which led to successful registry matches for four COVID-19 patients.

Sewa International
Sewa Bay Area Chapter volunteers seen standing with Casey, who received the third Tiny Home Sewa volunteers built to help victims of the 2019 California Campfire. Alyssa Nolan from the Tiny Homes Organization is also seen in the photograph.

Partner Organizations helping Sewa International’s efforts

Working with and helping Sewa reach out to the community are several partner organizations. They include the  Annapoorna USA Foundation (Sacramento), Bengaluru Voice, Bharati Tamil Sangam, Feed My Peeps, Hindu SwayamSevak Sangh, IINDIA-SC, Maheshwari Mahasabha of North America, Makers for COVID-19, My Support for Kids Foundation, Posh Textiles, PrinterPrezz, Raja Sweets and Catering, Rajasthan Association of North America, Rotary Club of San Ramon Valley, Sleeping Bags for the Homeless of Silicon Valley, Tiny Homes, Tri-Valley Kannada Sangha, Vishnuji Ki Rasoi.

About Sewa International

Sewa International, a leading Hindu faith-based Indian American nonprofit organization, has extensive experience in disaster rescue, relief, and rehabilitation operations having responded to 24 disasters in the US and abroad. In 2017, after Hurricane Harvey struck the Houston area, Sewa volunteers helped in the rescue of nearly 700 people and have served thousands of affected families since then through their case management service. Sewa raised over $3 million for Hurricane Harvey recovery, Sewa continues to rebuild homes, and greenhouses that serve as a means of livelihood. It has also rendered relief in the wake of hurricane Maria in 2018 and Hurricane Imelda in 2019. Sewa teams in the San Francisco Bay Area continue to build and donate tiny homes for those rendered homeless in California Camp Fire of November 2018.

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Among its other accolades, Sewa International has been recognized by Charity Navigator – the premier nonprofit rating agency – as the number five among the “10 Highly Rated Charities Relying on Private Contributions.” Sewa has for the last three years continuously scored the topmost-rated 4-star from Charity Navigator, and has earned perfect scores for its Financial Health and Accountability & Transparency.

For more information on Sewa International and its activities, please visit www.sewausa.org.

For more information on Sewa International’s efforts to support communities nationwide during the COVID-19 crisis, please visit https://sewausa.org/covid-19

[ Disclaimer: The pictures used in the article are supplied by the author, NewsGram has no intention of infringing copyrights. ]

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#21DaysAllyChallenge: Initiative to Support Inclusion of LGBT+ Community in all Spheres

#21DaysAllyChallenge is a drive to celebrate LGBT+ Pride

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The recent drive aims to support the cause of inclusion of LGBT+ Community in different spheres. Pixabay

In a recent drive, corporates, academia and individuals from across the world have signed up to extend support for inclusion of the LGBT+ community in different spheres.

#21DaysAllyChallenge, a unique initiative conceptualised by Pride Circle, a Diversity & Inclusion Consultancy, aims to bring a holistic social change by building a community of passionate allies, across the world. The campaign will kick off on June 1 which marks the beginning of the Global Pride Month.

As the world is trying to stabilize in the current circumstances caused by the pandemic, this is an effort to push forward for inclusion. The movement, led across India, is not only joined by individuals, influencers from 28 nations and 70 organisations, but also by academic institutions such as IIMs, IITs, NMIMS, MICA, Tagore International School.

Under this initiative, allies from across the world will engage in a series of 21 mini-challenges spread over a period of 21 days in the month of June. This is based on science that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.

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As a part of this initiative, allies from across the world will engage in a series of 21 mini-challenges spread over a period of 21 days in the month of June. Pixabay

Commenting on this empowering initiative, Ramkrishna Sinha, Co-Founder, Pride Circle, said, “In our country where homosexuality legalization is yet to complete two years, this India-born initiative is our leap of faith to create a large-scale, global movement to advocate for equal rights and fair treatment for the LGBT+. We believe that allies are some of the most effective and powerful voices for this movement. The contribution of allies in terms of helping create a space of comfort, help bridge the gap in understanding of others with respect to the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance, and mutual respect, can be vast.

The #21DaysAllyChallenge is an affirmative action in the direction of building an inclusive and just society with the support from the allies.”

Echoing the sentiments, Srini Ramaswamy, Co-Founder, Pride Circle, added, “We are really humbled and excited by the response we have received from several national and international organizations, influencers, schools, colleges, voluntary groups which are committed to championing the cause for the greater good of the LGBT+ community as well as the society.

Pride Circle urges more and more organisations and individuals to come forward and partake in this movement. We are confident that with every new ally we create, we are loosening the shackles of homo/bi/transphobic conditioning our society is conditioned with.”

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The initiative is working towards the dignity, equality, and increased visibility of the LGBT+ community. Pixabay

Working towards establishing social equity through affirmative actions since 2017, Pride Circle has taken a significant move through #21DaysAllyChallenge. They have brought together the whole gamut of the stakeholders. Individuals and influencers from schools, workplaces to global human rights bodies, all are set to demonstrate their allyship and influence a lot more to commemorate self-affirmation, dignity, equality, and increased visibility of the LGBT+ community.

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“Allies play a critical role in the broader fight to advance LGBTQ equality and inclusion in key areas of life, including the workplace,” said Milagros Chirinos, Associate Director of HRC’s Global Workplace Equality Program. “We are incredibly excited to support Pride Circle’s #21DaysAllyChallenge to engage businesses and organizations in promoting allyship during Pride Month and beyond.” Milagros Chirinos, Associate Director, Global Workplace Equality Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation (USA).

“This initiative is a great opportunity for people in India and across the world to come together in support of equality for lesbian, gay, bi and trans people. Visible allies to the LGBT community make a huge difference, whether that’s championing LGBT rights in your work, or supporting LGBT family members or friends. Now, more than ever, we encourage everyone who believes in LGBT equality to Come Out For Equality and find out more about how they can be an ally,” said Pete Mercer, Head, Global Programmes, Stonewall (UK).

Anyone can sign-up and participate free-of-cost by clicking on the link https://thepridecircle.com/21daysallychallenge/   (IANS)

 

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No Trace of Community Transmission in Karnataka: Medical Education Minister

7 per cent cases in the state had co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and others, said K. Sudhakar

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Karnataka Medical Education Minister said that there is no trace of Covid community transmission in the state. (Representational Image). Pixabay

Karnataka Medical Education Minister K. Sudhakar on Friday said there is no trace of Covid community transmission in the state.

“There is no trace of community transmission in Karnataka. Twenty five per cent of cases trace back to domestic and international travel,” he said in a tweet.

Presenting statistics, he said 7 per cent cases in the state had co-morbidities such as diabetes, hypertension and others.

“Average daily growth in the state is 5.4 per cent while it is 11.8 per for the country. With positivity rate of 1 per cent, there is one case for every 100 tests,” he said.

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Statistics show that 7 per cent cases in the state had co-morbidities such as diabetes. Pixabay

Sharing analysis for Covid cases totalling 981 till Thursday noon, Sudhakar said 625 cases or 64 per cent patients were contacts of earlier cases.

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Two common ailments regularly found in Covid patients were Severe Acute Respiratory Infection (SARI) and Influenza-like Illness (ILI), both accounting for 48 cases or 5 per cent and 24 cases or 2 per cent of overall cases, respectively.

Covid patients with travel history within India were 177 or 18 per cent and patients with international history were 69 or 7 per cent.

Currently, Karnataka is battling 1,032 Covid cases, out of which 520 are active cases isolated in designated hospitals. (IANS)