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Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan face a bleak future in a country dominated by the Taliban. While the Islamic fundamentalist organisation claims that minorities would be secure, many are apprehensive based on previous experiences.
Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have returned to their homes in various regions of the nation after spending weeks at the Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita, a Sikh shrine in Kabul's Karte Parwan neighbourhood.
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Religious minorities' lives have been thrown into chaos after the collapse of Afghanistan's civilian government and the Taliban's takeover of the conflict-torn country last month.
After almost 140 Sikhs and Hindus were unable to board an Indian military evacuation flight from Kabul airport following a suicide bomb strike near the airport, around 250 Sikhs and Hindus remain in Afghanistan.
They risk a bleak future under the extremist Islamist administration because there are no flights out of the Taliban-led capital city.
India had evacuated over 600 people from the Afghan capital before the last American plane departed from Kabul airport. 67 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were among those killed, including parliamentarians Anarkali Kaur Honaryar and Narender Singh Khalsa.
the origins of Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu community date back centuries, even before the country's founding.Unsplash
Is it possible for a non-Muslim to be an Afghan?
According to Inderjeet Singh, author of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: History of a Thousand Years, the origins of Afghanistan's Sikh and Hindu community date back centuries, even before the country's founding.
"The history of Sikhs in modern-day Afghanistan can be traced back to Guru Nanak's tenure in the region, which corresponds with the birth of the religion itself in the 16th century," Singh told DW. "The Hindu religion's origins are far older."
However, those in authority have depicted them as outsiders or "foreigners," relegating them to second-class status in their own nation, regardless of the administration.
Puja Kaur Matta, an Afghan Sikh anthropologist who currently resides in Germany, argues, "Sikhs and Hindus are locals – not foreigners." When Taliban terrorists took over Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, her parents, who had roots in Ghazni and Kabul like many Sikhs and Hindus, immigrated to Europe.
Their population has shrunk from 60,000 in 1992 to less than 300 presently.
Also read: India hosting Taliban welcome meet
Segregation and harassment threats
Minorities held out some hope for equal rights under the deposed civilian administration, despite years of systemic and structural discrimination. However, two large assaults in 2018 and 2020 destroyed this optimism.
In the first suicide explosion, Khalsa's father was slain, and at least 25 Sikh pilgrims were killed in the 2020 Gurdwara shrine assault. Both assaults were claimed by "Islamic State Khorasan" (IS-K), a regional offshoot of the "Islamic State" organisation. The gang was most recently responsible for the suicide assault that killed at least 182 people at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport.
Sikhs and Hindus worry that under the new Taliban administration, they would be forced to wear yellow tags to indicate their non-Muslim identity, as they were in the past.
"For their beliefs, Sikhs and Hindus have been targeted," Kaur adds.
"For fear of harassment, a generation of youngsters were unable to attend school. They couldn't even bury their loved ones without risking being stoned in front of others." The word "home" connotes a sense of security, which many communities have long since lost.
India's contradictory policies have left them in the lurch.
As India prepares to welcome Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan, its uneven attitude toward asylum seekers and refugees has left hundreds stranded. The government's stance toward asylum seekers varies significantly, depending on whether it is based on ties with the nation from which they are seeking protection or on local politics.
New Delhi said this month that it will provide shelter to Afghans of all faiths, not just Hindus and Sikhs. However, what the government states may not be representative of what occurs on the ground.
There is no openness regarding how people are given refuge since there is no protocol in place.
Aside from the uncertainty surrounding their refugee status, living in India is difficult. Delhi, which is home to the majority of the Afghan diaspora, is a pricey city. The majority of Afghans in this country do not have work licences. It is not possible to survive on handouts.
Dreams of a secure future
Sikhs and Hindus escaping Afghanistan desire to establish a new life — one that is stable — and give their children a great future.
Kaur Matta, now 29, was one of those children when her parents opted to leave Afghanistan, opening up a world of possibilities for her. She now wants to start a dialogue about her neighbourhood.
Even though a substantial number of Sikhs and Hindus leave Afghanistan, some families have chosen to remain in the nation as guardians of their places of worship – their legacy.
"We don't have a place to live," Kaur Matta says. If you're looking for a unique "People in Afghanistan refer to us as Indians. We are Afghans in India."
"All we want is a safe haven where we can live our lives without fear of persecution – a place where we may practise our faith, follow our traditions, work, and raise our children without fear of persecution."
Keywords: Afghanistan, Indians, Hindu, Sikh, Origin of Sikhs in Afghanistan