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Life is hellish for Afghan Sikhs
Pratibha Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Kabul, September 27
Persecuted by an increasingly hostile local community, a few thousand hapless Sikhs left behind in Afghanistan, have now been forced to cremate their dead in the compounds of gurdwaras in this strife-torn city.

The attempt to cremate a body last week in Kabul led to major tension between the Sikhs and the local community following which the last rites were performed under heavy security cover. The predominantly Muslim local community has become increasingly hostile to the ritual of cremation considering it as blasphemous.

The two Sikh MPs in the Afghanistan Parliament, Avtar Singh and Ravinder Singh, raised the issue with President Hamid Karzai. It remains to be seen whether the Karzai regime can give them some solace and reduce their misery.

Barely 4000, the Afghani Sikhs are at the crossroads of history. The locals label them as "kaafir" while in India, they are dubbed as "Kabuli". This means they have been virtually disowned by both the countries as they live a life of hell in Afghanistan.

"Mr Karzai is extremely fond of Sikhs and Hindus and is very sensitive towards their problems but he cannot do much to stop the local animosity. The only option which, again, is not easy for us is to migrate to India," says a tearful Amrik Singh, a quack selling herbal medicines, who has never been to India.

The Sikhs were a strong and thriving community of about one lakh prior to the turmoil following 9/11. They now live under constant fear.

Though the Sikhs consider Afghanistan as their 'watan', they no longer wish to stay here. With most of the affluent Sikhs and Hindus having migrated to India a few years back, the ones still here do not have the resources to migrate to India as they have no relatives or ties back home. In fact, none of them has ever travelled to India, leave aside Punjab.

"Each day is a living hell as we are humiliated. Our children are mocked at for wearing turbans," says 60 year-old Raj Singh from Rozgan area. He says his family has already moved to Tilak Nagar in Delhi and the minute he is able to sell his property for a decent price, he will leave Afghanistan forever.

The Sikhs and Hindus are still present in sizeable numbers in the Kabul, Jalalabad, Gazni, Kandahar, Khost and Kundaz provinces of Afghanistan. In Kabul, they live mostly in Karta-e-Parwan, where they have a gurudwara.

"My children went to Delhi to attend a relative’s wedding but are simply not willing to come back. They say they will beg in India but will not return to Kabul," says Amrik Singh.

The Sikhs say they teach their children only Gurmukhi at home. Since they are hated and scoffed at in school, most of them have left regular schools. "We sound exactly like Afghanis and can barely understand Hindi or Punjabi. We wear turbans and go to gurdwara daily to attend kirtan and langars," says 35 year-old Mohar Singh.

Most of the Sikhs are petty shopkeepers and do not have resources to move to India to start life afresh in another country.

A majority of the Sikhs agree that the older Afghanis had love and affection for them and there was complete harmony. It is only recently that there is growing intolerance and fanaticism.

"I am pained at the plight of the Sikhs and Hindus and the deplorable condition they are living in. I have not been able to sleep since a six-month old girl was cremated in the compound of the gurdwara where I am staying," says Dr Indira, a gynaecologist working in a reputed corporate hospital of Delhi. She came here for two days to trace her roots but has stayed back to comfort the pained community.

India 's Ambassador in Kabul, Rakesh Sood, says there is no question of going back to India as these Sikhs and Hindus have always been in Afghanistan. "India cannot extend them financial help or assist in migration simply because they share a common faith with us," he remarks. He says there has been some problem over cremations but that can be resolved by giving them an alternative site.

It is the growing intolerance and economic consideration, which are probably making the locals so resentful of the Sikh and Hindu presence in Afghanistan. "One country says you are from the other nation and vice versa leaving us in the lurch”, says Raj Singh.



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