Hindus & Sikhs likely to return from Afghanistan

-:Dr. Ravi Chaturvedi:-

Historians suggest that the territory south of the Hindu Kush was culturally connected with the Indus Valley Civilization (5500–2000 BC) in ancient times. Many historians believe that Afghanistan was inhabited by ancient Aryans before the arrival of Alexander in 330 BC. It became part of the Seleucid Empire after the departure of Alexander three years later. In 305 BC, the Seleucid Empire lost control of the territory south of the Hindu Kush to the Indian Emperor Chandragupta.

Guru Nanak visited Afghanistan in the early 16th century and laid the foundation of Sikhism during 1519-21. According to historian Inderjeet Singh, author of ‘Afghan Hindus and Sikhs: A History of A Thousand Years’, Hindu rulers once reigned over Eastern Afghanistan, including Kabul. Around 180 years ago Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1799-1839) and his brilliant commander Hari Singh Nalwa defeated the Afghans and the tribes of the Khyber Pass area, in the process securing India’s northwest border.

Several documents record the thriving trade of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghan society but today, 99 per cent of them have left the country. Afghanistan now refuses to acknowledge them as their natives but they have made contribution to their motherland despite a turbulent journey.

In the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal, the Mujahideen captured Kabul in 1992, forcing large number of Sikhs and Hindus to leave the country. There were widespread kidnappings, extortion, property grabbing incidents, religious persecution of Sikhs and Hindus making it a trigger point for exodus.

The Afghan rulers had always admiration for the contribution of the Hindus and the Sikhs in the development of Afghanistan. Before the Mujahideen took over of the country, the Afghan govt. issued speedy pilgrimage passport under a scheme Aab Gang ((Aab meaning water, Gang meaning river Ganga) to Hindus and Sikhs. The Indian Embassy set up an on-the-go visa department at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar of Kabul to rapidly issue visas to Hindus and Sikhs. It is reliably learnt that nearly 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs left Afghanistan under this scheme and came to India.

The situation till 1990s was not alarming as there used to be 63 functional Gurdwaras in Afghanistan. Now barely ten of them are functioning, with hardly anyone left to do sewa.  Similarly about half-a-dozen temples were functional in different parts of Afghanistan. These Hindu places of worship are have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

The situation became alarming on July 1, 2018 when a suicide bomb attack in Jalalabad killed 19 Sikhs and Hindus. Following the assault the Gurdwaras became homes for Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan as most of them had lost their houses. However, the attack at Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib on March 25 this year was a nail in the coffin when an IS gunman killed at least 25 persons, leaving no option for the targeted persons, except forcing them to leave Afghanistan  

After arriving in India, many Sikhs and Hindus moved to other countries and are currently spread across the UK, Europe and USA.  The majority of Afghan Hindus are now settled in Germany and Sikhs in the UK. Others live in Austria, Belgium, Holland, France, Canada and the USA.

Khajinder Singh, head of Afghan Hindu Sikh Welfare Society in Delhi, said, “Approximately, there are 18,000 Afghan Sikhs living in India, of whom 50-60% have citizenship and the rest are living as refugees or on long-term visas. Most are living in Delhi followed by Punjab and Haryana.”

The Hindus and the Sikhs in Afghanistan took heart from the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India, knowing that getting Indian citizenship would be easier than before. Although, the unnecessary controversy created against CAA could not dilute the firm commitment of Govt. of India to grant Indian citizenship to the persecuted Hindus and Sikhs in some Muslim countries.  

The news is pouring that Vikramjit Singh Sawhney, the president, World Punjabi Organization (WPO) is making arrangements to bring back the two troubled community members from Afghanistan. The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC) is going to provide temporary accommodation to the families in various Gurdwaras in the capital. Long last the ordeal of the two communities is going to be over!

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