Brief History of Sikhs in Afghanistan
“Sarbat Sangat Kabul Guru rakhega…Sarbat Sangat uppar meri Khushi hai..” Paatshahi 10 Sammat 1756
The above quotation is from a hukumnama of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, blessing the Sangat Of Kabul in the opening and closing lines of Hukumnama. (Reproduced by Giani Kartar Singh Sarhadi, “Kes Philosophy” p-189.
Afghanistan’s first contact with Sikhism travels to the days of Guru Nanak Paatshah. Guru Nanak Dev ji passes through Balkh and Kabul in Afghanistan while on his travels during the reign of Mughal emperor Babur. A stream near Afghan city of Jalalabad marks the location where Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his companion Bhai Bala, miraculously aided a local shepherd who was dying of thirst. At the Arghandab river, a Muslim fakir is said to have submitted to the wisdom of Guru Nanak Dev ji’s spiritual wisdom. The later Sikh gurus upto Guru Hargobind Sahib did have followers from Afghanistan, a notable mention in history is that of ‘Kabul Wali Mai’ who was devout follower of Guru Amar Daas Sahib ji.
The majority of Sikhs in Afghanistan are the descendants of members of the indigenous Afghan population who aligned themselves with the teachings of Guru Nanak, the first Guru of the Sikhs, during his visits to Kabul in the 15th century, however there are also some accounts that mention the Sikh & Hindu traders from India who settled in Afghanistan. There is a good number of people who are Sehajdari Sikhs and Dual Belief Hindus that some authors use to point that all afghan sikhs are of Indian origin. That however is not complete truth. The country’s turbaned and non turbaned Sikhs have always maintained close relationships among each other and one can’t really distinguish between indigenous Afghan Sikhs and Dual belief Sikhs.
The YouTube video of Sant Maskeen ji is Everything you need to know about Afghan Sikhs
The minority leaders of Sikhs and Hindu communities have always been expressing concerns over their declining population. Dr. Anarkali Kaur (Honorary Senator in Afghan Parliament) writes, “The number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus has dwindled over the years with only about 1000 Sikhs remaining in the country as they migrated, leaving their successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities to safe places in India and Europe.
Awtar Singh Khalsa (Head Of Afghan Sikh and Hindu council) who was also killed in a terrorist attack always substantiated the same argument by saying that the community has been reduced to mere 347 families. It means once the thriving community is on the brink of extinction and it raises serious questions for Afghanistan governments, Taliban, india and human rights watchdogs.
Issues of Afghan Sikhs that World needs to understand.
1. Political Oppression.
On the unfortunate day of July 1, 2018 a suicide bomber attacked the convoy of Awtar Singh Khalsa (An Afghan Sikh politician from Jalalabad), who was going to meet President Ashraf Ghani, the latter was going to speak in governors residence in eastern city of Jalalabad. Awtar Singh Khalsa was about to be elected unopposed for the lower house of Afghan Parliament in the coming election (October 2018). He enjoyed good rapport with not only Sikhs and Hindus but many locals as well. During his interview with BBC he had shared his dream of how he would love to see Afghanistan as a diverse society accepting of all faiths and cultures.
Along with Awtar Singh, 19 other people including activist Ravail Singh, Sikh community spokesman Iqbal Singh and peace activist Anoop Singh were killed.
The new Afghan government that formed after fall of Taliban in 2001 attempted to create more tolerant and inclusive system of governance. Under then President Hamid Karzai, one seat in the upper house of Afghan Parliament was reserved for Sikhs and Hindus. However despite Karzai’s best attempts to allow the Sikhs and Hindus to contest in the lower house, the move was blocked by parliamentarians. In 2016, though, President Ashraf Ghani by Presidential decree made it possible for minority community to elect a leader to parliament in elections.
The house however debated the issue and two opposite camps were clearly formed. MPs like Behzad, Nawibullah Fayeq (Faryeb), Ramazan Badhardost (Kabul), Shukria Barakzai (Kabul), Gulalay Noor Safi (Balkh)and Humaira Ayuubi (Farah) supported the allocation of one seat for Sikhs and Hindus also referred to as Ahl-e-hunnud, whereas Hannafi, Abdul Sattar Khawasi (Parwan), Khalil Ahmad Shahidzada (Herat), Nazifa Zaki (Kabul) and Ghulam Faruq Majruh (Herat) strongly opposed it. In this way Wolesi Jirgah (lower house) rejected Sikh and Hindu seat.
2. Cremation Challenges
Gholam Habib Fawad, deputy chairman of the community council in Qalacha, said the crematorium used to be located far from residential areas, but that had changed as more homes were built in its vicinity.
“When they burn bodies there, the smell goes into the houses,” he said. “Many people react and fall sick. The children are scared. Some families need to leave their houses for several days and go and live with relatives.”
Awtar Singh had strongly voiced his opinions on closing of 120yr old crematorium. “When we take our dead bodies to the crematorium, we take the police with us. Even so, local people throw stones at us. They disrespect our dead,” he said.
“Our women can’t go out,” said Bajan Singh, who has a grocery shop in Kabul. “When our children go to school, they are insulted by their classmates for being Hindu. A number of our Hindu brothers have been beaten and their money stolen. All of our rights have been trampled on. I wish [the government] would move us to some other country.”
Sikh political voice Anarkali Kaur has been chasing the case of cremations and cremation ground and she said that that residential society had been allocated to Sikhs and Hindus but no one wants to go there. In response to her one Manpal singh says “We aren’t safe in the heart of Kabul even with all its police and laws,”. “How are we going to be able to live in a desert 20 kilometres outside from the city? What will the people in [other] villages do to us? Was there nowhere else in Kabul, so that they had to send us to deserts and mountains?”
Education of Sikh Children
This YouTube video discussing the Education Challenges for Sikhs and Hindus is a must watch if you want to understand the challenges faced by Sikhs and Hindus in getting education.
The Taliban in the past have ordered Sikhs to wear ‘yellow arm bands’ so they could be easily distinguished from the Muslim majority. IS continues to maintain that it considers Sikhs and Hindus to be pagans. Zabihullah Farhang a spokesperson for Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says that “Sikhs and Hindus face lot of discrimination in public places, their children in schools, in jobs and everything in this country.”
A more personal account of Sikh boy who has moved to England tells you the story.
Illegal Property Seizure
The country’s constitution and government have deepened the gap on ground between communities says Rajdeep Jolly, a Sikh attorney in Washington DC. He said that Article 62 of Afghan constitution clearly says that only Muslim can be a president of country leading to origin of divide. “Even in absence of genocidal violence, afghan constitution makes sure that Sikhs and Hindus are labelled as second class citizens. He has raised serious concerns over the loss and seizure of properties of Sikhs and Hindus by govt and Taliban leading to holing up of Sikh and Hindu families in Gurdwaras like Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib.
The Big Massacre
Guru Har Rai Sahib Ji (the 7th sikh guru) sent Bhai Gonda to Kabul to preach Sikhi. He built what was known as Dharamsaal at that time. The Gurdwara Sahib was taken away by Ahmad Shah Masood in early 1990s as it was the strongest structure in the area and it became his base from where he attacked Gulbuddin Hekamat. The Taliban was removed in October 2001. It was badly damaged at that point but resilient afghan sikhs built it again, the Gurdwara housed 159 sikh and Hindu families who had been deprived of their properties by Taliban and bureaucrats. Refer to Previous point about properties.
On March 25, terrorists, reportedly affiliated to the Islamic State, stormed one the oldest gurdwara in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul, killing 25 people. This was one of the worst attacks faced by the small Afghan minority community in the recent times. Read details about attack here Details of attack
The wounds are still fresh and while the world battles Corona Virus, another Sikh leader (Dual Hindus who practise Sikhi) has been abducted in Afghanistan. Is there an end to the suffering of this community. Is anyone even listening to Afghan Sikhs?