The Kabul attack killing 25 innocent souls have been a real shaker. The 25 March incident, followed by two consecutive days of more attacks in the Afghanistan capital have left the small band of the Sikh minority community living in heightened fear. Even before the attack, they were already almost living on egg shelfs.
What can the world community do to help the Sikh and Hindu minorities hammed by increasing attacks from the Muslim groups? At this point of time, leaving Afghanistan seems to be the only solution.
“It is too small a minority, unable to defend itself, and politically inconsequential. I’d still like to be able to help them get out, instead of having more killed,” Harpreet singh an afghan sikh who has settled in Canada.
Canada is one of the options but it does not seem to be working out just as yet. Some 26,000 Syrian were resettled in Canada between December 2015 and February 2016. But the route does not seem to be open for the Afghan Sikhs.
“Although we’re trying to put pressure on the Canadian government, unfortunately it is unlikely they will act,” Anarkali Kaur Said
Here are excerpts from the interview with Harpreet Singh with credible inputs from Anarkali Kaur
What is your view on the recent attacks on Sikhs in Kabul?
The Afghanistan situation is really alarming as there are constant threats, and we believe that further attacks are imminent, and there is insufficient security to protect them.
Is Canada their best hope to seek refuge?
Although we’re trying to put pressure on the Canadian government, unfortunately it is unlikely they will act — very upsetting. Most likely, they’ll have to go to Pakistan or India — where they’ll be forced to languish as ‘non-citizens’ for many years. It’s very sad and frustrating.
Canadian leaders seem silent on the plight of the Afghan Sikhs. Is that proper reading of the situation?
What are the ground challenges in getting the Afghan Sikhs to move out?
There are logistical issues, but we can charter a plane and bring them. Unlike the 20,000 Canadians stuck in India due to the curfew, we don’t have those movement restrictions in Afghanistan. And these people we need to move are mostly in Kabul.
Beyond logistics. Does it mean they have to leave everything they have and start afresh?
Yes, there is no choice. But, those in the Gurdwara have already been driven out of their homes — and they would congregate each night at the Gurdwara for safety.
A few Afghan Sikh families have moved to Canada some years earlier. What are their experiences ?
Only 15 families have made it here that were originally in Helmunt province — they all have jobs and are starting to get settled in. They’re not yet as established as the Kabuli Sikhs of Southhall, but that takes a generation.
The Afghan Sikhs in London are well established. They have flourishing businesses and real estate.
The Sikh-Afghani newcomers in Canada are living on rent, mostly uneducated (hence labour jobs). But they are safe and have a future.
If we bring them to Canada, then we’ll ensure they have jobs, training, education and support — starting fresh here will be easier than the risk they face in Kabul currently. Those that got out over the last couple of decades were generally those that could afford to get out, so, had some wealth. Those left behind are the most needy.
What can Sikhs in other countries do to help the Afghan Sikhs?
If there are immigration or refugee sponsorship programs in each respective country, then we should consider those too. Alternatively, help get signatures on the various petitions that are being circulated so that this becomes a global movement and the politicians respond to the pressure. And lastly, financially help the organizations that are working on this. World Sikh Parliament is not collecting any funds, we are routing our funds through other organizations.
Is it the end of the line for Sikhs in Afghanistan?
Sadly, that’s the case. It is too small a minority, unable to defend itself, and politically inconsequential. I’d still like to be able to help them get out, instead of having more killed.
Have you personally met any of the Afghan Sikhs who moved to Canada? What was your impression?
Yes. Good folk, grateful to be in Canada. They will make good Citizens of Canada. And they are our brothers, there’s an instant kinship when you meet them.
Despite a new Indian law offering them citizenship, most of the Sikh minority community members in Afghanistan would prefer to migrate to Canada or the U.K. or any western nation, if they have to leave their country at all.
Accounts from Afghanistan
“We have nowhere to go. Where can we poor people go?” Says Arijit Singh, an elderly Sikh in Kabul’s Shor Bazar locality.
“Afghanistan was and shall remain my country. I was born here and have lived through the ‘Shahi’ [monarchy] and the Khalqis [communist] the Mujahideen and the Taliban. I will die here as well,” he said.
Singh’s family has migrated from the central restive Ghazni province to the relatively safer Kabul. That is the case with many of the community members, as lawlessness coupled with the raging insurgency has forced them to take refuge in the capital city.
“Under the Taliban regime [1996 – 2001], we were asked to wear distinctive turbans and armbands and hoist a flag on our gurdwaras [Sikh houses of worship] to differentiate from Muslims. Sikhs also support long beards like many Afghans. Other than that, there was not much trouble,” he said.
However, he added that over the years when the economy and security situation has turned worse, properties of the minority community have been encroached upon.
Kuldeep Singh, a young Sikh living near Madawi market in the capital Kabul, said he would ideally like to migrate to Canada, the U.K., with his family to escape from the harsh realities of life in Afghanistan. “Most of our community members have left either for Canada, Europe, America, the U.K. and India,” he said.
“There was a time when we had thousands of families living here. But now only few hundreds are left”, he said. Over the years, due to migration to the west, neighboring Pakistan and India, their population has been reduced to few hundred families.
– Indian law to accelerate process of citizenship
Kuldeep added that those who went to India in the past had to camp inside gurdwaras for years, to get their documents processed.
“Even after that, they continued to struggle to start a new life from the scratch with no or little support,” he said. The new Indian law is expected to make the process faster to process their citizenship, in case they opt to migrate to India.
He added that leaving the motherland can be a difficult decision. But the current situation in Afghanistan and persistent terrorist attacks, everyone including the majority Muslim population wants to escape to find a safe place.