Bagwan Dase, 75 is the only Hindu left in eastern Khost province.
The hundreds of others, he says, fled after warlords seized their homes and lands and “we fear to ask for the return of our properties”.
Dase sits in a Hindu temple in Prim Nagar village, east of Khost city. Before 1978, Prim Nagar was known as one of the most beautiful villages in the city, but after decades of war, it now lies in ruins.
Dase, who was born in Khost, stays because he has a job — securing the empty houses of the Hindus who have left — for which he receives 14,000 afghanis per month. He lives alone, because his family is in India.
Hindus and Sikhs have lived in Khost for centuries. They dress the same as Afghans, but worship different gods and speak a different language – although many do speak Dari and Pashto as well.
Sayed Amin Mujjahid, deputy of the Afghan Academy of Science, says that after Afghan King Mahmood Ghaznawi conquered India in 1025 and broke the Somanthe statues, he was followed back to Afghanistan by many Hindus and Sikhs.
“Then in the 1760s, during the reign of King Ahamd Shah Baba, some Hindus and Sikhs joined the army and also settled in Afghanistan.”
“The third reason that Hindus came to Afghanistan was that whenever the Hindus clashed with their government, they came to Afghanistan where the government gave them land and other privileges in areas now considered Pakistan,” Mujahid says.
The Hindu-Sikh population was estimated to number around 200,000 in 1990, but now there are between 700-800 now
Before the Communist regime in the mid 1970s, 243 Hindu families lived side by side with Afghans in Khost, Dase says.
However, after the 1978 coup, due to the poor security and restrictions on their ability to follow their religion, some Hindus left.
In contrast, when the Taliban took power in 1996, Sikhs and Hindus were free to practise their religion. They had no fear about security either. However, the Taliban did force them to wear yellow stars to make them easily distinguishable from Muslims.
When Dr. Najeebullah’s government collapsed in 1991 during the decade- long civil war, Base says his properties were looted. A Hindu temple in Khost also was destroyed in 1992, at the same time as some extremist Hindus demolished the Baber Mosque in India.
“Due to economic problems, Hindus from Khost emigrated to Pakistan, India and other parts of the world,” Dase says. Only 33 of the original families from Khost have remained in Afghanistan, and most are in Kabul, probably one of the safest places for Hindus and Sikhs.
Although some Hindu families remained in Khost, the lack of jobs, assaults by warlords on their properties and the worsening security forced them to move.
In Latako area, more than 187 acres of land belonging to Hindu families were seized by warlords, Dase says. He says if any of the land owners even contemplate asking for their property back, they will be kidnapped and threatened with death.
Royal Sang, the assistant of the Hindus Council in Afghanistan, says it is true that Dase is the only Hindu in Khost. He blames the seizing of their lands by warlords, the poor security and lack of jobs for why Hindus left Afghanistan.
According to him, another problem is lack of schools for Hindu children.
But life is not much better in India. “We are treated as Afghan refugees in India, we are not given any sort of privileges, we are not happy there. When Afghanistan becomes stable, we will return,” says Dase.
He wants the government to take their back their land from the warlords.
Yousef Molater, an official of Human Rights Association in the southeastern zone, says it is the government’s responsibility to protect the rights of Hindus.
“The Hindus are citizens of Afghanistan and they should be prevented from emigrating and the government has to provide opportunities for them to them return and live in safety,” he says.
Hindus have rights just like anyone else in the province and nobody can oppress them, Abdul Jabar Naeemi, the governor of Khost, says.
“If they have documents for grabbed lands in any part of the province, I will return their land to them,” he says.
However, although the Hindus say they have complained to the government, Naeemi denies this.
The governor says he hopes the Hindus will return to their former homes and take part in the reconstruction of the province.
Gen. Abdul Haqeem Eshaqzai, the police chief, also says that if the Hindus have any security-related problems, they can tell him and he will resolve it. But again, while the Hindus say they have complained to the police, the Eshaqzai denies this.
There have been some success stories. During the recent parliamentary election, two Sikhs stood for the lower house, and more recently a Hindu was selected to advise President Hamid Karzai on economic affairs.
Most Khost residents say they are saddened by the stories of torment that the Hindus suffer and would like them to be able to return.
Hajji Juma Khan,72, a resident of Sabari district, says he has good memories of the Hindus. “I wish the Hindus would return to our village. They were very good and harmless people,” he says.
Hasamuddin Rahimzai, a professor of the Islamic Sharia department at Khost University, says the harassment of Hindus was not only a violation of their human rights but also an act against Islam.
“What was done is in the past, but in the future I hope the Hindus who left Khost will return,” he says.
Bhagwan who is 75 now has his sons in Delhi and operate the Mobile accessories business in Karol Bagh area. Bhagwan says that he had the choice to move to Pakistan or India like his family but he decided to stay to preserve and take care of Hindu & Sikh religious places.
Bhagwan Das says that he is moving to India due to health reasons as he requires regular dialysis and also believes that new CAA law would expedite the process of getting Indian citizenship. He says “Our people went there (Delhi) and suffered for years without jobs and even basic documents to avail govt schemes but now that has changed. I stayed back to take care of our heritage but now that Sikhs from Afghanistan are ready to move out as well, I think it is time I bid farewell to my motherland. My last wish is to be cremated in Khost and I hope my sons will fulfil that for me.”
Note- The Article has not been modified or changed to correct the factual and historical inaccuracies and is presented as said by the people directly. For example a statement suggesting Sikhs existed in Afg during Ghaznavi’s times even before Guru Nanak’s birth is not authors suggestion. Also there are other inaccuracies in statements of some accounts in this story about when & how Hinduism arrived in Afghanistan