Indian govt has decided to facilitate the return of remaining Afghan Sikhs and this decision has been welcomed by all in the community. Afghan Sikhs who moved to india during the start of civil war in Afghanistan are happy to welcome their own as the first flight lands in Delhi today. (Sunday 26th July 2020).
An afghan sikh who moved to India in 1994 recounts his experience of leaving his motherland and tells me that the Sikhs moving in today feel more or less the same. The emotion of letting go of everything that one has known and the idea of starting a new life in a new country is not at all fancy but it is the pill they have to take if they have to survive he tells me.
I asked Sardar Iqbal Singh few questions over the phone in the wake of the changing things in Afghanistan & Afghan Sikhs coming to india after long spree of persecution & terror unleashed on them.
Iqbal singh owns a mobile accessory shop that is of the size of 2*3 ft. He pays 8000/- per month for that space which is a negotiated price brought down from 12,000/- “The landlord is a local Hindu, and he was very kind to bring down the price without much of negotiations. He doesn’t force me to pay him if I am late on the payment. I felt the same touch in Afghanistan with my own people, and now they are my own people.”
Q-1. When did you move to india? Can you describe how it happened?
Answer- I moved to India in 1994 after the start of civil war in Afghanistan. The circumstances then were different and I think it was a wise decision. I got married in 1988 & by the time I moved Jaspreet (my daughter) was an year old. I did not want to suffer in any way. I still remember withdrawing all the cash I had and closing my bank accounts in Jallalabad. It was an emotional day.
Q-2 How was the life initially and how has it changed if it has at all?
Answer- Oh son! This is hard to answer. We took the bitter pill at that time and it had to have the consequences. We came & stayed in Gurdwara Singh Sabha in West Delhi. Some Sikhs were already living in other Gurdwaras. My daughter was scared to go out of room that she was in with her mother and two other women and children. I used to sleep outside for around an year & half after which we got a temporary accommodation with reference of someone in DSGMC. There was nothing happening on financial aspect for 2yrs. I used up all my savings on my child & wife to give them life they deserved. I remember walking to Chandni Chowk because rickshaw cost was too much to go buy a new dress for Jaspreet on Baisakhi. She still has the dress. After 2yrs one of my friend took a shop on lease in Karol Bagh and I worked on his shop. It took me 8yrs to own the khokha I have now
Q3 What do you think about the recent attacks on afghan sikhs?
I think the attacks are unfortunate & unjust. Be it the 2018 or 2020, minorities have always been under the scanner in Afghanistan. Afghan govt has always been weak in handling Taliban. It used to be a peaceful country until the start of civil war. As an afghani we always blamed US for all the problems but now I think the things are not as simple as that. ‘We clap with both the hands’
4. What do you think of Bill that india passed?
You know I steer clear of answering this one because during recent Delhi Anti CAA protests, our market in Karol Bagh was flooded with young boys and girls seeking our opinion on CAA and modifying statements for their reporting. We have also given a video statement thanking govt of india for enabling us to get the documents and passport. We can call ourselves Indian now and some people seem to have problem with that too. Turns out there is no home for poor.
Q-5 What are hardships that you face in india on everyday basis?
I live an average life of an Indian in a metro city who goes to work and comes back in the evening to his family so my hardships except for the first 8yrs are more or less same as any other person. Say Aggarwal Sahib who sells bags in Karol Bagh faces same problems that I do. We aren’t racially discriminated, nor are we looked down upon by anyone. Indian sikh community has deepest respect for Afghan Sikhs and they always meet us to ask about Sikhism in Afghanistan
Q-6 Do you ever want to go back to Afghanistan?
If the situation improves in Afghanistan and Taliban are wiped off the face of earth, we can think of resettling in Afghanistan again. But that is too much of whataboutery and a distant dream. We no longer live in fantasy land.
Q-7 What were some important problems that community faced in Afghanistan?
Oh a lot of them. There were illegal property captures, kidnappings, murders, rapes, threat letters and what not. Like I told you I moved at the time when all this was just starting and rest is history. Everyone knows what has become of Afghanistan
Q-8 Why did you choose india?
No other country at that time knew the plight that we would face. Some people did move to UK & Canada But it all depended on who financed their movement & all that. Economic strata on top moved to countries like UK & Canada using their contacts. For middle class people like me, India was home and will always be. I remember talking to 17 other families that moved with us. We all did an ardaas and felt happy that we would be able to take the holy dip in Sarovar of Guru Ramdas ji.
Q-9 What happened to your properties that you owned?
I owned a house & a shop with a bicycle. I gave the bicycle to my friend Gul Majeed because he walked to his shop everyday. I sold my property to my neighbor at a far lower price that it could have got. But majboori thi
Q-10 What do you say about common afghans?
Answer- Oh they are the sweetest people you will ever meet. When my daughter was born, my neighbors organised a feast and my neighbor’s wife named her Jaspreet after a journo with the same name she had met in Kabul. Local afghans had no hate for Sikhs. They understood our culture, used to come to Gurdwaras and we used to hike together to mountains. I remember spending my childhood collecting used cartridges on firing ranges with my afghan friends. It was all good until Taliban put venom in their head.
Q-11 What would you advise authorities about the new refugees coming in
I think Indian authorities are doing great and have also fast tracked the process to facilitate afghan sikhs. I hope authorities ensure that Sikhs don’t have to stay in Gurdwaras for very long time. Ensuring some sort of job would be good. Sikhs and other people should employ afghan boys as well. Financial aspect is the only thing that needs to taken care of.
Thank you so much for your time Iqbal Singh ji.