Sikh killing in Afghanistan, a move to dismantle Sikh-Muslim unity ?

Chanchal Manohar Singh | April 24, 2020 06:12 PM

Notwithstanding the worldwide reputation of being humble servants and courageous combatants, the Sikhs in Kabul area of Afghanistan received bullets, when they were worshipping inside the Gurudwara, leaving at least 27 dead and many wounded. The Islamic State (IS), with all impunity, took the responsibility of the attack.

The killing of Sikhs in a theocratic Muslim country has created ripples and sent shock waves in the entire world in general and members of the Sikh community in particular. The people, especially Muslims have immediately come up with hashtags "not in my name", clarifying that the attack has nothing to do with Muslims and Islam. The netizens also cursed those behind the assault and asserted Sikhs to be the most humble and helpful community in the world.

This is perhaps not the first attack on minorities in Afghanistan. In 2018, a suicide bomber claimed by ISIL killed more than a dozen Sikhs in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s IS affiliate struck a gathering of minority Shia Muslims in Kabul, killing 32 people, so it becomes clear that no religious affiliations are prompting them to kill people in the name of religion. To cover their shame of killing innocent Sikhs in the name of religion, IS issued a statement, claiming that they have avenged India’s role in Kashmir, but the same was not entertained by the people of Kashmir. They (Kashmiri Muslims) termed the incident barbaric, dastardly and inhumane. 

After the Wednesday assault on a religious gathering in Gurdwara Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib at Shor Bazar, yet another device exploded in a house in Qalacha area a day later , not far from the spot where the Sikhs were cremating their dead, which shows some vested interests are behind the curtains, who are hell-bent to sabotage the escalating harmony between Sikhs and Muslims across the globe. The million-dollar question here arises, who will gain from this attack?

IS, No. Mere 200-300 Sikh families cannot be a problem for the Islamic State to usher Islamic reign in the country. Taliban, No. As the news of the Sikh Gurdwara attack first broke on Wednesday last (25th March 2020), Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed clarified in a tweet that the Taliban were not involved, which is probably the outcome of recently signed peace agreement between the United States and Taliban leadership to end the killings of unarmed innocent people in Afghanistan. Still some narcissists are deriving pleasure from the killing in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. While some are justifying it by saying that their different religious practice in Muslim country is not justifiable, some claim that thousands of Muslims got killed in Afghanistan, why so much hullabaloo on the killing of Sikhs. In India, some people are mocking Sikhs for organising langars (Free Community ready-made food) for the Muslims during anti-CAA, anti-NRC protests at Shaheen Bagh and other places across India.

The Sikhs have been natives of Afghanistan for centuries. They are mostly traders and retailers and practice in all types of business.  The Sikhism has its roots in Afghanistan since the time of the first Sikh Guru-Guru Nanak Dev ji- and have been living peacefully as part of Afghan society, fully assimilated in the local customs and rituals, in addition to performing their Sikh religious and cultural customs as well as rituals.

Now, the Sikhs have been reduced to a small minority, and its members residing primarily in major cities, such as in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazni and Kandahar. The estimated Sikh population is 1,300 only and 250 families, whereas the Afghanistan population is 35 million.

Before the 1990s, the Afghan Sikh population was estimated around 50,000, but these numbers have been dwindling day by day, as scared members of the Sikh community, have been migrating to India. Many of them have been using Delhi as a transit point to seek immigration to UK, USA, Canada and some other European countries. Many of them have also sought political asylum in these countries like the UK, Germany, Canada. As of 2013, they are around 800 families of which 300 families live in Kabul alone.

Kabul once had as many as eight gurdwaras (Sikh religious places), but only one exists today. It is reportedly a common feature that the Sikhs are taunted and harassed with threats and explicit of all kinds, which shows that Afghanistan, it appears,  has become a rogue nation, which is incapable of providing security to the minorities, who have been inhabitants of the country since centuries.

During the Taliban regime, the Sikhs had a few problems. At least they were told no one would kill them as far as they continue to wear a yellow stripe (Bandage) at the writs and post yellow flags at their religious, commercial establishments and houses.

It is a long time, now, that the Sikhs have been facing difficulties in holding funerals in Afghan society. They have to report to the area police before taking out funerals and holding cremation of the deceased. For decades, most Sikh cremations - a practice forbidden by Islam - were held in Qalacha in eastern Kabul. But nearby area residents have been complaining of the foul smell arising out of burning of bodies.

Since the Afghan Sikhs have no other country to migrate immediately, they look towards India as a safer home.  Many Sikhs, who hails from eastern province of Nangarhar in Afghanistan, too complain of physical and verbal harassment by locals when they are out on the streets.

Currently, about 14, 500 Afghan refugees are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner (UNHCR) in India, out of which the majority of them live in New Delhi. Over the years, many Afghan Sikhs have migrated to Delhi, where they live in the Rajinder Nagar colony, which is also popularly known as a “Little Kabul of Delhi”. A Gurdwara in Greater Kailash, where most of the Afghan Sikh pray and pay obeisance is called “divine home” for the Afghani Sikhs.

Being a refugee, these Afghanis are not entitled for any government job or in any private establishments therefore, they are involved in small self-employment ventures.

The expected impact of these killings in Kabul gurdwara would be visible after some time, but one thing is clear that Afghan Sikhs would start migrating for safer places in India. The new Citizenship (Amendment) Act-2019 (CAA) has a special category for providing citizenship to persecuted migrating Sikhs from Afghanistan. With the death of 27 Afghani Sikhs, they do not need any certificate of persecution in Afghanistan. Moreover, to facilitate citizenship in such cases the stay period in India, in the new CAA has been brought down to five years from 12 years.

(The writer is a senior journalist and Indo-Pak peace activist. cmsingh.india@gmail.com)


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