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Afghan Sikhs and Hindus seek evacuation after Taliban takeover

A 2012 picture of Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Karte Parwan, Kabul. Source: Supplied by Pritpal Singh

As the fear of religious persecution at the hands of the Taliban weighs heavily on the minds of the last of Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities, support groups have urged Australia to bring them over as refugees to a life of safety.

Following the takeover of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul by the Taliban, religious minorities like Sikhs and Hindus have begun to fear for their future in the country. The fear of bloodshed is forcing the country's Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to leave the land they have called home for centuries.

A global Sikh community support group has appealed to Australian authorities to prioritise these religious minorities in its process of evacuating refugees from Afghanistan.


Highlights:

  • Over 260 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus take refuge in Kabul Sikh temple
  • Sikh community bodies urge Australia to bring Afghan Hindus and Sikhs as refugees
  • Only three of 60-plus Sikh temples remain functional in Afghanistan: Documentary film-maker

Gurvinder Singh, Director of United Sikhs Australia, told SBS Punjabi that they have approached some parliamentarians to pass on their request to the federal government.

“We have sent letters to all MPs to include Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in [Australia’s] refugee intake on grounds of religious persecution and threat to their lives.

“Julian Hill is taking this matter to the foreign minister of Australia”, he added.

Jaspal Singh, a Sikh stuck in a Kabul gurudwara (Sikh temple) has pleaded for evacuation.

“I, Jaspal Singh am stranded in Kabul and have taken refuge in a gurudwara. Sangat (religious congregation) including kids, women and elderly people are in fear and we request you to help us escape and migrate,” he had requested United Sikhs.

A prominent voice for Afghan Sikhs is UK resident and documentary film-maker Pritpal Singh. Born and raised in Afghanistan, Pritpal migrated to the UK amidst Afghanistan’s civil war in 1995 in search of a stable and safe life. 

Afghan Sikhs
Pritpal Singh in Surobi during his 2012 Afghanistan visit .
Supplied by Pritpal Singh

Talking to SBS Punjabi, he sheds light on the plight of Afghanistan’s religious minorities amidst the chaos.

“The period of war in Afghanistan broke many families and Afghan Sikhs are feeling alienated in their homeland,” says Pritpal, who has made documentaries to raise awareness on Afghan minorities, titled Mission Afghanistan and Hindu Kush to Thames.

Hope for a better tomorrow

Pritpal has extensively filmed, photographed and interviewed members of the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities. He has also won an award by Tomorrow’s Hope, an Afghan multimedia organisation.

He has been communicating with Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from the UK after the Taliban took over Kabul.

“Taliban officials visited Gurudwara Karte Parvaan on 15 August to collect people’s weapons and instructed Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to remain within the gurudwara premises,” he told SBS Punjabi.

Only time will tell if Taliban honour their words

“They have assured Afghan Sikhs of their safety but we cannot trust them right away,” Pritpal added. 

Recalling the phase of bloodshed in the 1990s, he said, “everyone is living amidst fear and chaos right now, and based on the Taliban’s track record, we have to wait and see what they really do.”

“We are making desperate efforts to evacuate our people from the war-torn country. But at present, only diplomats have been evacuated on military flights. More efforts are needed to get our community out of the Taliban-seized Afghanistan”, Pritpal added. 

A majority of Afghan Sikhs want to relocate to Western countries rather than India

Pritpal has urged all Sikh community organisations across the world to step up and help in the resettlement of the last of Afghanistan's Sikhs and Hindus.

“Following the Kabul attacks on Sikhs in March 2020, the community began its journey to India on special visas but due to financial instability, many of them have returned to Afghanistan and their future remains uncertain,” Pritpal added.

Members of our community have been left with broken hearts because of their worsening circumstances here 

Painful uprooting

Pritpal vividly recalls the events and dates that sent Afghanistan’s religious minorities into a downward spiral.

“Civil war tore many lives and a lot of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus lost their loved ones.

“When the deadly bomb blast rocked Jalalabad on 1 July 2018, I lost my dear friend Rawail Singh, who helped me during the making of my documentary, along with other prominent members of the Hindu and Sikh communities of Afghanistan,” Pritpal recalled. 

“In the '90s, there were 80,000 Sikhs and 50,000 Hindus in Afghanistan but they started relocating [to other countries] during the civil war that began in 1992 under the Najibullah government after the Kabul bombardments.

“In 2012, when I went to Afghanistan for making my documentary, the local Sikh population was 3,000, which has now been reduced to a mere 300,” he said. 

Afghan Sikhs
Jasbir Singh, granthi of Gurudwara Nanak Darbar, Jalalabad insists on staying in his hometown
Supplied by Pritpal Singh

Home is where the heart is

While hundreds of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are seeking refuge in Kabul, a granthi (Sikh priest) in Jalalabad insists on staying in his hometown. 

The last Sikh resident of Jalalabad, Jasbir Singh, who leads prayers at Gurudwara Nanak Darbar, is taking a unique stand.

An audio clip in public circulation, said to be in Jasbir’s voice, he can be heard saying why he doesn’t want to leave the land of his ancestors.

Many Muslim brothers are doing sewa (ritual service in Sikh tradition) in the gurudwara, then why should I, a Sikh, run away from duty

“People from the Taliban came and assured safety. Till now I feel safe in Afghanistan. This time the Taliban haven’t entered the Jalalabad gurudwara premises. They are trying to calm our nerves and have asked us why other Sikhs fled from Jalalabad,” the audio clip adds.  

Future of historic Sikh and Hindu temples

There are many historic gurudwaras in Afghanistan. The first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, visited present-day Afghanistan from 1519-1521 during his fourth udaasi (travel).

Pritpal weighs in on the threat and decline in the number of places of worship of religious minorities, many of which are heritage-listed.

“These World Heritage sites need to be preserved with the intervention of the UN as it has been seen that Islamist rulers do not tolerate other ethnicities. 

Afghan Sikhs
Jalalabad Mandir, a Hindu Temple in Afghanistan.
Supplied by Pritpal Singh

“At present, only three gurudwaras in Afghanistan remain functional out of over 60.

“A very important part of Afghanistan’s cultural history were the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan which were destroyed under the rule of the Taliban in the 1990s,” Pritpal said. 

Click on the player at the top of the page to listen to this interview in Punjabi.

Listen to SBS Punjabi Monday to Friday at 9 pm. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter

 

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