The events in the last few weeks after the Taliban took over Afghanistan are an absolute validation that those of Indic origin, inclusive of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and even Indian Muslims, are not safe under any Islamic dispensation
Afghanistan is in the proverbial eye of the storm. Much before the imminent drawback of the United States and allied forces from the country, the Taliban moved in to take over. It met with no resistance from the Ashraf Ghani-led Government of Afghanistan and the Afghan Nation Army. As a result, by mid-August, the Taliban was in complete control of Afghanistan, as heralded by the takeover of Kabul around August 17.
As a result, all foreign nationals in Afghanistan, including the Embassies staff and those involved in the business over there, had to be evacuated; also, such Afghan nationals who had helped the US and allied forces over the years were under threat had to be taken out.
A small but significant segment in this lot that had to be evacuated was the remnants of the once vibrant Hindu and Sikh community that had inhabited Afghanistan for centuries and added significantly to its social, cultural and economic milieu.
The devastating image of Afghan Sikhs leaving their country for India with three Saroops (holy copies) of Sri Guru Granth Sahib and the same being carried from the Delhi airport on the head (as is the tradition) by Hardip Puri, a Union Minister with the Government of India, and two other prominent Sikhs is going to stay embedded in the minds of the Sikhs across the world for all times to come.
It is so because the Sikhs have maintained a spiritual connection with Afghanistan ever since the birth of the religion, and witnessing an end to the connection is very painful indeed.
The first Sikh master, Guru Nanak Dev, visited Afghanistan on his way back from the holy cities of Mecca and Medina during his fourth Udasi (Spiritual journey). Afghanistan naturally elicited the interest of all subsequent Sikh Gurus due to the connection with Guru Nanak. Since migration was not such a big issue in those days the Sikhs started building a presence in the area.
The famous Sikh historian Bhai Gurdas, who assisted Guru Arjan Dev in the Sri Guru Granth Sahib compilation, was sent as a preacher of Sikhi to Afghanistan. Another devout Sikh, Bhai Ghonda, was sent by Guru Har Rai (1630-1661) to Kabul to spread the word. Bhai Ghonda cheerfully accepted the responsibility and even established a few Gurdwaras there.
Sikh presence in Afghanistan further increased during Maharaja Ranjit Singh since Afghanistan literally came under Sikh suzerainty in that period. During partition, some Sikhs from the North-West Frontier Provinces fled from Pakistan towards Afghanistan and were welcomed by the Afghan rulers there.
In the 1970’s, Sikh and the Hindu population in Afghanistan stood at 7,00,000 of which the Sikh population was between 2,00,000 and 5,00,000 (1.8 per cent – 4.6 per cent of the national population). Sikhs were living in Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kabul, and Kandahar.
The trouble began from the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and escalated sharply during the civil war period of 1992 and the ultimate takeover of power by Taliban 1.0. As with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, the Taliban also targeted Sikh and Hindu places of worship. Seven out of eight Gurdwaras in Kabul itself were destroyed; only the historic Gurdwara Karte Parwan was left standing. More difficulty was faced in conducting last rites since cremation with fire was against Islamic edicts and not acceptable to the Taliban.
It was during this time that the Sikh population in Afghanistan started declining rapidly. Sikhs migrated across the world, and many came to India. By 2013, only about 8000 Sikhs remained in Afghanistan, and this figure further fell to about 1000 in 2019. By 2020, only 70-80 families with a total population of about 700 remained in Afghanistan.
“There were 13 Saroops of the Guru Granth Sahib in Afghanistan, of which seven were already shifted to India earlier. Three have been shifted now and just three more remain in Afghanistan. Those too will be shifted soon,” revealed Chhabol Singh, member of Karte Parwan Gurdwara Committee, on his return to India.
As with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues, the Taliban also targeted Sikh and Hindu places of worship. Seven out of eight Gurdwaras in Kabul itself were destroyed; only the historic Gurdwara Karte Parwan was left standing
The seven Saroops were shifted post the terrorist attack on Gurdwara Karte Parwan, Kabul, on March 25, 2020, which left 27 Sikhs, including women and children, dead and many wounded. The responsibility for the attack was taken by Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K). However, reports and statements by the Government of Afghanistan suggested the hand of the Pakistan based Haqqani Network and also Pakistan based terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). A huge exodus towards India took place after the attack.
Now there is hardly a Sikh to be seen in Afghanistan. Narendra Singh Khalsa, an Afghan Sikh politician and Member of Parliament from Afghanistan, was seen weeping at the Hindon Air Force Base after the Indian Air Force (IAF) plane evacuating him and others landed there. He profusely thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for having evacuated the distraught members of his community for the conflict-torn region. “India is our second home. We are extremely thankful to the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Narendra Singh Khalsa to the media after arriving in Delhi from Kabul. The Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking refuge in India for the last two decades were identified as the biggest beneficiaries of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA). It needs to be reiterated that the Government of Punjab actively joined the self-serving protest against the CAA ignited by a few with a vested interest in destabilising the nation. It passed a resolution against CAA in its state assembly. The resolution went through due to the majority enjoyed by the Congress party in the state assembly. It did not keep in mind the problems of the Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus who were being persecuted in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It was both illegal and unconstitutional since the state governments are, by law, bound to apply the provisions of the CAA.
The Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan and Pakistan seeking refuge in India for the last two decades were identified as the biggest beneficiaries of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. It needs to be reiterated that the Government of Punjab actively joined the self-serving protest against the CAA ignited by a few with a vested interest in destabilising the nation. It passed a resolution against CAA in its state assembly. The resolution went through due to the majority enjoyed by the Congress party in the state assembly
Under the circumstances, it is clear that the huge campaign against CAA by the Government of Punjab and others highlights the lack of sensitivity for those of the Sikh and Punjabi community who are being persecuted in the most dastardly manner in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The fallacy of the negative predictions is now very much apparent. It is a boon that refugees who have come to India before 2014 are receiving citizenship under provisions of CAA will be able to lead a life of honour. The provisions will also assist an early sanction of citizenship to those, including ethnic Afghan nationals, who have now been airlifted to India now on an electronic visa. It is hoped that those who agitated against the CAA will now understand the bill's humanitarian potential and the folly of their misconceived opposition to the same.
Sikhs lived in Afghanistan with honour till recent times when their persecution in the hands of the fundamentalist Taliban began. The Sikhs have now been forced to leave the country in what can be termed as the final exodus. It is heartbreaking to see the trauma of dislocation and complete destruction of their lives. The silver lining is the hope that they see in India.
The events in the last few weeks are an absolute validation of the fact that those of Indic origin, inclusive of Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Christians and even Indian Muslims, are not safe under any Islamic dispensation. The atrocities being committed on minorities in Pakistan are yet another sobering indication of this fact. Here, the danger of separatist agendas like the inimical foreign powers sponsored Khalistani agenda becomes more pronounced. n