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Afghanistan Sikhs, Already Marginalized, Are Pushed To Brink.


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http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-afghanistan-sikhs-20130611,0,1113100.story

Afghanistan Sikhs, already marginalized, are pushed to the brink Widespread discrimination has prompted many Afghan Sikhs to flee, greatly diminishing their number. Those who remain fear their community may vanish altogether.

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Decades of war, instability and intolerance in Afghanistan have fueled waves of Sikh emigration, reducing the community to just 372 families nationwide, says Awtar Singh Khalsa, right, association president of the Karte Parwan temple in Kabul. (Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times / April 25, 2013)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Outsiders may have trouble distinguishing between the turbans worn by Afghan Sikhs, with their tighter folds, varied colors and tucked-in edges, and those worn by Afghan Muslims, usually black or white with the end hanging down the wearer's back.

The subtle differences, however, and what they represent, have fueled widespread discrimination against Afghan Sikhs, members of the community say, prompting many to move away amid concern that the once-vibrant group could disappear.

"For anyone who understands the differences in turbans, we really stand out," said Daya Singh Anjaan, 49, an Afghan Sikh who fled the capital, Kabul, for India after seeing his Sikh neighbors slain. "I'm sure the remaining Afghan Sikhs will vanish soon. Survival's becoming impossible."

There are no exact records on when Sikhs, a 500-year-old monotheistic people from western India and modern-dayPakistan, arrived in Afghanistan, although most accounts place it around 200 years ago. Mostly traders, they prospered and numbered about 50,000 by the early 1990s, concentrated in Jalalabad, Kabul, Kandahar and Ghazni.

But decades of war, instability and intolerance have fueled waves of emigration, reducing the community to just 372 families nationwide, said Awtar Singh Khalsa, association president of the Karte Parwan gurdwara, or temple. This is the last of eight gurdwaras that once operated in Kabul, he said.

During the Afghan civil war of the mid-1990s, most of Kabul's solidly constructed gurdwaras were appropriated by battling warlords who shelled one another, destroying seven of them along with a Sikh school that once taught 1,000 students. Under Taliban rule, Sikhs had to wear yellow patches, reminiscent of the Jews under Nazi rule, and fly yellow flags over their homes and shops.

Among the goals laid out by the United States and its allies after toppling the Taliban government in 2001 was religious tolerance for minorities, who account for about 1% of Afghanistan's population.

In practice, Sikhs say, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's weak and embattled government rarely counters prejudice by the majority population, which emboldens attackers. Hooligans rob, insult and spit at them on the street, they say, order them to remove their turbans and try to steal their land.

Particularly dispiriting, Afghan Sikhs say, are charges by the Muslim majority that they should "go home," even though they've lived in Afghanistan for generations and are protected, at least theoretically, by freedom-of-religion safeguards in the Afghan Constitution.

Another disturbing example of the indignities they face is the treatment of their dead, many said. Cremation, a tenet of the Sikh faith, has been quietly practiced in Kabul's eastern district of Qalacha for more than a century.

In recent years, however, some Sikhs who have tried to carry out cremations have been beaten up, stoned and otherwise blocked from doing so, at times decried as statue-worshiping infidels whose ceremonies "smell." Islam considers cremation a sacrilege.

Many Sikhs said they've complained repeatedly to the government to little avail. "In the last decade, the Kabul government has specified 10 different places for Sikh burials and cremations, but villagers keep giving Sikhs problems," said Anarkali Honaryar, a senator representing the community. "Even when President Karzai issued a decree, nothing changed."

While in New Delhi last month, Karzai said that Sikhs are a valued part of Afghanistan and that he was sorry so many had left. "We'll do our best to bring the Sikh community and Hindus back to Afghanistan," he said.

Sikhs, Jews and other minorities enjoyed tolerance and relative prosperity until the late 1970s when decades of war, oppression and infighting set in. Although many Muslim families have also suffered hugely, Sikhs say they've faced worse pressures as a minority subject to forced religious conversions and frequent kidnapping, given their limited political protection and reputation for being prosperous.

Pritpal Singh, an Afghan-born Sikh living in England who has documented the plight of Afghan Sikhs, said his brother was kidnapped shortly before the family left in 1992.

"I really looked up to him; it was such a shock," he said. "They asked for crazy money and we couldn't pay, so they killed him."

As conditions worsened, Sikhs turned increasingly inward, building a high wall around the lastgurdwara to prevent passersby from stoning the building, and cremating their dead inside, normally unthinkable, to stem angry mobs.

Khalsa said he's met repeatedly with Karzai but nothing changes, and meetings with bureaucrats and politicians often end with demands for money.

"Corruption is unbelievable," Khalsa said. "The Taliban were far better than this government."

For those emigrating, India and Pakistan visas are much easier to secure than those to Europe, so some stop there first, then travel illegally to the West.

Although securing a short-term visitor visa to India is relatively easy, obtaining citizenship is a "nightmare" given India's bureaucracy and general indifference, said Paramjit Singh Sarna, anIndian community leader in New Delhi assisting Afghan Sikhs. It does not help that Sikhism originated in India and that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh.

Sarna said many Afghan Sikhs live in limbo in India. As "outsiders," they are unable to buy land or work, their travel is restricted, their children born stateless.

Dhyan Singh, a 62-year-old Afghan Sikh who has lived in New Delhi since 1989, said he misses Afghanistan despite the problems.

"Just last night, I dreamed I visited the Kabul gurdwara," Singh said. "It's only fear that keeps me away."

mark.magnier@latimes.com

Times staff writer Magnier reported from Kabul and New Delhi. Special correspondent Baktash reported from Kabul.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

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Very sad. Afghans have seen the WORST in last 30 years..Their whole society and its fabric has deteriorated.

Sad reality of our brothers and sisters living in islamic hell hole occupied land of afghanistan. A lesson for any nation what islamification of your nation means to you as a free people.


It has more to do with wars, destruction of institutions, and occupation of decades than Islam. Don't simplify things by just blaming Islam...

I hope and pray that Sikh brothers stay safe and may Allah grant stability and prosperity to Afghanistan...

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I think Afghanistan must be like a hell for all the people living their. Those poor people have been living in a state of war for 25 years. Imagine what it must be like for the children born and raised in such an environment. Pure Nark

If you're going to allow a bunch of fundamentalist Muslims to take over your country then you should expect that. Most places where Islam is in power without any moderating force such as secularism or democracy is a hell hole for non-Muslims and in the end becomes a hell hole for Muslims as well. You say that Afghanistan is hell for people living there but does that give them a right to discriminate against religious minorities. Why do they want to stop cremations? It seems like Islam is the one common denominator that is the reason that Muslim countries discriminate against their religious minorities.

Maybe their country becoming a hellhole is karma against all the lands they made into hell holes during the 18th century and before.

The Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan need to get out and either migrate to the west or to Punjab. There is no future for religious minorities in Islamic states.

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It has more to do with wars, destruction of institutions, and occupation of decades than Islam. Don't simplify things by just blaming Islam...

Sorry bhaji, but Islam is at the core of the present situation. The Sikhs have been in afghanistan, or the Kingdom of Kabul, as it was, since Guru Nanak Dev Ji went there. We have been cremating bodies there since. Why is it now a problem?

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Sorry bhaji, but Islam is at the core of the present situation. The Sikhs have been in afghanistan, or the Kingdom of Kabul, as it was, since Guru Nanak Dev Ji went there. We have been cremating bodies there since. Why is it now a problem?

It is now a problem b/c Afghanistan is a law-less country. Civil war, military bombing, foreign occupation...in such situation, minorities will be persecuted. Ethnicities will kill each other..and the country will lose its federation. Thats whats happening in Afghanistan. This is Political Science 101.

Put Americans in same situation..guess what will happen? The same thing. The human societies lose their social fabric..chaos and anarchy follows.

Stop blaming Islam for everything...This does not solve anything....

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in such situation, minorities will be persecuted. Ethnicities will kill each other..and the country will lose its federation.

Put Americans in same situation..guess what will happen? The same thing.

Stop blaming Islam for everything...This does not solve anything....

Good try at getting Islam off the hook bro. Islam is the main reason Sikhs in Afghanistan have suffered persecution.

In America if racism increases it's not due to Obama's policy. In the Quran the author Muhammad is openly against kaffirs

When the Nazi's were racist they did so on the basis of Hitler's Mein Kampf.

When Muslims persecute kaffirs they justify via the Quran and Hadiths which Prophet Muhammad personally murdered+enslaved

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Sad reality of our brothers and sisters living in islamic hell hole occupied land of afghanistan. A lesson for any nation what islamification of your nation means to you as a free people.

Thats painting quite a misleading picture really. I mean I've talked to alot of Afghan Sikhs round these parts and they all say their problems started after the fall of the Taliban. You see the 'Islami' reign, under the taliban, was actually the only time in the last 30 years that Sikhs could get on with their lives in safety. After the fall of the taliban criminals took over the country and the life of a non-muslim became very cheap, and as businesmen in Afghanistan they became open targets. So, if anything the 'lesson; you speak of is actually the fact that 'islamication' was a good thing for Afghanistan's Sikhs and the de-islamification has proved to be a terrible thing.

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