More Sikhs fleeing Afghan violence arrive in New Delhi

Tiny community's numbers have dropped drastically after repeated attacks and Taliban takeover in August last year

Afghan Sikhs arriving from Afghanistan at the airport in New Delhi, days after gunmen attacked a Sikh temple in Kabul. AFP
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A group of 30 Afghan Sikhs arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday, part of an exodus by members of the minority community caused by repeated terrorist attacks.

“The situation is worsening day by day … terrorism is the main problem," Mahendra Singh, one of the Afghan Sikhs, told local media after arriving in the Indian capital. "The situation has been like this forever … they are targeting Sikhs, non-Muslims.”

The group came from Jalalabad city, in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar where the local branch of ISIS established a foothold in 2015.

They are staying at a Sikh temple in Delhi and will be settled in various Indian cities, said Vikramjit Singh Sahney, an Indian parliamentarian and president of World Punjabi Organisation, an NGO that supports the relocation of Sikhs from Afghanistan.

“We offered to bring them at our cost … it is devastating to leave one’s home, it reminds me of Partition," Mr Sahney told The National, referring to the mass migration of Hindus and Muslims between India and the newly created state of Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule.

"They had their life, their jobs … the legacy of Sikhs is coming to an end in Afghanistan."

An Afghan Sikh woman mourns for her relatives near the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

His group and other Sikh organisations had teamed up to bring about two dozen Afghan Sikhs from Kabul to New Delhi last month.

He said there were only about 85 Sikhs still in Afghanistan, of whom 61 were waiting for the Indian government to approve their online visa applications.

Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, visited Kabul in the 15th century and tens of thousands of Sikhs have lived in the area in the centuries since. In the 1800s, the Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh extended his empire from Punjab in present-day India to parts of Afghanistan.

Many Afghan Sikhs came to India during British rule and after the Partition in 1947.

Their numbers in Afghanistan dwindled further during decades of civil war in the country and religious persecution under different regimes, with most of them emigrating to the US, Canada or Australia.

There were only an estimated 100 Sikh families living in Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in August last year, and their numbers continued to drop after repeated attacks on their community, despite assurances of safety from the country's new rulers.

The Afghan branch of ISIS — ISKP — claimed an attack on the Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul in June, in which at least two people were killed.

In October last year, about 20 armed men entered the same temple and tied up the guards before vandalising the interior and destroying security cameras.

In 2020, at least 25 Sikh worshippers were killed when suicide bombers attacked the Har Rai Sahib Gurudwara in the Afghan capital.

New Delhi is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention but it grants shelter to foreigners facing persecution in their countries on a case-by-case basis. It has hosted refugees and asylum-seekers for decades.

It has granted long-term visas to more than 11,000 Afghans of all religions who fled their country during the Taliban's rule from 1996 to 2001 and the subsequent two decades of war after the US invasion.

Mr Sahney’s NGO has assisted with the rehabilitation of Afghan Sikhs for years and helps them with rent, children's education, medical insurance and learning job skills.

“There are over 600 Afghan Sikh refugees" in India, he said.

"I have demanded the government to provide citizenship to the refugees. They have no place to go to.”

Updated: August 04, 2022, 2:14 PM