India reportedly wants to grant citizenship to 700 Afghani Hindus and Sikhs. The decision comes in the wake of two recent developments related to minorities in Afghanistan.
Firstly, 55-year-old Nidan Singh Sachdeva, an Afghani Sikh living in India on a long term visa since the 1990s, and frequent visitor to Afghanistan to perform sewa in the Gurdwara, was released from captivity, a month after his abduction. And secondly, a 15-year-old minor Sikh girl, who was allegedly abducted by a local Muslim youth for three days, was reunited with her family.
In the first case, New Delhi has thanked the Kabul by releasing a statement and the MEA has hinted that Sachdeva can use Citizenship Amendment Act to become an Indian national. But the incident has sparked a question which is not often discussed: What about the lives of Afghani minorities?
Just four months ago, on 25th March, armed gunmen and suicide bombers had attacked the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul. The attack had claimed 25 lives including that of a 6-year-old child. The very next day, there was an explosion near the cremation round where last rites of the deceased were being performed.
The attacks on them, and even their crematorium, are not new. Qalacha is the area in Afghanistan where the traditional cremation ground or smashaan has been located for more than 120 years for Hindus and Sikhs living in the city. The local public, reportedly, had encroached on the land and objected the cremation as they consider it a sacrilege. Even two years after the fall of the Taliban, Sikhs didn’t have access to a crematorium in the country.
In 2003, the body of a deceased Sikh woman was sent to Pakistan to perform last rites. This was followed by a high level inquiry from Nasir Yar, then the Religious Affairs Minister of Afghanistan.
Minorities living in the Afghanistan have been facing economic as well social discrimination. Porsesh Research and Studies Organization had published a detailed survey of Afghani Sikhs and Hindus in March 2019. The survey states that 6.5% of the surveyees were forced to pay jizya— a tax paid by Non-Muslims for living in an Islamic state. In addition, 34.9% were discriminated against in school while 40.1% never went to school. It also found out that 23.6% of the respondents have faced discrimination from their neighbours.
The demographics in Afghanistan are also changing rapidly. Three decades ago, around one lakh Sikhs and Hindus had been living there, but now their strength is not more than 700.
“A few decades ago, there were around 3,000 families of Hindus and Sikhs in different areas and districts of Paktia,” a local, Dr. Singh, was quoted as saying by New York Times.
“Except my family, all of them fled.”
There are also technicalities involved in evacuating them to India. By unilaterally offering them evacuation, New Delhi would be showing a lack of trust in the present friendly government led by Ashraf Ghani. And even after evacuation, one of the most dangerous fears for new refugees is poverty.
But at least, we can hope the issue can be solved bilaterally by keeping all concerned parties in the trust. Afghani minorities deserve to live with dignity and of course, without danger.
(All view expressed in this article are the author's own.)