Afghan Sikhs’ turbulent years

The Afghan minority communities have been facing terror attacks for years now, with the latest and most deadly blow taking place at a Kabul gurdwara in March. How was it earlier? We share excerpts from Inderjeet Singh's book Afghan Hindus and Sikhs

0
625
Afghan Hindus and Sikh (book cover). Insert: Inderjeet Singh
By Inderjeet Singh | BOOK EXTRACT |

Mohammed Daud Khan, who was the first cousin of the ruler, Zahir Shah deposed him in 1973 in a bloodless coup. He declared Afghanistan a Republic state and became its first President. He remained at the helm of affairs until he was assassinated in April 1978 by the members of the People Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the communist party. Within a year there were several uprisings against the government and the next President was killed by a powerful party leader in October 1979 which led to the ‘Soviet Intervention’ in December 1979.

This Soviet Intervention lasted for a decade and Afghanistan became a battleground for the Cold War. The USA and its allies started providing weapons to the Mujahideen to fight a ‘proxy war’ against Soviet occupation. The Soviet withdrew in 1989 and handed over the defence to Afghan forces who were no match to the Mujahideen who captured Kabul in 1992 and deposed President Najibullah.

The above civil war affected the people of Afghanistan. The rich Afghans including Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs started leaving the country in the mid-eighties. The Afghan Sikh community was directly targeted in 1988 which shocked the community.

In 1988, on the first day of the Vaisakhi Samagham1 at Jalalabad, the Sangat were going to Langar (community kitchen) when suddenly a man with an AK-47 rifle entered the Gurdwara complex and started firing at the devotees. Then as he tried to enter the Gurdwara Hall, Daler Singh, a Sikh soldier stood in front of him and shot all his bullets killing the assailant. However, in the process, Singh received several bullet injuries and died as well. In total, thirteen Sikhs and four Afghan Muslims soldiers were killed.

The next day was Election Day for the Parliament in Afghanistan. In Jalalabad, Bhai Darbari Singh was contesting the election. In Kabul, Gajinder Singh Rangila and Lala Tek Chand Sarin were in the fray. However, the above incident left a deep impact on the minds of the Hindus and Sikhs of Afghanistan and many did not come out to vote. Only Gajinder Singh Rangila was able to win his seat.

It was also the first time that Afghan TV broadcast Gurbani for half an hour where Bhai Amarjeet Singh Taan sang Awal Allah Noor Upaya and Khalsa Mero Roop Hai Khas. During Vaisakhi, Radio Kabul and Nangarhar would broadcast a special programme where people were informed about the Sikh religion and Guru Nanak2.

In 1989 the Mujahideen surrounded Jalalabad and started attacking it with rockets and this continued for nine months. People lost lives and left the city to escape the bombardment. During this time a rocket fell on the Gurdwara Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib when a congregation had gathered. Seventeen Sikhs were killed and the Gurdwara was damaged. Following this incident, a lot of Sikhs and Hindus left the city and went to Kabul and Peshawar.

In 1992, the Mujahideen won the last bastion, the capital Kabul. A large number of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan started the exodus and left the country for good. Within a few months, when Rabani took the helm of affairs in the country, the Mujahideen factions revolted and the country plunged into yet another civil war3.

Gajinder Singh was the Member of Parliament in Afghanistan from 1988–92. He played a pivotal role in 1992, working with Dr Najibullah Ahmadzai, the President of Afghanistan to get a safe passage for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

The relations between Afghanistan and India were always cordial. It was felt that under the fundamentalist Mujahideen (who were supported by Pakistan and USA) life would become very difficult for the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. These fears proved right later on as within months Afghanistan plunged into civil war when the Mujahideen factions started fighting among themselves.

At that time it was extremely bureaucratic to obtain a passport for anyone in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Afghan government issued speedier passports to the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs and called the scheme Aab Gang (Aab means water, Gang is river Ganga) pilgrimage passport. It was on the lines of the Haj visa for Muslims issued by Saudi Arabia.

The Indian embassy set up an on-the-go visa department at Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazaar in Kabul to rapidly issue visas without any checks so that the Afghan Hindus and Sikhs could flee the civil war. It was too dangerous for people living in the old town to travel to the Indian embassy in the centre of the town because of the dangers of bombardment all over Kabul. The Indian embassy did not have enough staff to put the visa stamps so some Afghan Sikh volunteers at the Gurdwara had to put visa stamps on people’s passports. Close to 50,000 people left Afghanistan and came to India under this scheme4.

The above major exodus of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in 1992 happened just before the Mujahideen captured the capital Kabul5. Within a year, the Mujahideen factions started fighting among themselves and the country plunged into yet another civil war.

References

  1. A major festival in Sikh religion, in 1699 Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth and last Guru of the Sikhs administered Khande di Pahul (similar to baptism) and made Nanakpanthi community into Khalsa. Vaisakhi is celebrated on 13th April.
  2. Khajinder S. Khurana. (2001). Kabul de Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas.New Delhi.
  3. Khajinder S. Khurana. (2001). Kabul de Sangat tee Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas. New Delhi.
  4. Pritpal Singh spoke to the son of Gajinder Singh and confirmed this information. All three are based in London.
  5. Afghan Sikhs who now live in the UK related this incident to the author. They also informed that the very rich Afghan Hindus and Sikhs left the country in the 1980s, from 1983 onwards.

First of a two-part series of excerpts from Chapter 15 (Turbulent Years, Exodus and the Taliban) of Afghan Hindus and Sikh by Inderjeet Singh. The 233-page book was published in April 2019

 

RELATED STORY:

Afghan Sikhs on a wing and a prayer (Asia Samachar, 4 April 2020)

It will be a feather in their cap if they can chase Sikhs out of Afghanisatan (Asia Samachar, 3 April 2020)

Sikhs are finished in Afghanistan (Asia Samachar, 29 March 2020)

 

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

NO COMMENTS

LEAVE A REPLY