Sikhs leading peaceful life in Afghanistan
Updated on 9/8/2001 10:52:09 AM
JALALABAD (IRIN): Selling fabrics along Jalalabad's Bajazi Street, 30 year-old Manor Singh strikes an imposing figure.
Crowned with a vibrant red turban, and wearing a silver bangle on his left arm, he is easily identifiable as a member of Afghanistan's dwindling Sikh community.
His shop awash with the latest colours and styles, he smiles broadly at his fellow Afghans, balancing business and diplomacy in the Afghanistan.
"We are happy and don't have any problems," he told IRIN.
""In general, the Sikh community does not have any problems with the authorities.
They run their own businesses and economically are doing better than most Afghans," one UN official told IRIN.
"More importantly, they are allowed to practise their religion freely, and there is no restriction on their movement," he added.
Sikhism - the name of a religion established more than 500 years ago as a bridge between Islam and Hinduism - is derived from the Punjabi word sikh, meaning disciple.
For generations, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews lived in harmony with Muslim Afghans.
Their rights were respected, and they regarded themselves to be Afghans much as the Hazaras, Pashtuns, Tajiks or Uzbeks born and raised in the country did.
But that reality is no more.
Of the estimated 50,000 Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan 10 years ago, most have left.
There are only about 1,000 Sikhs left in the country today, half of them concentrated in Jalalabad, the provincial and commercial capital of the eastern Nangarhar Province.
Today most work as merchants selling cloth, tea, herbal medicines and spices in the city's market area.
Locals say the Sikhs enjoy "unprecedented" freedom at a time when the Taliban authorities are imposing increasingly harsh laws on their Muslim citizens.
According to Narinder, although members of the Taliban occasionally visit the Sikh temples, they do not intrude on activities there.
"They are curious about our religion," he explains.
Pointing to a nearby building, he said there were 80 to 90 Sikh children being educated at a school there - another activity the Taliban had respectfully distanced itself from.
At this point, anxious that Narinder might say something out of place, another elder began remonstrating with him.
"Why do you talk so much? You're only going to get us into trouble," he warned.
When it comes to religious differences, for Afghanistan's minorities, saying and doing the right thing is vital.
Earlier this year, the world was outraged when Taliban soldiers destroyed all the Buddhist statues - including the world's largest in the country's central Bamian Province, after the Taliban supreme commander, Mola Mohammad Omar Mojahed, decreed them to be idols.
Unlike the Sikhs, who are easily identifiable by the beards, turbans and metal bangles laid down by their religion, the Hindus are less so, and have yet to observe the ruling.
In August, eight foreign nationals and 16 Afghans of the German-based Christian NGO Shelter Now International were arrested on charges of proselytising Christianity, a crime punishable by death.
Today, they remain in two separate detention centres in Kabul awaiting trial, and the status of other Christian NGOs working there is now under scrutiny.
It is thus clear to the Sikhs that recognising their limits with the Taliban is of paramount importance for their survival.
For the Sikhs, the main problem at the moment is harassment by the resident Arab community, rather than by the Taliban.
"The Arabs are suspicious of us," one Sikh, who declined to be identified, told IRIN.
He recalled three separate incidents in which Sikhs had been beaten up by Arab youths in the city.
"Finally we couldn't take it any more and called upon the Taliban authorities to do something about it, and they did," he said.
The Taliban had sought to reassure them that they were safe, and that there would be no further problems from the Arabs.
Another problem is an economic one.
Although Sikhs appear more prosperous than Muslims after 23 years of war and the worst drought in 30 years, they too are being affected by Afghanistan's sustain economic downturn.
"The Sikhs that remain now are the poor ones," Amergit Singh told IRIN.
"The rich ones who had the means have long since left." The 18 year-old spice seller conceded that while the Taliban did not restrict his freedom of worship, he felt his future lay abroad.
"If given the opportunity to go to India, I would," he said, adding that nearly 160 Sikhs had left the country due to security concerns last year, and another 50 wanted to leave this year, but were unable to do so.
Meanwhile, most Sikhs are cautious with their comments today, but most would agree with what one of their number told IRIN.
"Ours is a delicate balance.
"We have learned to live with it, and the Taliban have come to respect it."
|Back to News Archirves of 2001|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).