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'He Loved Afghanistan': Sikh Man Killed In Militant Attack Refused To Leave Homeland


Taliban fighters stand guard at the site of a deadly attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul on June 18.

Sundar Singh’s wife and children were among the hundreds of Sikhs who fled Afghanistan following a deadly militant attack targeting the tiny religious minority in 2020.

But the 55-year-old Singh refused to leave his homeland. The herbalist had already been uprooted from his home city of Ghazni, in southeastern Afghanistan, because of escalating violence.

"He stayed back because he loved Afghanistan," Arjit Singh, his brother-in-law, told RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.

On June 18, Sundar Singh was one of two people killed following an attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul by the Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) extremist group.

"During the attack, he died of a bullet wound," said Arjit Singh, adding that his brother-in-law had lived in the temple after the rest of his family resettled in India. "He never thought that he would suffer such a cruel fate.”

Arjit Singh said he recognized Sundar Singh’s body in a video of the aftermath of the IS-K attack. In the footage, his bloodied body can be seen lying outside the temple.

Afghan Sikh men carry the coffins of victims of an attack on a Sikh religious complex before they light a funeral pyre in Kabul on March 26, 2020. Twenty-five worshippers were killed.
Afghan Sikh men carry the coffins of victims of an attack on a Sikh religious complex before they light a funeral pyre in Kabul on March 26, 2020. Twenty-five worshippers were killed.

"I wanted to take his corpse to my sister and her children. But there were no flights [to India], so it was impossible," he said, adding that Sundar Singh was cremated in Kabul.

Sundar Singh is the latest member of the Sikh minority -- which only numbers several hundred -- to be killed by militants in Afghanistan. The community has been repeatedly targeted by IS-K militants in recent years.

In 2018, 19 Sikhs were killed in an IS-K suicide bomb attack on a temple in the eastern city of Jalalabad. It reportedly led as many as 1,500 Sikhs to leave the country.

In the most devastating attack, 25 worshipers were killed when IS-K militants stormed a Sikh temple in Kabul in 2020. Following the attack, most of the remaining members of the minority left Afghanistan.

Sikhs, as well as Hindus, together numbered around 100,000 several decades ago, but the outbreak of war and the onset of growing persecution pushed many out.

During the 1990s, the Taliban and rival Islamist groups pledged to protect minorities, but most Sikhs and Hindus fled to India.
During the 1990s, the Taliban and rival Islamist groups pledged to protect minorities, but most Sikhs and Hindus fled to India.

Now, those who remain in Afghanistan say they are ready to leave.

On June 19, India's Ministry of Home Affairs granted emergency visas to 111 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.

"We have no political affiliation or rivalry with anyone, yet we are being attacked mercilessly," Narendra Singh Khalsa, a former Afghan Sikh lawmaker, told RFE/RL's Radio Azadi.

His father, Awtar Singh Khalsa, was killed in the 2018 attack in Jalalabad.

"We are in great pain," he said. "Unfortunately, no one has heard our voice -- be it the international community, the current government, or the previous government."

Khalsa and his family now live in India and have no plans to return to Afghanistan.
"However poor or desperate we are, our lives are at least safe here," he said.

Abdul Nafey Takur, a spokesman for the Taliban's Interior Ministry, told the BBC that the group will not stop Sikhs and Hindus from moving to India.

In 2001, months before the fall of its regime, the Taliban caused an international uproar after it announced a plan requiring all Sikhs and Hindus in the country to wear yellow badges.

During the 1990s, the Taliban and rival Islamist groups pledged to protect minorities, but most Sikhs and Hindus fled to India.

Shimi Singh moved to New Delhi soon after several of her relatives were killed in the 2020 attack on a Sikh temple in Kabul. She told Radio Azadi that she sees no hope for her community in Afghanistan.

"How can people hope for survival in a place where they live in constant fear?" she asked.

Written by Abubakar Siddique, based on reporting by RFE/RL’s Radio Azadi.
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