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Jogis: Afghanistan’s Tiny Stateless Minority Strives To Survive Without Rights, Services

Najam Uddin, a Jogi elder asks "what wrong have we done that we still do not have a small plot of land to build our houses on?”
Najam Uddin, a Jogi elder asks "what wrong have we done that we still do not have a small plot of land to build our houses on?”

KABUL, -- Mehman Gul, a teenage girl in Afghanistan, resents missing school. Unlike millions of other Afghans, fighting and displacement didn’t prevent her from going to school.

Rather, it was her community’s status as a stateless people still lacking Afghan citizenship that deprived Gul of the right to an education.

“I was told that I don’t have a Tazkera (Afghan ID card) because I am a Jogi. This is why I couldn’t go to school,” she told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I was really keen to study to become a doctor or a teacher, but, alas, I couldn’t realize my dreams.”

Like Gul, hundreds of Jogis, as the semi-nomadic community is known, live in modest mud houses in the neighborhood of Chaman Babrak in the east of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Unlike their neighbors, their stateless status prevents them from owning property, building business, accessing jobs, education, healthcare, other services, and fundamental rights.

“If we go to school, we are insulted and looked down upon because we are Jogis,” says Sabir Kolabi, a representative of the community in Kabul. “We don’t have shelter when we live and are denied a place in the graveyard when we die.”

Jogi children run around barefoot on Chaman-e Babrak’s filthy streets. The lack of citizenship rights has pushed the Jogis to the brink of poverty in Afghanistan, where everyone has had their fair share of suffering during four decades of war. Today, most impoverished Jogis survive by doing menial jobs, and the women continue to sell bracelets by visiting houses.

Karim, a young man who goes by one name only, says that discrimination against his community is rampant.

“I was employed by the [Kabul] municipality, but after a few days when they realized that I was Jogi, I was fired,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “I was told that I do not belong to this land and have no ancestral roots here.”

Karim, Gul and Kolabi are among the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Jogis in Afghanistan. According to the London-based Minority Rights Group, they are part of the larger Jat ethnic minority who trace their origin to Tajikistan and the subcontinent. Like the Mosulis in southeastern Afghanistan, the Jogis remain stateless. Historically, the community has engaged in seasonal migration around Afghanistan and into the neighboring countries. But the Jogis have become increasingly sedentary in recent years and their new lifestyle has made them more vulnerable.

“Jogi and Chori Frosh communities are discriminated against on account of their ancestral origins and related social and economic practices, including high levels of female labor participation rates,” a 2017 report by the Minority Rights Group noted. “This has contributed to their severe economic, social and political marginalization, a situation exacerbated by the frequent denial of recognition of their citizenship.”

Like a majority of Afghans, the Jogis are Sunni Muslims and speak Dari, the lingua franca of Afghanistan. Many elderly Jogis trace their origins to Central Asia, where ancestors of today’s Jogi communities are thought to have migrated from Bukhara in Uzbekistan and Kolab in Tajikistan.

“We are originally from Kolab, but our fathers and grandfathers migrated from there when the war began,” Moinuddin, 70, said of his community’s migration in the early 20th century. Tens of thousands of people fled the Soviet invasion and annexation of today’s Tajikistan and Uzbekistan after the communist revolution in 1917.

“Some 120 years ago, a few dozens of our families arrived here, but today we have more than 5,000 families,” Najam Uddin, a white-bearded Jogi elder, noted. “Still all of us have no homes and no land. What wrong have we done that we still do not have a small plot of land to build our houses on?”

Unlike many Afghan ethnic groups and communities, the Jogis are not mentioned in the Afghan Constitution and are still deprived of citizenship rights despite promises by senior officials. The Afghan government has no official statistics about the group.

Mohammad Yaqub Ahmadzai, the deputy minister for border and tribal affairs, says some Jogis have been granted citizenship in the northern province of Balkh.

“Some 50 or 60 years ago, the Jogis used to migrate from Central Asia and they used to live in some of the northern province [bordering Central Asia],” he said. “We are trying to establish their [permanent] residence, so we can get their guarantees, so we can grant them identity papers. But so far, we have not been able to establish their [permanent] residence.”

In a sign of optimism, Afghanistan’s national policy of the internally displaced people, formulated in 2014, calls on the relevant Afghan ministries “to see that assistance is given to… members of certain groups, notably the Kuchi, Jogi, and Chori Frosh, who generally do not have Tazkera and who face special difficulties in acquiring them.”

The Jogis, however, are unlikely to have little role in determining their status and availing full Afghan citizenship. For now, they must wait for the lethargic Afghan bureaucracy to address their ordeal.

Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on reporting by Lima Hadi and Noorullah Shayan in Kabul.