Sardar Gurbachan Singh Ghazniwal, 50, always considered Afghanistan his homeland. He braved all kinds of threats during his country’s four-decade-long war but resisted joining members of his country’s tiny Hindu and Sikh minority community in fleeing Afghanistan.
Over the years, he lost properties and businesses in the southeastern Afghan city of Ghazni, where he was born, because of insecurity. Even after being forced to live inside a Gurdwara or Sikh temple in the capital, Kabul, he resisted abandoning Afghanistan.
But after losing nine relatives in an attack on this temple in March that killed 25 Sikhs, Ghazniwal is now joining the second group of fellow Sikhs and Hindus to migrate to India. He is among some 200 members of the minority community flying to India this week.
“Whenever I travel in a bus or a taxi, my fellow [Afghan] Muslim brothers ask me, ‘Where do you come from in India Sardar?’,” Ghazniwal told Radio Free Afghanistan. “They even don’t consider how I can speak Pashto and Dari, [the two major Afghan languages] so well if I had come from Afghanistan,” he added. “Even when I speak fluent Pashto and Dari, I am not considered an equal [citizen].”
Last month, a group of 11 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan arrived in India on special visas. They were seen as the first batch among some of the last 250 Afghan minority families poised to leave their country for India.
Lawmaker Narender Singh Khalsa, Afghanistan’s lone Sikh MP, says insecurity is the primary driver of their exodus.
“If the government continues to fail to respond to our plight in the next 20 to 25 days, we are determined to leave Afghanistan,” he told Radio Free Afghanistan. “Four months after the attack on our temple, the government has done nothing to reconstruct it so we do not see anything that can boost our confidence [that we are protected here].”
Khalsa says that in addition to the militant attacks such as the one on the Sikh temple claimed by Islamic State militants in March, his community is frequently targeted by criminals. He cited the example of one Sikh family who fled Afghanistan after police freed their 17-year-old daughter from kidnappers. She was abducted from Kabul last year and kept in the northern province of Panjshir for 10 months.
Government officials have not said anything about the latest exodus of Hindus and Sikhs. But Afghan presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi recently said members of Afghanistan’s minority Sikh and Hindu community will return after peace is restored to Afghanistan.
The once-vibrant Afghan Sikh and Hindu community was estimated to be more than 80,000 in the 1980s. But most of them fled after hard-line Islamists assumed power after the collapse of the country’s socialist government in 1992. Some attempted to return after the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001 but found their properties and businesses captured or ruined. Many members of the community were targeted by criminals and Islamist militants. Threats and insecurity are now forcing them to abandon Afghanistan altogether.
Abubakar Siddique wrote this story based on Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Nusrat Parsa’s reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan.