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Yellow Armbands to Suicide Bomb: The Fate of Afghan Sikhs & Hindus

The Jalalabad suicide attack has put the spotlight back on Afghanistan’s struggling Hindu and Sikh communities.

Updated
Explainers
3 min read
The Jalalabad suicide attack has put the spotlight back on Afghanistan’s struggling Hindu and Sikh communities.
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Snapshot

From 220,000 in the late 1980s to around 1,000 out of a population of a little over 30 million today, Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu community has eroded to almost nothing, according to TOLONews’ data. That’s a drop from 1.91 percent to 0.02 percent of the population in just 2-3 decades.

But in a move that was widely hailed in the country as a welcome step for religious minorities, Sikh leader Avtar Singh Khalsa was slated to run unopposed to a lower house seat in October 2018. The seat was designated for the Hindu and Sikh minorities by Presidential decree in 2016.

Sadly, Khalsa was cut down before he could fulfil that role, in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad on 1 July 2018, in which he along with 19 other members of the Hindu and Sikh community – including prominent civil rights activist Rawail Singh – were killed in a targeted attack, claimed by ISIS, for being polytheists, AP reports. They were on their way to meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani.

Yellow Armbands to Suicide Bomb: The Fate of Afghan Sikhs & Hindus

  1. 1. Life for Afghanistan's Religious Minorities Under Extremists

    The Mujahideen years of the early 90s were the worst for Afghanistan’s religious minorities, Al Jazeera reports. The Mujahideen persecuted them for the “slightest expression of their faith”, with kidnappings and killings, said the late Rawail Singh to Al Jazeera in 2017.

    From 1996-2001, the Taliban took control of an Afghanistan rent by the proxy war between America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

    Under Taliban rule, religious minorities were made to identify themselves with orange or yellow armbands, reminiscent of how Jews in Nazi Germany had to wear yellow stars on their clothes.

    Bashir Ahmad Gwakh, an Afghan journalist working with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto service Radio Mashaal, tells The Quint:

    The Taliban ordered [Sikhs & Hindus] to wear orange-coloured clothes so they could be easily identified. [...] This particular dress code was strictly followed. The Taliban religious people were regularly checking up on Sikhs and Hindus to see that this rule was being followed.

    Onerous though it may have been, Rawail Singh had told Al Jazeera that unlike the Mujahideen, apart from the dress code, the Taliban had left them alone.

    Under the Taliban, we were often required to identify ourselves in public by wearing a yellow armband, but were largely left alone.
    Rawail Singh to Al Jazeera
    Expand
  2. 2. How Are Sikhs and Hindus Treated in Afghanistan Now?

    Since the Taliban fell, the Afghan government has made efforts to include minorities in government representation.

    While there were still killings by terror groups and discrimination in politics, the dress code ceased. But targeted killings and insecurity among the minority population over the years has led to an exodus, leaving precious few remaining in the country.

    War reporter Mustafa Kazemi tells The Quint:

    From a minor circle within every society in the areas that our Sikh and Hindu brothers live, the two discriminations they usually face is not belonging to the same religion as practiced here, and at times they’re taunted by phrases like “you belong to India”.

    But he goes on to add that Sikhs had proven to be “the most kind-hearted, innocent” and “decent” minority in the country and that local Afghans have been shocked by the attack on them.

    In the past few years, there have been few terrorist attacks against Hindu or Sikh minorities in Afghanistan. Kazemi says he cannot recall a terror attack against the community since 2001. But lingering hostility and a sense of separation after the years under the Mujahideen and Taliban dogs the communities.

    Tejvir Singh, Secretary of National Panel of Hindus and Sikhs, whose uncle was killed in the attack, told Reuters:

    Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognises us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims.
    Expand
  3. 3. Anger After Jalalabad

    The targeting of the Sikh and Hindu convoy, and the killing of Avtar Singh Khalsa, caused an outpouring of grief and outrage on social media, both in Afghanistan and India.

    Since the attack, some Sikhs have sought refuge at the Indian consulate in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. Vinay Kumar, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, has offered them assistance, saying that they are welcome to seek refuge in India.

    But some others have remained steadfast. “We are not cowards. Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere,” said Sandeep Singh, a shop-owner in Kabul, to Reuters.

    (With inputs from TOLONews, New York Times, Al Jazeera, and Reuters)

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Life for Afghanistan's Religious Minorities Under Extremists

The Mujahideen years of the early 90s were the worst for Afghanistan’s religious minorities, Al Jazeera reports. The Mujahideen persecuted them for the “slightest expression of their faith”, with kidnappings and killings, said the late Rawail Singh to Al Jazeera in 2017.

From 1996-2001, the Taliban took control of an Afghanistan rent by the proxy war between America and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Under Taliban rule, religious minorities were made to identify themselves with orange or yellow armbands, reminiscent of how Jews in Nazi Germany had to wear yellow stars on their clothes.

Bashir Ahmad Gwakh, an Afghan journalist working with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Pashto service Radio Mashaal, tells The Quint:

The Taliban ordered [Sikhs & Hindus] to wear orange-coloured clothes so they could be easily identified. [...] This particular dress code was strictly followed. The Taliban religious people were regularly checking up on Sikhs and Hindus to see that this rule was being followed.

Onerous though it may have been, Rawail Singh had told Al Jazeera that unlike the Mujahideen, apart from the dress code, the Taliban had left them alone.

Under the Taliban, we were often required to identify ourselves in public by wearing a yellow armband, but were largely left alone.
Rawail Singh to Al Jazeera
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How Are Sikhs and Hindus Treated in Afghanistan Now?

Since the Taliban fell, the Afghan government has made efforts to include minorities in government representation.

While there were still killings by terror groups and discrimination in politics, the dress code ceased. But targeted killings and insecurity among the minority population over the years has led to an exodus, leaving precious few remaining in the country.

War reporter Mustafa Kazemi tells The Quint:

From a minor circle within every society in the areas that our Sikh and Hindu brothers live, the two discriminations they usually face is not belonging to the same religion as practiced here, and at times they’re taunted by phrases like “you belong to India”.

But he goes on to add that Sikhs had proven to be “the most kind-hearted, innocent” and “decent” minority in the country and that local Afghans have been shocked by the attack on them.

In the past few years, there have been few terrorist attacks against Hindu or Sikh minorities in Afghanistan. Kazemi says he cannot recall a terror attack against the community since 2001. But lingering hostility and a sense of separation after the years under the Mujahideen and Taliban dogs the communities.

Tejvir Singh, Secretary of National Panel of Hindus and Sikhs, whose uncle was killed in the attack, told Reuters:

Our religious practices will not be tolerated by the Islamic terrorists. We are Afghans. The government recognises us, but terrorists target us because we are not Muslims.

Anger After Jalalabad

The targeting of the Sikh and Hindu convoy, and the killing of Avtar Singh Khalsa, caused an outpouring of grief and outrage on social media, both in Afghanistan and India.

Since the attack, some Sikhs have sought refuge at the Indian consulate in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. Vinay Kumar, India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, has offered them assistance, saying that they are welcome to seek refuge in India.

But some others have remained steadfast. “We are not cowards. Afghanistan is our country and we are not leaving anywhere,” said Sandeep Singh, a shop-owner in Kabul, to Reuters.

(With inputs from TOLONews, New York Times, Al Jazeera, and Reuters)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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