A Brief History of Sikhs and Hindus in War-Torn Afghanistan
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra
Camera: Abhay Sharma
What's it like to be 1 in 5,000?
For Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, that's about how small their community is.
At one point, in the 1980s, the minority communities numbered around 2,00,000 – since then, that number has plummeted to around 1,000 as Sikhs and Hindus took flight after suffering religious persecution.
Before the Mujahideen ravaged the country, and before the Taliban took control, Afghanistan's Hindus and Sikhs were still a minority, but an influential one with good standing. They were at the forefront of business and trade, though not politically active.
Under Mujahideen and Taliban rule, things changed for the worse. That's when religious minorities like Sikhs and Hindus were made to wear distinct clothing to identify themselves – yellow, or orange clothes or armbands – and they were banned from holding government posts. Even after the Taliban fell in 2001, some of that hostility remained. Sikhs and Hindus reported having their lands stolen by warlords, discrimination in schools, and animosity because of their different religious rituals, like cremating the dead.
From hundreds of thousands, 30 years ago, to a minuscule 0.02 percent of the population today, the Hindu and Sikh populations in Afghanistan have dwindled to a negligible number.
Which is why the July killing of Awtar Singh Khalsa, an Afghan Sikh politician in Jalalabad, was such a big deal. The suicide attack, claimed by ISIS targeted a Hindu and Sikh convoy of politicians and activists who were on their way to meet with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani – around 20 were killed.
Khalsa was going to run unopposed for a lower house seat in the October polls, making him the only Sikh in Parliament – it was hailed as a proud moment for the community, and the country. By all accounts, Khalsa was a popular candidate – well-loved and respected, not just by those in his own community.
But since the attack, the already tiny and insecure minority community feels besieged. Though they say they are recognised by their government, they are still targeted by militants and terrorists, and many have fled to neighbouring states. India, for its part, has welcomed them – but many say they are still treated as 'outsiders' when they arrive. As Afghans in India, and as Indians in Afghanistan – that's a difficult place to be in.