India, US offer citizenship to last remaining Afghan Hindus, Sikhs

india,-us-offer-citizenship-to-last-remaining-afghan-hindus,-sikhs

New Delhi: The beleaguered Hindu and Sikh minorities of Afghanistan have found support in not just India, but also in the US. A resolution, introduced in the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Jackie Speier and co-sponsored by seven others, seeks to resettle persecuted religious communities in Afghanistan to the US.

Introduced last week, the resolution said: “Sikhs and Hindus are indigenous but endangered minorities in Afghanistan, numbering approximately 700 out of a community that recently included over 8,000 members.”

The resolution added: “These acts follow a greater pattern of targeted violence against Sikhs, Hindus, and other minorities in Afghanistan in recent years.”

Members from these two communities will be resettled under the US Refugee Admissions Program.

According to Tolo News, the Afghan news agency, nearly 99 per cent of the two minority communities have migrated from Afghanistan in the last three decades.

Hindus, once ancient rulers of Afghanistan, have depleted to negligible numbers while the Sikhs, who have a 500-year-old history, number just 600, too are likely to go extinct as the last handful leave the war-torn country. Together, the two communities number just 700, from a hefty 700,000 in the 1970s. Upheavals and conflicts in Afghanistan coupled with discrimination and terror attacks have led to a steady decline over the decades.

For the Sikhs who had been holding on to their citizenship in the Afghan cities of Kabul and Jalalabad, two attacks — a suicide attack on July 1, 2018, in Jalalabad which killed 19 Sikhs and Hindus, and this year’s attack on March 25 at Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib, Kabul, that killed 25 — were the last straw. They have decided to leave their homeland.

In June, a bipartisan group of 20 US senators had urged the Trump administration to grant emergency refugee protection to Sikh and Hindu communities from Afghanistan.

“Sikh and Hindu communities in Afghanistan face an existential threat from ISIS-K because of their religion. To protect religious freedom, we urgently ask that you take these essential steps to defend these threatened religious minorities,” they said in the letter.

The attack on Gurdwara Guru Har Rai Sahib not just led to the exodus but also put a spotlight on the condition of the two communities.

As the Indian government expedited visas for the beleaguered community in July, Congressman Jim Costa applauded India’s stand in a tweet: “This marks an important step toward protecting Afghanistan’s Sikh and Hindu communities from imminent destruction at the hands of terrorists.”

The Indian government had on July 23 said that besides providing visas to Afghan Hindus and Sikhs to travel to India, the government is also looking at their request for Indian citizenship.

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Anurag Shrivastava said that Central government was receiving requests from these communities that “they want to move to India and settle down here.” Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, “we are facilitating the requests.”

Ironically, the Citizenship Amendment Act-2019 (CAA), which was vehemently opposed by certain sections of people and led to wanton rioting in Delhi will enable these minority communities to gain Indian citizenship.

The main aim of the CAA was to fast track citizenship for migrants from Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities belonging to three neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As Afghanistan falls into a bigger chaos, the last remaining Hindu and Sikh minorities will find shelter in India, USA and Europe � all liberal and democratic nations.

Their religious institutions, the temples and gurdwaras, which have come down to barely a dozen in number will no longer have the priests to perform the celebrations, cultural and religious festivals which so deeply symbolise these two religions.

As the last remaining Hindus and Sikhs leave their Afghan homeland, once a land that nurtured Hindus and Buddhists too, only a miniscule minority across the world knows it is witness to a few thousand-year-old ancient history being erased completely, and a new one being written afresh.

(IANS)