Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future
(Photo: Kabul, December 30, 2009/Marko Djurica)
They thrived long before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century and for a long time dominated the country’s economy, but Sikh and Hindu Afghans now find themselves struggling for survival.
“We have no shelter, no land and no authority,” says Awtar Singh, a senator and the only non-Muslim voice in Afghanistan’s parliament. “No one in the government listens to us, but we have to be patient, because we have no other options,” says the 47-year-old Sikh.
In a brief idyll in 1992, after the fall of the Moscow backed-government but before civil war erupted, there were around 200,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan compared with around just a few thousand today.
When warring factions fought over Kabul, razing entire neighbourhoods in deadly rocket barrages, the two communities became targets partly because of their religion, but also because they didn’t have a militia of their own for protection.
Ironically the rise to power of the hardline Islamist Taliban marked an improvement in the lives of those who remained — and some emigres even started to return. Since the Taliban’s fall, Afghanistan’s new constitution promises religious minorities greater freedoms than before, but it is harder to ensure in practical terms.