Human Rights In Afghanistan: Excerpts From Hindus In South Asia And The Diaspora, 2011
By HAF ( Source : Fagirchand Chandihok )
Recent events in Afghanistan have demonstrated the country’s continued instability and the fragile nature of its government and institutions. In fact, there was widespread speculation that Afghan President, Hamid Karzai was losing power and influence, and that his position was becoming increasingly precarious. Moreover, throughout 2011, Afghanistan was plagued by rampant violence, political assassinations, and a resurgent Taliban.
For example, the burning of a copy of the Koran by U.S. pastor Terry Jones in April 2011 led to massive countrywide protests in Afghanistan and resulted in at least 24 deaths. Moreover, in July, President Karzai’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was considered the most powerful man in southern Afghanistan, was assassinated by the Taliban. Similarly, in September, Burhanuddin Rabbani, the former president of Afghanistan tasked with bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table, was assassinated.
As the Washington Post summarized, “The attack [on Rabbani] also became the latest reminder that nearly a decade after U.S. troops helped to topple the Taliban regime in Kabul, the insurgency remains capable of carrying out strikes even in the most fortified sections of the capital.” And at the end of a troubled year, bombings targeting Shia Muslims killed at least 58 people in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif in December.
Nevertheless, President Barak Obama announced in June 2011 that the U.S. had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan and would begin a substantial withdrawal of its approximately 100,000 troops from the country.
Although Afghanistan’s current population of 29,835,392 is 99% Muslim (Sunni 80% and Shia 19%), Afghanistan is considered one of the oldest centers of Hindu civilization and was once home to a thriving Hindu population. In recent years, however, the Hindu population in Afghanistan has become nearly extinct, with barely an estimated 3,000 Hindus and Sikhs remaining in the country (there are no clear estimates on the numbers of Hindus still living in Afghanistan). During the 1970s, there were approximately 200,000 Hindus residing in Afghanistan, but due to years of civil war, violence, and persecution, large numbers of Hindus fled for their safety to countries such as India, Germany, and the U.S. In particular, under the Taliban’s reign, Hindus faced pervasive discrimination and were forced to wear a distinguishing yellow stripe on their arm, similar to the Jews in Nazi Germany.
Prior to the civil war, Hindus and Sikhs purportedly lived peacefully with Muslims in several parts of the country, including Khost, Ghazni, Paktiya, Kandahar, Jalalabad, Laghman, Kabul, Helmand, as well as other provinces. Prem Nagar village in Khost province, for example, was once a prosperous Hindu village with 243 Hindu and Sikh families who enjoyed good relations with Muslims, but now there is only one Hindu who lives there. Many Afghan Hindus and Sikhs living near New Delhi now want to return to their native village of Prem Nagar. They hope to restore their once-thriving trading community by opening pharmacies, grocery stores, and textile shops in the booming border town.
Given the current instability and extent of discrimination in the country, however, it is unclear whether the small Hindu and Sikh minority will be able survive in Afghanistan for much longer. Ironically, Indian pop culture, including movies and music remain extremely popular in the country. Moreover, India is the sixth largest foreign aid donor to Afghanistan, with an aid budget of $1.3 billion, and Indian companies are rebuilding roads and schools in Afghanistan despite perpetual security threats.
Those Hindus and Sikhs still living in Afghanistan continued to face widespread social discrimination, inequality, and severe restrictions on their religious freedom. According to Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, a Member of Parliament, “The Sikhs and Hindus of Afghanistan are considered part of the dhimmi [non-Muslim subjects] in line with sharia law. The government has an obligation to protect them, but they are required to pay a poll tax. They can hold civilian occupations, such as doctors, but they cannot be in charge of a governmental body or office. Upon meeting a Muslim, a Hindu is required to greet the Muslim first. If a Muslim is standing and there is a chair, the Hindu is not allowed to sit down on the chair.” This attitude is shared by many other Afghan politicians as well as ordinary citizens and effectively provides a justification for treating minorities as second-class citizens.
One aspect of the discrimination encountered by Afghanistan’s Hindu population involves the social ostracization and bullying their children face in schools from Muslim classmates and teachers. For example, there are approximately 70 Hindu and Sikh school age children living in Kabul, but many have been forced to switch schools or drop out all together as a result of bullying and religious prejudice, according to Cheran Singh of the Hindu and Sikh Association of Afghanistan.
In addition, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), there have been several cases of the illegal seizure and occupation of Hindu owned lands by Muslims in Kabul and Khost province. In these cases, Hindus have been unable to reclaim their lands and have received little assistance from the government or law enforcement. “There were even cases that after the final decision of the High Court, Hindus have not re-owned their lands,” said Shamsullah Ahmadzai, regional head of AIHRC. Similarly, Charan Singh, the former Hindu representative in the Afghan parliament, maintains that Hindu and Sikh homes had been been recently seized by a Muslim woman in Khost province.
Furthermore, although Afghanistan's Constitution grants equal rights to all its citizens to practice their religious ceremonies, Hindus and Sikhs face significant obstacles in cremating dead bodies. In some instances, crematoriums have been forcibly occupied by local Muslims, while in other cases Muslims have physically interfered with cremations. In Kabul, for instance, Hindus and Sikhs used to cremate their dead in an area called “Hindu Suzan” (or Hindu crematory site), but some Muslim residents have recently built houses near the area and are preventing Hindus and Sikhs from cremating dead bodies there. AIHRC says Kabul municipality has identified another area in Kabul for the cremation of the Hindu dead, but it is not clear whether the land has actually been handed over to Hindu and Sikh communities.
Religious minorities in Afghanistan are also politically marginalized and lack effective political representation. In the 2010 elections, for example, there were only two Hindu/Sikh candidates out of 600 contending for parliamentary seats. Although a Sikh woman, Dr. Anarkali Honaryar, was elected to the lower house of parliament in the 2010 elections, minority politicians have been unable to significantly improve the conditions of non-Muslim communities in the past. Honaryar was supported by President Karzai, which reportedly angered many of his conservative Muslim supporters.
Additionally, a large number of Afghan minorities who fled Afghanistan several years ago continue to endure problems while living as refugees in other countries. In India’s capital city of New Delhi, for instance, many Afghan Hindu and Sikh refugees have not been granted official status and live on the margins of society. Out of an estimated 25,000 Afghan refugees, only 9,094 have been recognized as refugees and issued “blue cards” by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR).
Moreover, since 1981, thousands of Hindus and Sikhs have fled to India, but only 650 of them have become naturalized Indian citizens. Many others are still waiting for Indian citizenship. According to Nayana Bose, Associate External Relations Officer of UNHCR, more than 90% of Afghan refugees living in India are Sikhs or Hindus. Many of the refugees feel frustrated and insecure and complain that both the Indian government and Afghan embassy in New Delhi are insensitive to their problems.
Afghan refugees have also faced lengthy delays in asylum applications and in some cases faced deportation proceedings. In Britain, for instance, a Hindu family faced possible deportation to Afghanistan, where they fear religious persecution by the Taliban. Arti Kumar fled Afghanistan in September 2007 with her two sons, Akash and Ravi, after being targeted by the Taliban. She said they decided to leave after a Taliban guard attacked older son Ravi, then age 17, hitting him on the head with a rifle. The assault left him brain damaged. They sold the family textile business to raise money to pay an agent to take them out of Afghanistan. But they were told he could only take three of them. Arti Kumar said that she had not heard from her husband and that her 16-year-old daughter Rekha was abducted by the Taliban. She has never been found.
In another case, a 23 year-old Sikh man that fled Afghanistan with his family when he was only 5 years old was recently detained by Afghan authorities after being deported to Afghanistan from the United Kingdom because he was allegedly unable to prove his Afghan citizenship. News reports indicate that he has faced abuse in prison and was forcibly converted to Islam by other inmates.