Afghan Hindus and Sikhs grapple with uncertain future

Thu Jul 1, 2010 9:40pm EDT
 

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - 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 Singh, 47.

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 neighborhoods 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.

Armed men stormed a temple in Kabul and tore a religious book to avenge the destruction of a mosque by fanatic Hindus in India. After complaining of extortion, intimidation, kidnappings, theft and even rape, those with the means fled to India where they live as aliens and require visas, like other foreigners.

Ironically the rise to power of the hard-line Islamist Taliban marked an improvement in the lives of those who remained -- and some emigres even started to return.

"The Taliban did not suppress us -- they respected our religion and if we had any problem they would resolve it immediately, let alone delay it until the next day," says Singh.   Continued...