Afghan Sikh, Hindu community seeks recognition via vote

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL (AA) – Afghanistan’s marginalized Sikh and Hindu minority has decided to field its candidate for the very first time in the forthcoming parliamentary elections later this month.

Narendra Singh, a young herbal medicine expert, has been nominated by the tiny minority as its candidate for the reserved seat of Wolesi Jirga (lower house).

Afghanistan will go to parliamentary polls on Oct. 20 in which a total of 2,565 candidates will compete, according to the country’s election commission.

The Afghan government reserved one seat for the Sikh and Hindu minority in 2016 along with some relaxations of rules.

Speaking to Andadolu Agency, Singh, who is son of the community’s long-cherished slain leader Avtar Singh, said one of the biggest problems of Sikhs and Hindus in the country is that there are no dedicated schools where children can learn their own religions and native Punjabi language.

Another problem faced by the minority is that there is no proper place to perform cremation rituals, he added.

For years, the Sikh community in Afghanistan lived on the margins of the society. But, they were never targeted in the deadly fashion until Daesh terrorists blew-up a generation of its community leaders, including father of Narendra, in a suicide attack in Jalalabad city in July this year.

Due to such threats, unlike public gatherings and roadside campaigns by other Afghan candidates, Singh’s electoral campaign for the forthcoming elections is literally confined to the few remaining temples in limited cities of the war-ravaged country.

At a temple in the old Kabul Bazar area, the Sikh community gathered over the weekend to offer prayers for the victims of July bombing and to get to know about each other.

– Loss of leaders

Singh said the Jalalabad blast has taken away towering figures of the community, but the spirits of the community are still high.

“We are devastated by the loss of our leaders, but we have not lost the morale. In Afghanistan, everyone is suffering for long. Our Sikh community and my Muslim friends are equally happy for me. We have no other option, but to fight and not lose the seat in the parliament we have been offered,” he said.

“My father served as senator, and served the community for 22 years. People are sad at his demise, he had lost three brothers in Gardez city and now he also got killed, but he never thought about leaving the country. He used to say I have 14 members in my family for the service to the country and service to the nation,” Singh recalled.

For ages, the Afghan Sikhs were known as leading traders in major urban centers of the country such as Kabul, Ghazni, Jalalabad and Khost, but they complain their properties, even temples have been encroached upon.

Teyaan Singh, a senior member of the community, has seen time change from good to bad and to worst over the years.

“Our community is frightened now, from 50,000 families we have been reduced to only around 200 families, all have escaped since the civil war in the 1990s, and all these temples are now deserted,” he said.

An overwhelming majority of the Sikhs left behind are generally the poorest in the community.