The Forgotten Religious and Ethnic Minorities in Afghanistan

Hindu and Sikh minorities

Report from Mohammad Asghar Surush, Afghan Human Rights Activist, September 30, 2022:

Hindus and Sikhs are non-Muslim minorities in Afghanistan. Still, there is no specific narrative about the origin of these minorities in the country. But, these communities have lived in Afghanistan for centuries. In the middle of the 20th century, during the reign of the last king of Afghanistan (Mohammad Zaher Shah), the Hindu and Sikh population was approximately 500,000 people. They mostly lived in and around Kabul, Kandahar, Khost-Gardiz, Paktia, Ghazni, Nangarhar, Kunduz, Parwan, Herat, and Balkh provinces. Over time, the number of Hindu and Sikh populations decreased. Before the collapse of the pro-Soviet regime in 1992, their population was estimated at approximately 200,000 people all over Afghanistan. However, in the last three decades, the majority of these communities were forced to flee the country. According to an investigation by Tolo News TV, 99% of Hindus and Sikhs left Afghanistan. Hindus have a longer history than Sikhs in Afghanistan. But, they seem like one community in the country. They follow the Sikhism religion. Guru Nanak is the founder of the Sikhism religion. He visited Afghanistan in the fifteenth century. Hindus’ native tongue is either Hindi or Lahnda, and the Sikhs’ native tongue is mainly Panjabi except for those settled in Kandahar who speak Sindi and Riasti.

Hindu and Sikh minorities face religious and social discrimination in Afghanistan. They cannot perform their religious practices freely. They face serious limitations and restrictions regarding their religious practices. For instance, cremation of the deaths is the main challenge that is mostly restricted by local authorities and the public. Additionally, Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan have been targeted by insurgent groups just because of their faith and beliefs. In the 1990s, during the prior government of the Taliban, these minorities were forced to wear a yellow scarf to be distinguished from other Afghans. Furthermore, Sikhs children are discriminated against because of their special headdresses. In schools, they have been discriminated against by educators and Muslim students. Gurnam Singh, head of Hindu & Sikh Worship house in Kabul said to DW: “our people and children are being discriminated, persecuted and intimidated in schools and society”.

Systematic attacks

Hindu and Sikh minorities have been systematically targeted by insurgent groups and Islamist fundamentalists like Taliban and ISIS, just because of their religious beliefs and faith. In recent years, the number of target attacks increased against them. On January 1, 2018, a huge bomb explosion occurred in Jalalabad City. The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed the attack. In that incident, 19 people including Awtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate in the parliamentary election of Afghanistan were killed, and 20 others were injured. Another attack occurred on March 25, 2020, at 07:45 AM, in the old city of Kabul, in a Hindu and Sikh worship place (Gurdwara). In that incident, 26 Hindus and Sikhs were killed and 11 others were injured. ISIS also claimed that attack.

After the collapse of the country to the Taliban, target attacks against them continued. On June 18, 2022, at 6.30 AM, a terrorist attack occurred in a Hindu and Sikh temple in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. In that incident, 2 people were killed and 7 more injured. Still, no one/group claimed that attack. These target attacks indicate that Hindu and Sikh minorities face genocide and crimes against humanity. Because they have been targeted just because of their faith and religious beliefs.

Property rights

The property rights of Hindus and Sikhs have always been violated by government authorities, militias, and warlords in Afghanistan. They have lost their lands, houses, and even their temples. Surpal Singh Bashardost, member of the Hindu & Sikh National Council said to Ufuq News Agency; “now we have access to 20 temples across the country, while, more than 40 temples were confiscated and destroyed by militias”. As mentioned above, in the middle of the 20th century, these minorities lived in more than ten provinces in Afghanistan. But now, “only 25 families live in Kabul, 9 families in Nangarhar, and 2 families live in Ghazni provinces”, said; Bashardost. The main reasons that they were forced to flee and immigrate from Afghanistan are, they have been discriminated against, they have been targeted, and their lands, houses, and temples have been confiscated.

Human Rights violations

Based on the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966, International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights (ICESCR) 1966, and other international human rights instruments, Hindu and Sikhs minorities face in a grave human rights situation in Afghanistan. Their right to life & liberty, right to free from discrimination, right to equality before the law, property right, right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, right to freedom of expression, and right to education have been violated by the government authorities, militias and public.

Unfortunately, in the last two decades, no action has been taken by the government of Afghanistan to reduce these hostilities and violations. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the UNHRC, and national and international human rights institutions to focus on and support their human rights.