Sikhism in Afghanistan

Sikhism in Afghanistan

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Sikhism
Sikhism
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded during the 15th century in the Punjab region, by Guru Nanak Dev and continued to progress with ten successive Sikh Gurus . It is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world and one of the fastest-growing...

in Afghanistan
Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

is limited to small populations, primarily in major cities, with the largest numbers of Afghan Sikh
Sikh
A Sikh is a follower of Sikhism. It primarily originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of South Asia. The term "Sikh" has its origin in Sanskrit term शिष्य , meaning "disciple, student" or शिक्ष , meaning "instruction"...

s living in Jalalabad
Jalalabad
Jalalabad , formerly called Adinapour, as documented by the 7th century Hsüan-tsang, is a city in eastern Afghanistan. Located at the junction of the Kabul River and Kunar River near the Laghman valley, Jalalabad is the capital of Nangarhar province. It is linked by approximately of highway with...

, Kabul
Kabul
Kabul , spelt Caubul in some classic literatures, is the capital and largest city of Afghanistan. It is also the capital of the Kabul Province, located in the eastern section of Afghanistan...

, and Kandahar
Kandahar
Kandahar is the second largest city in Afghanistan, with a population of about 512,200 as of 2011. It is the capital of Kandahar Province, located in the south of the country at about 1,005 m above sea level...

. These Sikhs are Afghan nationals, and generally speak Pashto, the language of Afghanistan's majority Pashto community, though some speak Dari (the lingua franca) or their traditional Hindi and Punjabi.

Estimates of the Afghan Sikh population prior to the 1979 Soviet invasion have been given as 200,000, and 50,000 prior to the 1992 Afghan Civil War. Estimates of the current number of Sikhs range from 170 to 3,000 families.

Kabul


Around 300 Sikhs visit Gurdwara Karte Parwan
Gurdwara Karte Parwan
Karte Parwan Gurdwara in the Karte Parwan section of Kabul, Afghanistan, is one of the main Gurdwaras in the region. Gurdawara means the Gateway to the Guru, and is a place of worship for Sikhs....

, a primary place of worship in the area, located in the Karte Parwan
Karte Parwan
Kārte Parwān is a neighbourhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, and home to the Sikh Gurdwara Karte Parwan and Sheerno Junior High. The area is the centre of the Afghan Hindu and Afghan Sikh communities....

 section of Kabul.

Jalalabad


As of 2001, Jalalabad had 100 Sikh families, totalling around 700 people, who worship at two large Gurdwara
Gurdwara
A Gurdwara , meaning the Gateway to the Guru, is the place of worship for Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism. A Gurdwara can be identified from a distance by tall flagpoles bearing the Nishan Sahib ....

s. Legend states that the older of the Gurudwaras was built to commemorate the visit of Guru Nanak Dev Ji.

Early history


Some early Khatri
Khatri
Khatri is a caste from the northern Indian subcontinent. Khatris in India are mostly from Punjab, region but later they migrated to regions like Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu, Uttarkhand, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Balochistan, Sindh and Khyber...

 Sikhs established and maintained colonies in Afghanistan for trading purposes. Later, conflicts between the Sikh misl
Misl
Misl generally refers to the twelve sovereign states in the Sikh Confederacy. The states formed a commonwealth that was described by Antoine Polier as an "aristocratic republic"...

s and empire against the Afghan based Durrani Empire
Durrani Empire
The Durrani Empire was a Pashtun dynasty centered in Afghanistan and included northeastern Iran, the Kashmir region, the modern state of Pakistan, and northwestern India. It was established at Kandahar in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, an Afghan military commander under Nader Shah of Persia and chief...

 led to tension. Sikhs also served in the British Empire's military during several operations in Afghanistan in the 19th century.

Mujahideen and Taliban eras


During the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan
Soviet war in Afghanistan
The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist-Leninist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the Afghan Mujahideen and foreign "Arab–Afghan" volunteers...

, many Afghan Sikhs fled to India and Pakistan, where the Sikh community is well-established; a second wave followed following the 1992 fall of the Najibullah regime
Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was a government of Afghanistan between 1978 and 1992. It was both ideologically close to and economically dependent on the Soviet Union, and was a major belligerent of the Afghan Civil War.- Saur Revolution :...

. Sikh gurdwara
Gurdwara
A Gurdwara , meaning the Gateway to the Guru, is the place of worship for Sikhs, the followers of Sikhism. A Gurdwara can be identified from a distance by tall flagpoles bearing the Nishan Sahib ....

s (temples) throughout the country were destroyed in the Afghan Civil War of the 1990s, leaving only the Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul.

Under the Taliban, the Sikhs were a relatively tolerated religious minority, and allowed to practice their religion. However, the Sikh custom of cremation of the dead was prohibited by the Taliban, and cremation grounds vandalised. In addition, Sikhs were required to wear yellow patches or veils to identify themselves.

Diaspora


Sikh families have immigrated to other countries including India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

, and England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

.

Current situation


Sikhs in Afghanistan continue to face problems, with the issue of the Sikh custom of cremation figuring prominently. City development also threatens to destroy the Gurudwara Parte Karwan and adjoining shrine to Guru Nanak.

Cremation controversies


By tradition, Sikhs cremate their dead, an act considered sacrilege in Islam. Cremation has become a major issue among Sikh Afghans, as traditional cremation grounds have been appropriated by Muslims, particularly in the Qalacha
Qalacha
Qalacha is a neighborhood in District 8 of southeastern Kabul, Afghanistan.The area was home to a cremation ground used by Afghan Hindus and Afghan Sikhs since the 1890s, but has since become a controversy as local Muslims object to cremations on the site....

 area of Kabul, which Sikhs and Hindus had used for over a century. In 2003 Sikhs complained to the Afghan government regarding the loss of cremation grounds, which had forced them to send a woman's body to Pakistan to be cremated, following which the Minister of Religious affairs investigated the issue. Though the grounds were reported as returned to Sikh control in 2006, though in 2007 local Muslims allegedly beat Sikhs attempting to cremate a community leader, and the funeral proceeded only with police protection. As of 2010, cremation in Kabul is still reported as being disapproved of by locals.

Further reading


Notable Afghan Sikhs

  • Senator Awtar Singh
    Awtar Singh
    Awtar Singh is an Afghan politician. He was the Sikh representative to the Loya Jirga from Paktia.-External links:* The Tribune - June 9, 2002...

    , the only Sikh in the National Assembly of Afghanistan
    National Assembly of Afghanistan
    The National Assembly is Afghanistan's national legislature. It is a bicameral body, comprising two chambers:*Wolesi Jirga or the House of the People: the 250-member lower house.*Meshrano Jirga ) or the House of Elders: an upper house with 102 seats....

    .
  • Doctor Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, member of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
    Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
    The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission is an Afghan organisation dedicated to the preservation of human rights and the investigation of human rights abuses....

    and 2009 Radio Free Europe Afghanistan "Person of the Year".