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India Offers Safety to Afghan Hindu and Sikh Minorities Facing Attacks

2020-07-19 15:26:10
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KABUL, Afghanistan — The Indian government has said that it will expedite visas and the possibility of long term residency for Hindus and Sikhs who have been the target of bloody attacks in recent years amid Afghanistan’s raging war.

In a brief statement on Saturday on the rescue of an Afghan Sikh leader who was abducted in eastern Afghanistan last month, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “India has decided to facilitate the return of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan to India.” It did not provide further details.

An Indian official in Kabul said the decision meant that any of the roughly 600 Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan would be given priority visas and the opportunity to apply for long-term residency once they arrived in India.

In interviews, many welcomed the emergency option, but said that they found themselves between a rock and a hard place. In Afghanistan, they have livelihoods — shops and businesses passed down through generations — but spend their days dreading the next attack. Making a new start in India would most likely mean living in poverty, they said, particularly during an economic slump that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Lala Sher Singh, a 63-year old amulet writer near a Kabul temple that was attacked in March, said the community had shrunk so much that one of the concerns that occupied his thoughts “day and night” was that the next assault might not leave enough people who can perform the final rituals for the dead.

“I may get killed here because of these threats to Hindus and Sikhs, but in India I will die from poverty,” Mr. Singh said. “I have spent my whole life in Afghanistan. In this neighborhood close to the temple, if I run out of money and stand in front of a shop and ask for two eggs and some bread, they will give it to me for free. But who will help me in India?”

“There is no change in our situation,” he added. “I am still risking my life when I come out every morning for work; I am still worried about another attack on our compound.”

Mr. Singh, who received financial assistance from the Afghan government, said life had become unbearable since the attack took his family and deprived him of a place of worship. His wife, who is pregnant with their first child, has dreaded going to the hospital because a maternity ward was recently attacked and mothers and babies were killed.

“When India provides a long-term visa, I will go and live there until the security situation is better in my own country so I can return,” Mr. Singh said. “No one will take my country from me, but it’s important for me to survive so I can come back when things are good.”

At best, India will be an option of emergency safety for the families who take it, but one that lacks social security for a permanent move.

The relatives of Rawail Singh moved to New Delhi more than a year ago, but life has not been easy. Mr. Singh was an activist who was one of 14 Sikhs killed in a 2018 suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad as they were filing in for a meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.

Mr. Singh’s wife, Preeti, said she moved her three children to India in the months after her husband’s death. Her 16-year old son, Prince, found work as an apprentice at a tailor shop, where he was paid about $110 a month. With that, bolstered by occasional aid sent by friends from Afghanistan and elsewhere, the family made do in the two rooms they rented for $30 a month.

But as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Prince lost his job; the tailor said he could no longer afford to pay apprentices. Preeti said her family spent their days confined to their two rooms, waiting for help to pay the rent.

Prince is still looking for a job, but he has not found anything yet.

“No one is giving us work,” he told his mother recently. “People say, ‘I can barely feed my own family, let alone hire you.’”

Farooq Jan Mangal, Zabihullah Ghazi, and Fatima Faizi contributed reporting.

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