On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan after 20 years of U.S. intervention, after the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani fled his own country. The Taliban declared the war in Afghanistan over soon after. Under the Taliban’s rule, women can no longer get an education, wear whatever they want or leave the house without permission and chaperoning from their husbands. These are things that the Western world is aware of. However, many voices are being silenced and left out of this discourse.
Before the Islamic conquest, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and other diverse religions were a thriving community in Afghanistan, especially in cities such as Kabul and Jalalabad. The first peoples to inhabit Afghanistan were two Indo-Aryan groups, the Pashayi and Nuristanis. Those groups were said to have practiced Hinduism, according to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre. The Hindu Pashayi and Nuristani groups were Indigenous to Afghanistan, going all the way back to the Indus Valley Civilization more than 3000 years ago. By the early ’70s, there were hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.
According to HinduAmerican.org, some early Sikh converts first came to Afghanistan more than 500 years ago, followed by an increase in Sikh migration to the area during the 1947 partition of India. Many fled to Afghanistan, anticipating religious persecution in what had just become Pakistan.
Afghanistan is now 99.7% Muslim, and this is not by accident. A pre-Taliban survey by the Pew Research Center shows that 99% of Afghanis who were interviewed favored making Sharia law of the land. Similarly, 84% of the Pakistani who participated in the survey favored the same. This is detrimental to the liberties given to people of Afghanistan because under the Taliban, Hindus and Sikhs cannot practice their religions freely. Under Sharia law, the Taliban have burned down Hindu temples and Gurdwaras, according to the Hindu American Foundation.
During the CIA-backed invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, many Hindus and Sikhs fled to Europe and India. In the early ’90s, the Taliban was born with the help of the U.S. and Pakistan. The Hindu and Sikh populations dwindled rapidly after that. Hindus and Sikhs were persecuted, harassed and even killed for showing any display of their faiths whatsoever. Their properties were taken and they were forced to wear yellow armbands for identification. Kidnappings and murders of Hindus and Sikhs were rampant, according to the Hindu American Foundation. Unfortunately, these things still happen today.
Today, there are maybe 700 Hindus and Sikhs combined living in Afghanistan as we know it. According to TOLO News, 99% of Hindus and Sikhs left Afghanistan in the last three decades. There are still some Hindus and Sikhs left in Afghanistan, and not a lot of people are talking about these issues.
VOA News reports that Islamic State militants killed 17 Afghan Sikh and Hindu community leaders in an attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad in 2018. These ongoing attacks and threats have led a group of Sikh activists in the United States to advocate against Afghanistan’s persecution of Hindus and Sikhs. As detailed in a letter sent to the U.S. government and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, they have urged the two entities to immediately evacuate Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan, granting them immediate refugee status or they’re risking a genocide.
Hindus and Sikhs are still enduring an ongoing genocide as the Taliban advance throughout various provinces throughout Afghanistan, and the mainstream media is ignoring this facet. People need to know this history because it is a dangerous myth that Sikhs and Hindus are not native to Afghanistan. Afghanistan was once a diverse, multicultural and interfaith land and that’s all gone now.
Hindus and Sikhs don’t attend school anymore, nor do they practice in their places of worship. Many also disguise themselves as Muslims to avoid persecution. These facts are important when having discussions about who should be prioritized when seeking refuge from an oppressive government. This is not to say that some refugees matter more than others; every life matters. However, Hindus and Sikhs need to be prioritized when granting asylum to refugees, since these people are escaping religious persecution.
It’s very important that Western nations protect refugees, especially those facing religious persecution, because in Afghanistan, Hindus and Sikhs are practically living as completely different identities out of fear that they will be attacked by others. These people are living in fear every day, and to say that going through religious persecution is traumatic is an understatement. Hindus and Sikhs are enduring an ongoing genocide at the hands of the Taliban and this issue is being ignored entirely.
Fortunately, there are some actions being taken to recognize Hindus and Sikhs as oppressed religious minorities in Afghanistan. In the United States, 20 senators have adopted the Hindu American Foundation’s recommendations and sent a bipartisan letter to then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in June 2020, asking for the US to give refugee status to Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. A House resolution has similarly urged the administration to provide them with refugee status. However, it’s not enough and it has taken much too long to even get to this point. The UK doesn’t recognize Hindus and Sikhs as religious minorities at all and Germany deported a Sikh man back to Afghanistan, where he lives in a Sikh temple with few amenities. Canada has done the bare minimum by allowing Hindus and Sikhs to seek asylum via private sponsorship.
Otherwise, the West has failed to protect these people, and it’s time these countries get their act together and start taking action to ensure safety for all who are seeking refuge from the Taliban’s tight grip on Afghanistan.