Afghan headline

Statement: Sikhs in Afghanistan – What’s the problem?

The Sikh Press Association share this statement from documentary makers Pritpal Singh and Harkiran Kaur in relation to today’s news about Afghan Sikhs being illegally brought into the country by a group who seemingly exploit the desire of those looking to leave a country where Sikhs are unable to live freely. 

Please note, this is in no way a statement in defence of the those on trial for illegally arranging Afghan Sikhs to come into the country. This is a statement shared to highlight why Sikhs are leaving Afghanistan. We highly recommend watching the documentaries linked in the statement below to gain a better understanding of why Sikhs are desperately looking to leave Afghanistan.


 

Often a misunderstood minority, the Sikh community in Afghanistan is fast dwindling.

Once known for its thriving trade routes and culture, Afghanistan is now known for its turbulent political history, causing many Afghans to migrate, including the Sikh and Hindu religious minorities. The country has been torn apart by war for decades and peace is not in sight when the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) troops leave.

For minorities like the Sikhs and Hindus, the situation is quite hopeless.  Last year in December Lala Del Souz Singh, the head of the Sikh community in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan was killed by unknown gunmen. Of the more than 50,000 Afghan Sikh families that lived in Afghanistan around the 90s, only 3,000 are left.

During the years of the Taliban, Sikhs were often forced to wear yellow armbands so they were easily distinguishable. From those years to this day, Sikhs in Afghanistan regularly face issues of harassment and abuse. Parents worry about sending children to school. Young girls and women are commonly targeted. Whether it is about holding a funeral for our deceased or having our businesses, land and goods taken from us, anything goes when it comes to Sikh persecution in Afghanistan. The authorities perpetrate this. The discrimination is institutionalised. This is why nearly all the Sikhs have left Afghanistan.

Thousands of miles away from the homeland, however, a small community of Afghan Sikhs have preserved the culture and traditions of the dwindling community and at the same time are working hard to integrate and contribute well in British society.

It is awful to think some of this community’s own could have used the plight of their fellow Afghan Sikhs as a chance to exploit them, by illegally getting them into the country. However, it seems this is the case. As such, without defending the callous alleged (the court hearing is still ongoing) actions of those on trial, it must be understood just why Afghan Sikhs are doing anything they can to get into the UK.

In 2013 I produced a documentary “Mission Afghanistan” https://youtu.be/0h11jAyO0zg portraying the life and hardships of Hindu and Sikh minorities in war-torn Afghanistan.

Four years later, my latest work “Hindu Kush to Thames” https://youtu.be/usmOTLiWQTw , co-produced, filmed and directed by Ariadne Bechtold which released in May this year, follows up on Mission Afghanistan’s coverage of the plight of Sikhs living in Afghanistan. Hindu Kush to Thames sheds light on those who have immigrated to the UK. Our new documentary, highlights the Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities, but this time through the lens of Afghan immigrants to the UK, particularly Southall, by carefully juxtaposing the life left behind, with life in their adopted homes. The sacrifices and struggles are masked with vibrant displays of faith, music, food and dance. In the nearly empty diwan halls of Kabul, and the vibrant and overflowing hall of Gurdwara, Sikh place of workshop in Southall, London, with touching depictions of the dilapidated temple and gurdwaras in Kabul and impressive retention of their roots throughout generations on foreign soil, “Hindu Kush to Thames” presents the story of immigrants, who are rarely covered in Afghan or mainstream media.

Whilst the perpetrators of this crime – if found guilty – should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, those that really wish to tackle this issue need to look at treating the root cause, not just the symptoms. For as long as Sikhs continue to suffer in Afghanistan, they will do anything they can to get to the UK, a place many Sikh Afghan families are now happy to call home.

 

Pritpal Singh

Harkiran Kaur