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Sunday, July 05, 2020

For Afghan Sikhs, fear of another terror attack bigger than coronavirus

Forced to share cramped rooms at Gurdwaras after the March 25 attack, Sikhs look to India, wait for lockdown to end.

Written by Divya Goyal | Ludhiana | Updated: May 29, 2020 6:43:29 pm
For Afghan Sikhs, fear of another terror attack bigger than corona In pic: Paramjit Kaur with her family at Karte Parwan Gurdwara in Kabul

While the world is in the throes of a pandemic, 29-year-old Inderjit Kaur has another worry gnawing at her soul. Two months after she lost her husband and two brothers in an Islamic State (IS) sponsored terror attack at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul, Inderjit lives in constant fear of another attack.

Huddled inside a tiny room along with her three children — Harjot (11 months), Simarjit (6), Arveen (3), her mother-in-law and two brothers-in-law, at Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan, she says: Coronavirus ton zyada darr taan attack ton lagda hai.. assi haley vi darre hoye haan (More than coronavirus, we are fearful of another attack on us. We are still very scared).”

Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from Kabul, she added: “Majboori hai saadi gurdware ch rehna, hor kithey jaaiye…I just want a safe life for my children. We want to move to India as soon as possible. Please take us out of here,” she cries.

It was on March 25 that the Sikh community in strife-torn Afghanistan lost 25 people in a ghastly terror attack at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar of Kabul.

As Covid-19 infections surged world over, the pandemic hit the Sikhs in Afghanistan – just a little over 600 left in the country – by causing delay in visa approvals for which they had sent written appeals to the Indian Embassy.

Further, they are at a higher risk of coronavirus infection as the families, which lost one or more members in the March 25 attack, are now living together in gurdwara rooms in cramped conditions. Anywhere between 9 to 14 Sikh community members have been living in each gurdwara room in the aftermath of the attack.

While most Sikh families in Afghanistan were rendered ‘homeless’ after the Mujahideen took over in 1992 and have been sheltered by gurdwaras since long, the situation worsened after March 25 attack as families at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib were forced to move to small rooms at other gurdwaras.

Gurdwara Har Rai Sahab has not opened since the attack, forcing these Sikh families to live cheek by jowl, sleep on floor and share washrooms with several others.

With more than 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 227 deaths, Afghanistan, meanwhile, has been grappling with problem of low-testing and inadequate health infrastructure to tackle coronavirus and experts feel most cases there are going ‘undetected’.

Paramjit Kaur (30), who lost her mother-in-law and sister in the attack, now lives at Karte Parwan gurdwara. She says that she along with her husband, three children of her own and four of her deceased sister, are living in one small room.

“It is always crowded here. Other visitors also keep visiting. We sleep on floor, all nine of us in the same room. At least fifty people use same washroom. Saadi taan zindagi barbaad ho gai, hun bacheyan di sanwar jaaye kisi tarah. We know that coronavirus can spread here anytime and if one gets it, all will infected because we are together almost entire day but we do not have any option. We cannot afford to pay rent for rooms outside. We do not have our own house. We are scared of another attack and coronavirus both, but fear of another attack is always bigger,” she said.

“Sangat ke liye coronavirus se bhi bada khatra aatank hai.. (For the Sikh community here, another attack is a bigger fear than coronavirus),” added Daljit Kaur (25), whose husband had died in the attack.

Now, she along with her brother-in-law and four children (aged 14, 10, 3 and 2) live in a single gurdwara room.
“Five, six, eight, ten….persons are living in one small room here. We cannot move out as we are still getting threats. It is not hygienic here. Coronavirus has already delayed the entire visa process. Be it India or any other country, just take us out of this hell,” said Daljit.

Community leaders in Afghanistan said that were just waiting for lockdown to end in India. Chhabol Singh, member, managing committee, Gurdwara Karte Parwan said, “We have already given in writing to the Indian Embassy to rescue us. We need evacuation from here as soon as possible. There are just around 650 Sikh community members left here and we have already submitted the list to Embassy. But coronavirus has delayed everything. It has been decided that in the first batch, shaheed parivaar (families which lost members in March 25 attack) and those who have someone living in India already, will be sent.”

On the Covid-19 threat, he added: “Yahaan na rehne ki jagah hai, na sone ki (Here families do not have place to live, to sleep)…We are trying our best to maintain social distancing, but how do we do it?”

“(After the attack) around fifty persons were adjusted at Karte Parwan gurdwara, six families are living at Khalsa Sahib ji gurdwara, four at Gurdwara Baba Sri Chand ji and remaining at Baba Almas ji gurdwara and Mansa Singh ji gurdwara — all in Kabul. But their earning family members are dead, they have no source of livelihood plus there is always a fear of another attack. We keep asking them to wash their hands and sit at distance of at least 2 metres in gurdwara halls but risk is always there. Ek ko bhi virus ne pakda to sab jayenge hum (If even one among us gets infected, then we are all in trouble),” he said.

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