Hours after 55-year-old Nidan Singh Sachdeva, an Afghan Sikh who was abducted a month ago from a gurdwara in the Paktia province of Afghanistan, was released Saturday, New Delhi thanked the Kabul government for its efforts and then pointed to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act to signal that he could be granted citizenship should he apply.
Sachdeva and his family moved to India in the 1990s — well before the CAA cut-off date of December 31, 2014 to be eligible for grant of Indian citizenship.
Living in Delhi on a long-term visa, Sachdeva keeps returning to Afghanistan and also does sewa at gurdwaras — at the time of his abduction, he was at the Thala Sri Guru Nanak Sahib gurdwara in Chamkani district.
After his abduction on June 17, his wife Mahrwanti wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 25, seeking government assistance to secure her husband’s release. In her letter, she mentioned “Paktia is an epicentre of Taliban insurgency and in the past has been a safe haven for militants from the Haqqani network… we apprehend that he may have been abducted by a militant organization”.
“The minorities living in Afghanistan have faced and are facing severe atrocities and do not have any sort of guarantee for their safety… Our appeal may be taken up with concerned counterparts at the highest level in order to secure his safe release at the earliest… kindly repatriate him to New Delhi immediately after his release and grant us Indian citizenship at the earliest,” Mahrwanti wrote to Modi.
Under the CAA, Sikhs and people of five other religions, who fled to India before December 31, 2014 following persecution in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, are eligible for citizenship.
Sachdeva’s son Jasmeet Singh told The Indian Express: “We want his return to Delhi at the earliest. In videos we received, he can be heard saying he was tortured in captivity. We will get to know more details only after we speak to him.”
The Ministry of External Affairs said: “We convey our appreciation to the Government of Afghanistan and tribal elders from the area, whose efforts secured the return of Nidan Singh.”
In a veiled reference to Pakistan, the MEA said the targeting and persecution of minority community members by terrorists at the “behest of their external supporters” remains a matter of grave concern.
It then said: “In a recent decision, India has decided to facilitate the return of Afghan Hindu and Sikh community members facing security threats in Afghanistan to India.”
Last December, the government had cited specific instances of persecution that had taken place in Afghanistan during the Taliban years.
Earlier in the day, Nidan Singh’s cousin Charan Singh, talking to the Sunday Express, said, “We don’t know who abducted him and with what motive. We are yet to speak to him in detail.”
In two videos that were shared on social media after Nidan Singh’s release, he could be heard thanking Afghanistan security forces and members of Sikh and Hindu community for making efforts to get him released. He could also be heard saying that he was tortured in captivity and will undergo a medical check-up. In another video, he could be seen paying obeisance at the gurdwara.
Chhabol Singh, member, managing committee, Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan, Kabul said that Nidan Singh was yet to return to Kabul. “He is still in Chamkani. We got to know that local panchayat members secured his release but details will be clear only after he reaches Kabul. He was left at gurdwara today morning from where abductors had picked him up on June 17.”
After the Islamic State (IS) sponsored attack at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Kabul on March 25 in which at least 25 Sikh community members were killed, this was the second big incident targeting the minority Sikh community in Afghanistan.
Nidan Singh’s family had also written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking help in getting him rescued and demanding that he should be given Indian citizenship at the earliest.
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