DAYS AFTER the March 25 terror attack at Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Afghanistan’s Kabul, Sikhs from Afghanistan have written to the Indian Embassy in Kabul and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, seeking “immediate evacuation of Sikh families and refuge in India” citing a threat to their lives from the Islamic State (IS).
At least 25 Sikhs were killed in the attack.
According to both letters, copies of which are with The Indian Express, at least 650 Sikhs from Afghanistan are seeking immediate evacuation, claiming they are still getting threat calls to either leave the country or face consequences.
A representative of the Sikh community from Kabul told The Indian Express that there are just 650-700 Sikhs (around 80-90 families) left in Afghanistan. “No one wants to live here now because they want safety for their children at least. Hence we have made a collective appeal because everyone wants to leave…,” he said.
He added that 364 Sikhs from Kabul, 168 from Jalalabad and 80 others from Gazni of Afghanistan have approached the Indian Embassy in Kabul seeking immediate visas. Around 25-30 also do not have passports and are trying to get them issued, he added.
The first letter was sent to the Indian Embassy in Kabul by ‘The General Council of Hindus & Sikhs for Afghanistan’ and the ‘Central Gurdwara Dashmesh Pita Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji Singh Sabha Karte Parwan Kabul’. It says: “…relative to the country’s political problems, about 650 people are demanding that Afghanistan be in difficult situations, all of us are under threat so we request the Indian embassy in Kabul to be more urgent and address the problems of Sikhs in Afghanistan…we hope that Afghan refugees and Sikhs will have the opportunity to seek refuge…We request the Indian embassy in Kabul please take serious action to address the problems of Hindu believers and Sikhs in Afghanistan…”
The second letter, written by the management committee of Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Karte Parwan, the central gurdwara in Afghanistan, is addressed to Shah and Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar. It says: “…conditions here are very volatile and dangerous. There was another attack during funeral services of Sikhs and explosives were found near the gurdwara…Members of community also received phone calls from anonymous individuals who claimed to be ISIS and told us to evacuate Afghanistan within ten days or they will attack again. We have taken this threat very seriously…”
Seeking evacuation via special planes, the letter says, “Afghanistan government got India to open its airspace to evacuate Afghan citizens from India…Kabul has chartered flights to evacuate its citizens from India. For Sikhs and Hindus who want to leave Afghanistan, this scenario provides an opportunity to board these flights that are going empty to New Delhi…”
The letter adds that Sikhs were in touch with Indian Ambassador in Kabul Vinay Kumar to get travel or exit visas to India and that they had been assured of a response by April 1, but that “progress has been stalled”.
“We request Government of India to give us immediate visas because lives of remaining Sikh and Hindu families are in grave danger and they need to leave Kabul…because of threats from ISIS…”
The letter adds that the Sikh community is aware of the coronavirus crisis, but “we are also ready to accept quarantine conditions if any…”. It further said that they are in touch with Delhi gurdwaras who have promised to arrange quarantine facilities.
“The count of Sikh and Hindu families that need to be evacuated is about 120 families or 650 people… Coronavirus has made matters worse…but it did not deter terrorists from attacking innocent people…and it should not deter us from our fight against them…,” said the letter.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gurnam Singh, president of Gurdwara Dashmesh Darbar Karte Parwan, said, “No Sikh or Hindu family wants to live in Afghanistan anymore. Our MP Narinder Singh Khalsa has also been communicated by all families that they do not want to stay back anymore. We are in touch with the embassy but due to Coronavirus, they say visas cannot be processed nor are there any flights, but we are requesting India to run some special charter flights and evacuate us. There can be another attack anytime…”
While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not give an official response, government sources told The Indian Express, “The Indian Embassy in Kabul is in constant touch with the Sikh community and Afghanistan government to provide for their security and well-being. Special security arrangements have been made by the Afghanistan government and a new police post has also been set up. However, due to ongoing coronavirus pandemic and suspension of all flights, visa requests for arrival in India cannot be processed immediately.”
According to the Indian government’s rules, minorities in Pakistan and Afghanistan can arrive in India after getting a short-term visa or any other category of visa applicable on the basis of a valid passport and other documents. They can then apply for Long Term Visa (LTV) if they seek permanent settlement and consequently, an application for Indian citizenship can be made.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines