In 10 days, Tanya Kaur would have turned four. She was planning her birthday cake, said her father, Harinder Singh Soni (40), kirtan sewadar at the Gurdwara Har Rai Sahib in Shor Bazar of Kabul, where 25 were killed in a terror attack on Wednesday.
Tanya, and her mother, Surpal Kaur (40), were among those killed. Harinder also lost his father, Nirmal Singh Soni (60), who was the head granthi of the gurdwara, father-in-law Bhagat Singh (75) and nephew Kulwinder Singh Khalsa (35). His mother, Rawail Kaur, was injured in the attack.
Harinder’s two other children, Gagandeep Singh (13) and Gurjit Kaur (11), and four brothers were not in the gurdwara at the time of the attack. Speaking to The Indian Express on the phone, Harinder, who was born in Afghanistan, said: “It is time to leave the country with my mother, children and brothers, before they too are killed.”
While he said four armed men had stormed the gurdwara, an AP report quoted Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry as saying that a lone Islamic State gunman had carried out the attack.
Editorial | Horror in Kabul
“My daughter was shot in head. She kept shouting, ‘save me daddy, save me daddy’… they kept shooting, even at the heap of bodies lying on the ground,” he said.
Tanya was a student of a pre-primary class in the gurdwara. “She had just started learning the alphabets,” said Harinder.
“The local Sikh community had gathered at the gurdwara around 6.30 am for daily prayers as usual. I was on the stage… There were nearly a hundred devotees. Midway through the prayers, a devotee shouted ‘chor aa gaye hai, daaku aaye hain’ (thieves have come), and there was complete chaos,” he recalled.
“Four men stormed inside and started shooting at everyone… I was on the stage. My nephew, Kulwinder, shouted at me to get down. As I got down, the bodies of my wife and daughter fell on me,” said Harinder.
He said the attack lasted for hours. “They were trying to shoot everyone in the head… My wife and father were shot in the chest,” he said.
On Thursday, at the mass funeral in Kabul, each coffin had a note with the following message: “Nanak naam chardi kala, tere bhane sarbat da bhala” (Nanak, with your name, may there be peace and happiness for all)”.
Among those killed was Mehram Ali, a security guard at the gurdwara. “He had been working at the gurdwara for about five years now… He was the first to be shot,” said Harinder, who also owns a small cosmetics store in Kabul,
According to him, there are about 80 Sikh families in Afghanistan, mostly in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazni. “Many of these families lost a relative in yesterday’s attack. There is hardly any Sikh family left here who hasn’t lost a relative in a terror attack. Most of them want to leave now,” he said.
After Wednesday’s attack, Harinder too wants to leave the country of his birth. “Pehle lagta tha ki Afghanistan humara hi desh hai, par ab nahi lagta. Ab yahaan rehne ka mann nahi karta (Earlier, I used to feel that Afghanistan is my country, but not any longer. I don’t want to live here now),” he said. Asked where he would go he replied, “Jahaan panaah milegi, vahan chale jayenge, par ab yahaan nahi rahenge (We will go wherever we find refuge, but won’t stay here now).”
Minorities in Afghanistan
Now an Islamic war-torn nation, Afghanistan traces its deep-rooted bond with Sikhism since Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh master, came here during one of his four udaasis (journeys) to spread message of harmony, tolerance and humanity.
Later, the seventh Sikh Guru Har Rai also played a pivotal role in sending Sikh missionaries to Kabul. Once at least 3-lakh strong Hindu-Sikh community in Afghanistan has now been reduced to meagre 850-900, struggling for survival.
UK-based Inderjeet Singh, author of the book ‘Afghan Hindus and Sikhs- History of A Thousand Years’, says, “There are just about ten functional gurdwaras and five Hindu temples left in Afghanistan. They are located in Kabul, Jalalabad and Ghazni. As per the estimates, nearly 800-850 Sikhs and 50-60 Hindus are left in Afghanistan. It is believed that there were nearly three lakh Hindus-Sikhs in 1970s and majority of them left in 1992 after the Mujahideen took over.”
An excerpt from his book reads: ‘The 18th century manuscript Mahima Prakash mentions that Bhai Gonda was sent to Kabul to preach Sikh doctrine by seventh Sikh Guru Har Rai. He established a dharamsaal (earlier name for gurdwara) over there…’
He adds, “Till date, Hindu and Sikh community share a very deep and special bond in Afghanistan and respect each other’s faiths. One reason for this bonding between Afghani Sikhs and Hindus is because they are left in such small numbers that they look for that support in each other.”
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