Afghan refugees in India, especially Hindus and Sikhs, fear that their relatives will be in danger under the Taliban rule and they are desperate to get them out of the country.
A week after the Taliban entered Kabul on August 15, 29-year-old Afghan refugee Mohammad Nasim Azidi spent most of the time in a state of anxiety. Living in New Delhi, he learnt that his sister and her family were missing in Kabul.
Since his brother-in-law worked as a carpenter in the US embassy in Kabul, he began to fear that the Taliban might have harmed him and his family.
Azidi's search continued for two weeks until his sister called him on August 30.
"She told me she was able to escape to Qatar. She couldn't talk for a long time but called only to inform she was safe," Azidi told TRT World.
The Afghan refugees living in west Delhi's Tilak Nagar neighbourhood and adjoining areas are worried about the safety of their loved ones, who are still stuck in Afghanistan.
Although many of these refugees have come to India decades ago, areas like Tilak Nagar and Lajpat Nagar have seen a continuous influx of Afghans fleeing the war in the past two decades.
Nasim Azidi came to India three years ago. He has set up a jewellery shop in Tilak Nagar. But the business hasn't picked up and he struggles to make ends meet. He is of the opinion that no matter what the Taliban says about the safety of minorities in Afghanistan, they will be harsh on them.
“The Taliban will kill Sunnis, Shia, Hazara, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians. I am a Muslim, yet I ran away from my country. My sister is stuck there in Kabul. I have not been able to contact her for days. God alone knows where and how she must be," he added.
Delay and danger
The situation is similar for Baldev Singh, a 47-year-old Afghan refugee living in Tilak Nagar, who also fears for his family's safety in Kabul. As the Taliban took control of the streets and even areas adjoining the Kabul airport, his relatives are anxious about stepping out as they fear for their life.
“I was speaking with a relative of mine, who was recently in India and had gone back to Kabul. We had never imagined that the Taliban would come back. This has hit us like a bolt from the blue,” he told TRT World.
He even urged the Indian government to rescue the Indians stuck in Afghanistan since, with further delay, the risk to their lives only intensifies with time.
The Indian government has also ramped up its efforts to rescue people stuck in various parts of war-torn Afghanistan.
"As of August 28, a total of 550 people out of which 260 were Indians were evacuated in separate flights from Kabul," Arindam Bagchi, MEA Spokesperson informed the media. This figure does not include the Indian Embassy officials who were also evacuated.
Under the name 'Operation Devi shakti' India not only evacuated citizens using their own special flights but also facilitated the evacuation of Indian citizens through other agencies. However, citizens still stuck in Kabul have been unable to find a secure way out.
Sukhbir Singh, a Sikh stuck in Gurudwara Karte Parwan in Kabul, believes that the promises made by the Taliban of protecting the minorities are nothing but a hollow assurance. “There are 300 Sikhs/Hindus in Kabul right now. The situation is precarious. Currently, we are living in a state of fear. The Taliban has given us assurances but we don’t know how they are going to behave tomorrow”, he told TRT World.
Mansa Singh, who is also stranded along with Sukhbir Singh in the same Gurudwara, says that people are ready to leave everything behind, including their lifetime savings, to find a possible safe exit.
“People in Kabul are scared, roads around the airport are blocked. You won’t see a single woman in the streets now,” he told TRT World.
He also feels that the main problem with the Sikh and Hindu community voicing their concerns from within Afghanistan is that their small numbers result in their issues not being sufficiently considered. Had they been greater in number, society would have been more sensitive to their demands.
“Whether it’s the Taliban or any other party, our community has always faced discrimination,” he further added.
According to a paper written by the World Sikh Organisation of Canada, the total Hindu and Sikh population in Afghanistan make up less than 1 percent of Afghanistan’s population which stands around 30 million.
Even though the Afghan constitution allows for the right to freedom of religion, the Hindu and Sikh communities have continuously faced harassment, violence, and discrimination. In some instances of religious violence, a few Sikhs were also forced to get a haircut, an action that goes against their religious beliefs.
Inderjeet Singh, a writer who delves into minority affairs in Afghanistan, says that things have been bad for minorities in Afghanistan for a long time. From their religious places getting attacked to children of Sikhs facing harassment in schools, the list of discrimination against them is endless.
Caretakers of Sikh shrines
Now with the Taliban taking over, he said, the situation is just going to get worse.
“The minorities in Afghanistan have seen adequate representation in the country's parliament, but the problem isn't just about representation. It's also about respect, and how the larger community treats them and sees them. The larger community has discriminated against them, and that’s where the problem lies,” Singh said.
Though the refugees living in India feel that they are safe and secure here, the situation isn’t as tolerant and democratic as it is presented by mainstream media platforms. With the recent attacks on minorities on the rise, the struggle has only intensified.
“Getting citizenship in India is all about paying money. Authorities in India only want money. You will be given citizenship only if you pay a hefty bribe. That is how I got my citizenship, too” Diljit Singh, another Afghan refugee living in Tilak Nagar, told TRT World.
Diljit Singh further shared that his sister is in Belgium, and she got citizenship after a year and a half.
The situation is similar for Partap Singh, who works as a sevadar (caretaker) in a Gurudwara in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar. He decided to come back to India in 1992 after a group of people beat him up and forcefully pulled his turban down. That was the moment he decided to leave Afghanistan. After crossing over Pakistan he managed to reach Lahore hoping to get a safe space there.
But, post-Babri Masjid demolition in India, Sikhs felt unsafe in Pakistan. After staying in Lahore for two weeks, he was finally able to cross the Attari border and come back to India. Though he has been living here for more than two decades, he feels that the attacks on minorities are increasing day by day in India as well.
“I miss Afghanistan a lot, but what to do? It is not safe for us there. But today, when I look at how things are in India, it affects me. Minorities are ill-treated here, too,” he told TRT World.
For Mansa Singh, the fact that he may have to leave Afghanistan where there are historical Gurudwaras is in itself heartbreaking.
“I constantly wonder what will happen to our gurudwaras in Afghanistan. Although I have requested a few of my Muslim friends back here to take care of them, I don’t know what will happen to them tomorrow”.