Afghan Hindu and Sikhs
– History of a Thousand Years –
Author: Inderjeet Singh
Publisher: Readomania Publishing, Sector 22, Dwarka, New Delhi
Price: Rs 350/-; $: 16.99; £ 9.99
The fate of nations, their territories, civilizations and culture depend on the psyche, beliefs and ideological proclivities of their rulers. In turn , the psych of the rulers is determined by their religious and other ideological commitments which colour their modes of governance and administration. History is a witness to the suffering and mass expulsion of populations of certain religious and the ethnic communities in certain parts of the world as a result of the aggressive and coercive behaviour of the rulers belonging to different religious, and ideological mindset. Such has been the fate of jews in some countries of Europe, Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan in the mid twentieth century, and Rhongia Muslims in Myanmar and Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan in recent times. The Book under review deals with the continuous incarceration of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan is a land-locked country sharing borders with six nations, Medieval Afghanistan was known as Khurasan and it included parts of Present day Uzbekistan, Iran, Tajikstan and Turkmenistan. Vest areas of central Asia remained under the rule of different rulers/ dynasties such as the Persians, Mehmud of Gazni, Timur, Mongols (Gengis Khan) the Mughals and the British. It has earned the title of being a graveyard of Empires. It was only in October 1920 that Afghanstan obtained freedom after an agreement with British.
It is claimed that the Hindus and the original residents of Afghanistan and Hindu rulers lost the kingdom to Islamic invaders and as a result of mass conversions and oppressive conditions, it became an Islamic country. The Hindus and the Sikhs (Including Sahijdhari) have been living there for centuries and doing their business and also serving in its administrative setup. They have been a significant part of Afghan society till late ninetees of 20th century when the country got invaded in the midst of fundamentalist turmoil and unending civil war. There has been no authentic record of number of Hindu Sikh families in that country at any point of time but out of quite a few thousand of them, almost all have migrated to India and western countries. There have been mass killings, houses burnt and forcibly occupied by locals, Gurdwaras and residences destroyed or converted into mosques, schools etc.
The author of the book under review Sardar Inderjeet Singh is an Amritdhari Sikh and is currently based in Nottingham (UK). He has a passion for Sikhs history and status of Sikh beyond India. He has managed to secure a number of contemporary sources including account of travels from Turkey, Persia, Germany, Russia, France, UK, East India Compnay, works of Afghanistan Sikh writers, Punjabi writers of India. The author has condensed the history of a thousand years since 11th century when Sabuktigin (977-997 CA) conquered Kabul and neighbouring areas from Hindushahi ruler Jayapal. He was succeeded by his son Mahmud of Gazni who ruled from 998 to 1030 CE and won Peshawar in 1001 CE. He destroyed temples and idols which were loaded with gold and jewels, forcibly converted a number of Hindus to Muslims but at the same time allowed Hindus to live in his empire on payment of Jazya Tax and also employed them in Army to make use of them against his enemies. He brought a lot of Hindus as slaves from India. On his death, he was succeeded by his son Mahmud. He deputed a Hindu Chief Jawand Rai to pursue the nobles who were supporting his brother for the throne of Gazni. Another Hindu, Tilak, son of Jaisen was the commander of Hindu troops. He was asked by Sultan to advance against the rebel Ahmad Nialtigin. Tilak in a strategic robe made use of Jats (Hindus) and Ahmad was killed. He was employed on important duties including managing the affairs of Balkh. In short, in the Ghaznavid Empire, Hindus were a part of society, had places of worship and performed religious rites.
There is not much mater regarding position of Hindus in central Asia during 13th and early 14th century except the flow of merchants to and from India and a brief reference to ascetics called Haidaria who were similar to the sect of Nath Yogis in India in the account of Ibn Batuta who passed through Khurasan on way to Hindustan.
Early 16th century saw the advent of Sikhism and Sikhs in Afghanistan. Guru Nanak reached the outskirts of city of Kabul in around 1521 during one of his Udasis. A stream now known as “Tohu Bala” is a sacred place in Sultanpur in memory of Guru Nanak. His followers were known as Sevaks as a chunk of population started seva under his teachings. They were also known as Nanakpanthis. During the period of Guru Amardas (1552-74), a lady, Bibi Bhago was icharge of Kabul Manji. In Varan of Bhai Gurdas, reference is made to Bhai Rekh Rao and Bhai Bhana Mallan of Kabul. A sangat from Kabul went to Amritsar to pay respect to Guru Arjan. Bhai Karoro, a Sikh sent horses from Kabul to Guru Hargobind. Bhai Tara Chand and Bhakt Mall were the Masands in Kabul. A sangat from Kabul and Peshawar came to Samao (Bathinda) to meet Guru Tegh Bahadur. A number of Sikhs from various areas of Afghanistan took ‘Khande di Pahul’ after creation of Khalsa by Guru Gobind Singh. These ‘Nanakpanthis’ who could not or did not take Khande di Pahul continued observing Sikhi by reciting Gurbani, visiting Dharamsal (as Gurdwara) and left idol worship. They were kown as Sahejdharis. In various accounts of travelers in early 17th century, population of a few thousand (12000 in one account) is recorded in Isfahan (then Persia). Bhai Nand Lal was born in Ghazni and his father was the Mir Munshi of Governor of Ghazni.
In Chapter 7 of the book under review, the author has made reference to accounts of Jonas Hanwey (1712-80), George Forster (1752-91) which show that Hindus and Sikhs were well settled in Afghanistan not only in the main cities but even in small towns and villages. Reference has also been made to a memorandum sent by an employee of East India Company to Alexander Adamson on 17th Feb 1794 under the head ‘Dominion of Durranis’. There he stated that the principal inhabitants were Muslims with some Hindus who had adopted the institution of Baba Nanak.
1748-1849 was a different period of atrocities against Sikhs, attack on Harmandir Sahib, and capture of Peshawar by Ranjit Singh etc. That period is a well known chapter of history and is properly depicted in the book under review
Apart from Masands during Guru period, certain Sikh preachers from punjab went to Afghanistan during late 19t and early 20th century, notable among them being Jaswant Singh (1777-1861), Achal Singh, Akali Kaur Singh (1886-1953) Teja Singh Swatantar (1901-1973). It increased the number of Sikhs (including Sehajdharis) in various areas of the country. During the reign of Amir Habibullah Khan Hindus acquirededucation in modern schooling. The military hospital in Sultanpur was headed by a Hindu. Amir visited Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. The declaration of Independence was followed by a conference with the British in which a Hindu Diwan Niranjan Das defended the Afghan policy. The constitution of Afghanistan approved in 1923 provided that other than Islam, the religion such as Jews and Hinduism shall have full protection of the State provided they do not disturb the public peace. During the period of Amir Amanullah Khan (1919-29), the first Amrit Sanchar was arranged in February 1920 in Lalpur District wherein a number of Sahejdharis took Khande Di Pahul and became Khalsa. A Sikh conference was arranged on 22nd January 1921 which was attended by a number of Sehajdharis and also an organization Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan was created. That organization played a major role in the social, cultural, economic and political society of the country. Bhai Kahan Singh Nabha reached to attend Sikh Education Conference at Kabul on 22nd April 1933 and stayed in the country as a State Guest. He also met Amin Nadirshah. During the period of Amin Ammnullah Khan, a number of restrictions upon Hindus and Sikhs were removed and they were free to perform their rituals and religious exercises. During the period of Habibullah Kalakari (1929), Mohammad Nadir Shah (1929-33) and Zahir Shah (1933-73), there was small development of Afghanistan’s social, educational spheres and Hindus and Sikhs were actively engaged and they benefitted. The Educational attainment of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus was above the average level of education of the native population. In 1960, a joint Hindu Sikh institution ‘Kharian’ was formed. In 1965, the Sikh Youth formed Naujawan Singh Sabha for social and religious requirements. In 1968, Afghan Sikh Sabha was formed which worked on gaining higher education. A number of doctors, engineers and other professionals came out of the community.
The author has referred to a number of events and have arrived at two simple observations that during the period from1919 to 1973 and 1980, Afghan Sikhs including those in India had very good relations with the royal family in Afghanistan and that 1960-80 was the period of high achievement for the Afghani Sikhs and Hindus. For these observations, he has also referred to Prominent Sikhs and Hindus such as Gurbat Singh Bedi, Arvinder Singh Bedi (In India), Mangal Singh Bedi, Diwan Niranjan Das, Diwan Sadhu Ram, Giani Nihal Singh ‘Afeef’, Jai Singh Fani, Gajinder Singh Rangila was elected as member of of Parliament.
Hindus and Sikhs (including Sehajdharis) lived in Afghanistan for generations as a composite society, true to their faith but sharing happiness and grief and visiting each other’s place of worship. Sehajdharis recited verses from Gurbani as Khalsa Sikhs did. A vast majority of Sikhs and Hindus belong to the Arora and Khatri Castes, using different surnames.
The author has observed that the “Afghan Hindus and to a slightly lesser extent the Sikhs have not kept any record of themselves which further adds to the problem of distinguishing sehajdharis from a Hindus. The number of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan has been mentioned in various accounts in different periods. Some of these (as referred to by the author are – according to Prof Ganda Singh (Afghanistan da Safar, 1954) there were about 6000-7000 Sikhs in the country who lived mainly in Kabul, Kandhar, Jalalabad, Ghazni and other cities. Louis Dupree, an American anthropologist, in his work ‘Afghanistan – 1973’ gives a figure of 25000 Hindus and Sikhs, out of which 15000 were Sikhs, Khaljinder Singh Khurana, in his book, “Kabul Di Sikh Sangat te Afghanistan da Sankeph itihas – 2011) mentioned the members as 60000 in 1992. India Today reported figure of 50000 in April 1989 living in fear. The author has quoted his own verbal source that there were about 850 Sikhs and 60 odd Hindus in the first week of August 2018.
Prof Ganda Singh visited various places in Afghanistan in 1952 and recorded his memoir in his book ‘Afghanistan Da Safar’ Published in 1954. In Chapter 11 regarding Gurdwaras in Afghanistan, the author has reproduced in his own language the impression of Prof Ganda Singh and the particulars of Gurdwaras visited by him. The appendix with a list of 63 Gurdwaras has been added, taken from the book ‘Ithas Khalsa Diwan Afghanistan’ by Sadhu Singh Sathi (1994).
To be fair, a chapter 14 has been incorporated to give detail of Mandirs in Afghanistan. The details of Mandirs, their origin and significance have been taken from the book in German Die Gefahrten Afghanistans by Ishar Dass, an Afghan Hindu settled in Germany and Punjabi book by Khajinder Singh Khurana, Kabul di Sikh Sangat Te Afghanistan da Sankhep Ithas published in 2001 and have been reproduced in simple language.
The life of well educated, Professional, prosperous businessmen, bankers, Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan was uprooted by coups, foreign interventions, Civil war and emergence of fundamental Mujahideens and Talibans. The rich Afghanis started leaving the country in the mid-eightees. On the first day of Vaisakhi Samagam at Jalalabad in 1988, a man with AK 47 rifle entered the Gurdwara complex and started firing on the devotees. A Sikh soldier stood in front of him and shot the bullets killing him. In the incident, thirteen Sikhs and five Afghan Muslim soldiers were killed. In 1989 Mujahhideen surrounded Jalalabad and for nine months attacked in with rockets. During this period, a rocket fell on Gurdwara Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib where a congregation was being held. Seventeen Sikhs were killed and Gurdwara damaged. Most of the causalities in Kandhar, Khost and Jalalabad shifted to Kabul. In 1992 Mujahideen captured Kabul and most of the Hindus and Sikhs left the country for good. In 1992, with the initiative of Gajinder Singh, member Parliament Afghan govt floated a scheme called Aab gang to issue speedy passports to Afghan Hindus and Sikhs and availing that scheme about 50000 came to India. By September 1996, Taliban had captured 90 present of Afghanistan including Kabul. Hindus and mostly Sikhs were humiliated. On the very sight of a Sikh, Taliban and Guards would spit on the road. In a particular instance, A Taliban spit on the face of a Sikh cloth shopkeeper. He pulled his measuring rod and hit the Taliban on his head. Some neighbouring Sikh shopkeepers also collected and the Taliban ran away. Such instances reveal that Sikhs displayed valiant resistance to humiliation. Hindus and Sikhs were however a minurule minority in the Islamic country. They were taunted being asked when they will go to their country and leave Afghanistan. The houses of Hindus, Sikhs were forcibly occupied, Gurdwaras and Mandirs targeted and occupied by locals. The cremation grounds in various cities have been occupied by locals. On 1st July 2018, a suicide bombing at Jalalabad killed fifteen Afghani Sikhs and four Hindus. In September 2018, A Sikh was shot at his shop in Herat. In December 1992, many Gurdwaras and mandirs were attacked in retaliation to the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. (This happened in Afghanistan when Hindus and Sikhs in India remained insensitive to the plight of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs) On the other hand, in November 2018, the Govt of Canada approved the settlement of Sikh and Hindu refugees in Canada who had fled Afghanistan due to religious persecution. According to some estimate 99% of Sikhs and Hindus have left Afghanistan for India and Western countries like Germany, UK, USA, and Canada.
Besides Afghanistan, Sikhs have been living in north-west parts of Pakistan adjoining Afghanistan. Baluchistan is a Province in Pakistan, where have a small minority of Hindus and Sikhs who have similarities with the Afghani Hindus and Sikhs. Hence the author has explored the topic in some detail in a separate chapter. (18) Hindus and Sikhs in Baluchistan are present in a number of towns like Queta, Chagai, Usta Mohammad, Dera Murad Ismali. Most of them are shopkeepers and small businessman. Khalsa Sikhs are very few.
Similarly, the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan (Now named Khawa Pakhtun Khiva in 2010) and the tribal region of north-westen Pakistan which is Federal Administrated Territory Area (FATA) divided into seven agencies (instead of Districts) and is being merged with KPK on the border of Afghanistan and share social, cultural and religious ties with Afghans. Hindus have been living in this area for centuries.
As per 1931 census there were 1,56,628 Hindus and 47935 Sikhs in NWFA. In 1941, it increased to 197631 and 62411 respectively. Killings, kidnapping, extortion, forced Sikhs to either migrate to India or shifted to west Punjab. At present there may be about 15000 Sikhs and 12000 Hindus in the Area. Most of the Hindus belong to Valmiki sect and a small number of them have taken ‘Khande Di Pahul’ mainly Hindus and Sikhs are from Khatri or Arora castes doing business but some of them are farmers also.
Primarily, the turmoil atrocities faced by Hindus and mostly Sikhs post 1947 in the Frontier Province, Sindh and West Punjab have been recapitulated in the last Chapter 20 of the book under review.
On the whole, Sardar Inderjeet Singh, in the book under review, has traced the roots of Hindus and Sikhs in central Asia with particular reference to Afghanistan and the adjoining areas now in Pakistan with the aid of old manuscripts. It has been successfully brought home to the readers that Hindus and Sikhs were the indigenous people of Afghanistan. The ordeal faced by these religious minorities during different periods of political developments including 1947 Partition has been brought forth in a candid way. This well-researched and well-documented work has opened door for historians and anthropologists for further researches even about the period prior to 11th century. The book is extremely knowledgeable and useful for research scholars and general readers and can be surely used as a reference book.