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INDIA OR CANADA, AFGHAN SIKHS ARE INDECISIVE

Image credit: www.indiatimes.com

The March 25 killing of pilgrims inside a Kabul Gurdwara has led to the demand of bringing back the Sikhs to India from Afghanistan. But they are indecisive over the decision for taking refuge in India or the North American country Canada. Different Sikh agencies in Canada are pushing for asylum for these Sikhs to Canada, which has the sizeable Sikh population and Justin Trudeau government is towards the community and has a number of Sikhs on the key portfolios including Harjit Singh Sajjan as a defense minister. 

In forty years from 1979 when Russian forces moved into Afghanistan, then a peaceful, fun-loving and business-oriented nation, a number of Sikhs and Hindus were 100,000 plus, the number now has shrunk to 700, in about 150 families. They are living in Kabul and other parts of the terror torn country. Despite historical links with India, all of them are Afghan nationals. The Indian government is in quandary as to how it should single out the Sikh community and bring them to safety in India, while attacks on other innocent people and religious minorities in continue, for many years.

Once strong business community, flush with money and resources Sikh community has been reduced to a countable and hapless who are dependent on Gurdwaras for safety and security as Afghanistan government has virtually given in to the pressure from terror groups.

In the 1980s Sikhs were known to be astute businessmen dealing in foreign currency, construction, dry fruits, opium, textile, and import-export. Most of the Kabuli-Sikhs, as they are commonly referred, have shifted base to India, Europe, England, US and Canada. Those who are left behind to fend for themselves are poor, doing odd jobs and run small businesses. They have abandoned their houses, properties, shops and businesses.

So far there is no official word from the Canadian government on the Sikhs’ migration issue. Sajjan showing solidarity towards the Afghan Sikhs on his social site platform, “I spoke with Afghan national security advisor, Dr. Mohib following the heinous attack on a Kabul Gurdwara. I am encouraged by the steps taken to increase security for Afghan Sikhs, Hindus and all minorities, as they work towards peace”.

Both Indian and Canadian governments are waiting for the lockdown period to get over, to take decision on the matter. The lockdown is to check spread of novel coronavirus.

On Indian side, the general perception is that the Afghan Sikhs should give a guarantee that they would stay in India and not try to escape to some other country for which they should come forward. “The Sikhs should first ask for refuge, India needn’t offer it unilaterally,” says former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

According to him, the attack against the Sikhs justifies the rationale of the Citizens’ (Amendment Act) but the Afghan Sikhs cannot take advantage of the CAA to have fast-tracked citizenship because of the cut-off date of December 31, 2014. “They will have to take shelter in India if they seek it and become eligible for citizenship as per the Citizenship Law,” said Sibal.

But the former foreign secretary also cautions that taking the initiative to offer refuge to Sikhs will signal that Delhi no longer has confidence in the ability of the Afghan government to provide security to the minority.

“This will be inadvisable as we have friendly relations with the Kabul government and we should not undermine it,” Sibal says pointing out that other sections of the population are also under attack in Afghanistan, including security forces and even in the secure zone in the city.

 “We should be clear about their nationality. If they are Indians, surely. If they are not, on what basis can we bring them back,” says Gautam Mukhopadhaya who was India’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2013. “We should not be falling into the CAA trap,” he added.

A large number of Sikhs who landed in India after Russian occupation of 1979 have migrated to Canada and other European countries. “We are confused because lots of Sikhs in India’s Punjab are migrating to Canada. So why not if we should also try to be in Canada,” said a Sikh from Afghanistan sharing his viewpoint with dissectit.   

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