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Wed. Aug 10th, 2022
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NEW DELHI: For close to 30 years now, the Guru Arjan Dev ji gurdwara, located at one end of a congested lane in West Delhi’s New Mahavir Nagar, has been a refuge for Afghan Sikhs fleeing their homeland in the face of rising insecurity and atrocities. It is not surprising, therefore, that the latest batch of arrivals on Wednesday have found a shelter here, including three-year-old Avneet, who has a heart ailment that needs urgent attention.
Avneet’s parents, who survived by selling cosmetics at a small shop in Jalalabad, said there were no facilities nearby to treat the child.
“Since we had a visa, we took Avneet to Peshawar in Pakistan where they gave medicines and asked us to return after three months. But we could not go back as the situation deteriorated after the Taliban takeover,” said Taran Singh, Avneet’s father when TOI visited the gurdwara a day after 28 Afghan Sikhs arrived from Afghanistan.
Built with the support of the Afghan Sikhs, this tranquil gurdwara, cast in white marble and stone, has been a home away from home for many in the community before they stepped out to fend for themselves in Delhi and beyond. Many still bank on rations, a medical facility located here and even financial support to pay rents when the going gets tough as many don’t have citizenship and an education to find work beyond odd jobs.
According to estimates, there are about 30,000 Afghan Sikhs in India and most of them are in Delhi. The gurdwara’s president Pratap Singh shares that nearly 1,300 men, women and children have fled their homeland since 2018 to come to India.
Avneet’s six-year-old brother Arvind, like his parents, has never been to school out of fear of persecution, and his eyes light up at the thought of going to a school in Delhi. His teenage sister Jasmeet was off to the park near the gurdwara, an experience that she could only dream of in Afghanistan.
Kal pehli raat araam se soye hain bina dar ke (yesterday, we slept for the first time without fear),” said 25-year-old Gurmeet Singh, who survived a terror attack in Jalalabad in 2018 but still has splinters lodged in his brain and his forehead bears telltale signs of injuries. The attack at Kabul’s Karte Parwan gurdwara in June this year only reinforced the resolve of people like Gurmeet to leave Afghanistan for a safer space.
Gurmeet’s 18-year-old wife Manmeet Kaur has lived in the confinement of their house in Jalalabad since they married last year. Speaking to TOI, Manmeet smiled freely and shared that for a year, she stepped out only if it was urgent and that too fully covered from head to toe. “Today, I feel free for the first time. I went to the gurdwara in the morning without any restrictions or fear.”
The families worry about the future but for now, the gurdwara and community members in India are taking care of their needs.
This is the third group of Afghan Sikhs to have arrived in Delhi since July. Their evacuation has been facilitated by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee, Amritsar, in coordination with the Indian government and think-tank Indian World Forum. However, about 110 Afghan Sikhs still remain in Afghanistan and 61 e-visa applications are pending with the government for issuance, according to Puneet Chandhok from Indian World Forum.
As far as getting Indian citizenship goes, with rules under the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 yet to be framed to make it implementable, the regular process of naturalised citizenship is the only way forward for the Afghan Sikhs.
According to Chandhok, getting citizenship is challenging. “The government must put in place a welfare package for the Afghan Sikh and Hindu families so that they can live with dignity,” Chandhok added.

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