April 18, 2020
ISLAMABAD – Four-year-old Tanya Kaur woke up her father, Harinder Singh, to tell him she wanted to wear some new clothes to the gurdwara, a Sikh temple. Hours later, Singh watched her succumb to bullet wounds along with his wife and father.
“She kept shouting, save me, Daddy, save me, Daddy,” Singh recalled. “They kept shooting, even at the heap of bodies lying on the ground,” he said, wailing uncontrollably.
Singh was one of approximately 150 Sikhs attending a group prayer in a gurdwara in Kabul on March 25, when Islamic State militants attacked the temple. Singh’s relatives were among 25 people killed.
His highly emotional description recalling the loss of his loved ones can be seen in a video uploaded to YouTube by an account called TheAfghanDutchSikh.
Singh says the incident changed him. By his account, he used to tell his fellow Sikhs to stay put as many fled Afghanistan following repeated attacks and ongoing threats against the minority group.
“Now I tell everyone to leave the country, including my fellow Muslim Afghans. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, everyone should flee. There is no humanity here,” he said.
He is not alone. Many in his tiny community of approximately 700 people in Afghanistan say they cannot feel safe in a country where Islamist militant groups like Islamic State have put a target on their backs.
In the immediate aftermath of last month’s gurdwara attack, they faced two more failed attacks. A Sikh man in Kabul, who spoke to VOA on a condition of anonymity for fear of his safety, was present at all three locations.
On March 25, he lost five family members, including his father and a 3-year-old niece. The day after, he went with others to cremate the bodies.
“I was inside. We were preparing for the cremations when we heard a bomb blast. Then police came and said you guys are safe and it is just an improvised explosive device. It was a little bit far,” he said. They were taken home in police cars.
The day after, he was on his way to another gurdwara with his brother when he saw two people running and yelling, “There’s a bomb out there.”
He said he thought they were lying but soon police came and rushed them inside the building. They had found another IED, but this one failed to explode.
Soon after, the community received an ultimatum from IS to leave the country within 10 days.
“Leave or die, IS said,” according to the Sikh man. The community, he said, was living in perpetual fear.
“When they go out, they don’t stay long. They do their job, finish as soon as they can, and return home,” he said.
This is not the first time IS has targeted these minorities. IS militants killed 17 Afghan Sikh and Hindu community leaders in an attack in the eastern city of Jalalabad in 2018. At the time, the community leaders were on their way to meet President Ashraf Ghani.
The successive attacks and ongoing threats have led a group of Sikh activists in the United States to take up the cause of Afghanistan’s persecuted Hindus and Sikhs. In a letter sent to the U.S. government and the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, they have urged the two entities to urgently evacuate Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan and grant them immediate refugee status or risk a genocide.
“Move Afghan Sikhs and Hindus to a safe zone outside of Afghanistan, where further refugee screening eligibility can be conducted,” they said.
The letter, which is signed by 19 groups, including some Jewish, Christian and Muslim groups, requests “immediate intervention” on behalf of the Hindus and Sikhs whom, it says, “are facing a horrific choice between exodus and extinction.”
Rajdeep Jolly, one of the American attorneys who wrote the letter, said the request was in line with current U.S. law.
“We’re not asking for something that is impossible for the U.S. to do. They have the legal authority under existing refugee law to fast track Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for refugee protection. They just need the political will.”
He added that Sikh activists in Canada and some European countries were also pushing their governments for similar measures.
Sikh activists worry that the impending withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, as promised in a deal signed between the U.S. and Taliban earlier this year, will leave the small indigenous communities even more vulnerable.
“It’s a moral imperative for the U.S. and the international community to evacuate them to safety before additional lives are lost,” Jolly said.