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India grants Afghan NRIs, Year-to-Year extension to stay in India

New Delhi, March 03, 2007
Santosh Kumari

After living in Afghanistan for more than two centuries, economic hardship is pushing many in the country's dwindling sikhs and hindus community to emigrate to India. Almost six years have been passed, NCM, the National Commission did not take any step to grnat them Indian citizenship and allowing them a year-to-year extension to stay in the country. Surinder Singh told NRI mediat that they have given us extension upto June 30, 2007

In 1980s, there were about 500,000 Sikhs spread across Afghanistan, many of them money lenders for generations. "They completely destroyed nearly 70 historical Sikh gurdwaras in Afghanistan. 'It all started after the demolition of Babri Masjid . . . the Taliban were angry and took out their anger at Hindu and Sikh religious structures. The factional fighting further destroyed whatever was left of them,' Khajinder Singh Khurana, an Afghan refugee who has put up a photo exhibition of the destroyed gurdwaras in New Delhi, said."

The sikhs who fled Afghanistan to India said, New Delhi should do more for them as well as their community members still residing in the Islamic nation.

Around 30 Hindu temples, which were on outskirts of Kabul and other cities were saved. The Taliban took away everything . . . marbles, carpets, antiques, anything they could find

The once-thriving Hindu community in Afghanistan which numbered 40,000 has now dwindled in some parts to a paltry three families. Even in a small town like Kandahar, there were 5,000 Hindus, and many beautiful temples.Many Hindus point out that Afghanistan was originally a Hindu country.

A statue of Buddha has stood in Kabul for more than 2,000 years and a mountain is named Asha Mai, after a Hindu goddess. Madan Kumar (his name has been changed to protect his family still in Afghanistan), a Hindu Afghan who fled to the U.S. nine years ago, observes: "We have lived in Afghanistan for generations-why should anyone question our nationality? So it is the religious differences which are being attacked."

Minority religions in Afghanistan suffered under Taliban rule, as the destruction of the 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha in Bamiyan province five years ago showed.

The Hindus were mostly prosperous merchants, dealing in clothes, dry fruits, pharmaceuticals, currency exchange and Indian tea and spices. Some hindus had been so powerful that they had even controlled the exchange market

But following the Mujahideen civil war and the rise in 1994 of the Taliban, with its hardline interpretation of Islamic law, most fled. At present, there are small groups scattered across the war-torn Central Asian nation and, with the Taliban resurgent in the south, continue to feel seriously threatened.

India's main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also called on the government to exert pressure on Kabul to ensure the safety and dignity of Sikhs in Afghanistan.

"We are getting no help here from the Indian government, and those in Afghanistan who want to come here face problems in getting Indian visas," said Khajinder Singh Khurana, president of the Afghan Hindu-Sikh Welfare Society.