Afghan Sikhs and  Hindus in India

afghan sikhs

On January 10, 2022, the Indian Government implemented the Citizen Amendment Act(CAA) . According to this law, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and Christians  are welcome from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Taking cue from it, many persecuted Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are migrating to India from Afghanistan.

“A friend in need is a friend indeed” seems to be the policy of India for Afghan people. Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) was to realize its natural role as a land-bridge between South Asia and Central Asia for trade and investment, energy supply, as well as people-to-people ties. India shows goodwill gesture to the Afghan refugees (Sikhs and Hindus) migrated to India from Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the reins of the Government in August, 2021.

On 19th February, 2022, members of Afghan minority communities( Sikhs and Hindus) met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his residence. During the meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi told them; “India is your Home; Indians give respect and love to you.” It is a smart diplomatic move to earn goodwill among Afghans. Under Operation Devi Shakti, India evacuated hundreds of Afghan minority community members from the country who sought refuge in India.

India`s Minister of External Affairs Dr. S. Jai Shankar has taken to social media and tweeted that Afghan Sikhs and Hindus will remain India’s priority when it comes to bringing in Afghan refugees. India is currently home to more than 21,000 Afghan refugees, most of them scattered across New Delhi’s central neighborhoods. Many refugees in India own Afghan restaurants, travel agencies, and grocery stores while they remain separated from their families back home.

Minister State of External Affairs V. Muraleedharan while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Indian Parliament) on Afghanistan policy said, “India has a special relations with Afghan people and the key elements of a UN Security Council resolution would continue to guide its approach towards Afghanistan.”

After the Taliban took over the reins of the Government in Afghanistan, India airlifted more than 99 Sikhs and Hindus in the month of December, 2021. India opened special e-visas for six months for Afghan nationals. Nearly 74 per cent of the Afghan refugees in India are of Sikh or Hindu denomination, while the remaining are either Christian converts or Muslims. According to UNHCR, around 830 Afghan refugees of Sikhs and Hindu faiths have acquired Indian citizenshipA 26- year-old Afghan Hindu girl puts it: “Indian Citizenship is not just an official status for me; it is an ‘identity’.  A large number of Afghan students are studying in India. They expressed they do not want to go back to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime. All Afghan refugee children can enroll in their public primary schools.

There is a ‘LITTLE KABUL’ in Delhi having a sizeable population of Afghan people. Some Afghan people are also living in Faridabad, Haryana. Afghan refugees living in this region have integrated into the fabric of the colony, simultaneously maintaining parts of their culture and heritage. In New Delhi, four Afghan women started a food venture by the name of ILHAM (meaning inspiration, positive) with the help of UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees- India office). Renowned Think Tanks, Embassies, consulates are their customers. Media reports suggest that Afghan refugees tend to find work through the Afghan Diaspora residing in the city.

Besides UNHCR, there are few local NGOs in the country that assist Afghans and other refugees with access to health, education, legal and vocational services; some of these NGOs are: BOSCO (part of Don Bosco Global Network), The Socio-legal Information Centre (SLIC), Gandhi National Memorial Society (GNMS), Confederation of Voluntary Agencies (COVA), Development and Justice Initiative (DAJI), and Save the Children (SCF). ACCESS, is responsible for supporting the development of refugee livelihoods through job placements, vocational skills training and enterprise grants. The Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society  was established in 1992 to help Afghan Sikhs and Hindus refugees.

Pune-based Sarhad(border)  have reached out to Afghan students and offered assistance. Similarly, Indian Institute of Technology( IIT) Delhi declared that the IIT stands in solidarity with our students and alumni from Afghanistan. We are doing everything possible to get the students to return to the campus.

Some organizations are providing advocacy for their interests and raising their concerns with the Federal Government. Indian World Forum (IWF) urges Prime Minister Narendra Modi to grant Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) to Afghan Sikhs and Hindus. IWF President Puneet Singh Chandok also urged the Government of India to grant a piece of land for setting up “Afghan Nagar”(Afghan locality) at a suitable location in New Delhi. He further urged the Government of India to impart training and recruit the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in Armed Forces and Central Police Organization under a special drive. Hemkunt Foundation is providing free accommodation to people coming from Afghanistan to Delhi legally. This non-profit foundation has set up a 24/7 helpline for their assistance.

The larger implications for Afghan asylum seekers are that India is not a party to the United Nations Refugees Convention (1951) or its protocol (1967). The Asylum Bill 2015; the National Asylum Bill 2015; and the Protection of Refugees and Asylum Seekers Bill 2015 have been introduced in the Parliament of India but none has been passed till date. However, a refuges Help Desk is opened at Delhi Police Headquarters for refugees concerns but corruption is rampant. A 2009 study of refugees in Delhi noted that, “For verification of residency, the local police … require excessive payments or bribes of up to Rs. 300 [approximately US$6.00].  In our study, the refugee that spoke of the delayed citizenship application reflected on the cause, “The main reason for this discrimination is corruption. If you have money then the Home Ministry will do anything for you. For example – mostly people who have got citizenship in India have paid a lot of money. So the poorer refugees cannot manage this”. Similarly, Afghan refugees Sikhs and Hindus   who are seeking jobs encounter hurdles. The Afghans, though a typically better educated and higher skilled group, have also struggled because of documentation and their main difficulty is getting jobs in the first place. As one Afghan explained, “UNHCR basically doesn’t have any authority to get jobs for us. … Even if there are jobs available it’s difficult because of documentation. Even if we know English or are educated. Still it’s a big no for us because of the documentation problem”. Another, “For jobs, they ask us for an Aadhaar card. Who will give us jobs?”

The Afghan refugees rallied outside the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) office in New Delhi, demanding justice and security for the future of Afghan children and women. Many Afghan people want to migrate from India to Canada.

Dr. Rahul Kumar, Ph.D. in Sociology from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi(India), is an independent researcher. The views expressed in this article are personal. 


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