The recent attack on Sikhs in Afghanistan, has yet again sparked the dialogue around Indian origin minority groups in Islamic fundamentalist states across the world. Are they safe and even though they are nationals of these countries by law, are they accepted and treated at par with the Islamic majority living there.
Let’s look at some statistics –
• As per the data from the Election Commission of Pakistan (2018), there are a total of 1.77 million Hindu voters (1.40 million in 2013).
• As per data, Sikh and Hindu population in Afghanistan was around 220,000 in the 1980’s. That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahideen was in power during the 1990’s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that approximately 1,000 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.
• Illegal immigrants to countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also very high. Saudi Arabia, as a rule, does not issue nationality to anyone but offers them fixed periods to stay for work. In such a situation, illegal immigrants never have privileges and their standing in the social set up of the country is always looked down upon.
It is indeed, not easy to stay rightfully as minorities. For example, Pakistan is a country where the minorities have to prove their patriotism. People are often asked if they are from India, even though, they have always lived in that country for generations.
Our research also shows that there are limited jobs that are available for minority groups in these countries. Apart from the stereotypical doctors and engineers, getting into the police services, intelligence, social media and movies – these can be tough entries. For example – in the vast years since partition there has only been one example of a senior Hindu on the legal side, Justice Rana Bhagwandas. Danish Kaneria is the only name that comes up in cricket.
Other issues that come in the forefront include, forced religious conversion, abductions, extortions, property restrictions.
In Afghanistan alone, the number of Hindus and Sikhs have drastically come down from their days of yore. Traditionally seen as a business class which has been in that region historically, the rule of the Taliban and other pro-Islamic groups gave rise to immense torture and oppression. Most people have fled to India for safety and security. Though the friendly relations that India has developed with Afghanistan’s new governance should further improvement these issues too.
However, the frequencies of these incidents increase exponentially as you move towards the rural areas of the country. Minorities here try to play safe, avoid confrontations, try to keep to themselves. Is this the true meaning of living and belonging to a country, even if in minority?
Countries like these need more stringent laws that protect them. These were the same Hindus and Sikhs who, during partition, did not take up the option to move to India because they regarded Pakistan as their country. Or these are the same Sikhs who, despite Taliban, continued to stay there because they consider themselves as afghans.
The government has to protect them, give them security and create opportunities for them to flourish and grow. Worse than being targeted is the knowledge that there is nothing to fall back on. The government needs to create a backbone of procedures to safeguard the interest of minorities otherwise instances like Afghanistan will keep happening again and again.
A true spirit of a state is the protection and balance they provide to their minorities. In the truest sense, a country needs to manage them.