The country of Afghanistan is strategically placed in the crossroads between major trade routes of east and the west. In its heydays Afghanistan was the melting pot of cultures and civilizations from both sides. It once boasted of a thriving multi-cultural and multireligious society until it was overrun by radical islamists.
The Taliban and later Al-Qaida which made Afghanistan their home systematically eliminated all the traces of is glorious past, one by one.
While the persecution of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Bangladesh have managed to make it to news discussions, the plight of the two communities in Afghanistan largely went unreported.
The situation is so bad that, close to 99 percent of former Hindu and Sikh citizens of Afghanistan have left the country over the past three decades.
Before the Mujahedeens took control of the country in the 1980’s Afghanistan had a Sikh and Hindu population of around 220,000. The numbers came down to 15,000 when the mujahideen was in power during the 1990’s and continued to come down throughout the Taliban regime.
Currently only an estimated 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.
Community leaders who still live in Afghanistan say they have been suffering discrimination for decades.
“The discrimination against us surfaced in 1992 when people started counting who were Hindu or Muslim and Tajik, Uzbek or Hazara,” Awtar Singh, head of Hindus Council in Afghanistan, told Afghanistan’s Tolo News.
They complain that they are treated as second class citizens by the majority community. They also say that the once thriving business community is now struggling mainly because their properties were forcibly taken away from them. The pressure from extremist groups to convert to Islam is also adding to the worries of the community.
Anarkali Honaryar, a former Afghan Lawmaker and prominent Sikh human rights activist said the community have even been targeted for religious custom of holding funeral cremations, a practice forbidden in Islam. According to Honaryar, there have been incidents where people threw stones at Sikh funeral processions and verbally attacked them.
The years of persecution have forced them out of their homeland seeking shelter elsewhere.
A lot of them have left the country for Europe or India. Among the nearly 9,000 Afghan refugees in India, most of them are Hindus and Sikhs.
The plight of Sikhs in Afghanistan first made it to international headlines in August 2014 when 35 Afghan Sikhs were found in a container at Tilbury docks in UK. They were being illegally smuggled to UK. One of them crammed into the container had died by the time they were spotted by the UK authorities.
Buddhism in Afghanistan
Even though Buddhism has no presence in modern day Afghanistan, in the pre-Islamic era it was one of the most prominent religions there. Even though the religion is no more present in the country a number of significant Buddhist structures existed in Afghanistan till the Taliban takeover.
In fact one of the most notorious acts of the Afghan Taliban was blowing up the Buddha of Bamiyan, a 4th century rock-carved Buddha statue, believed to be the tallest of its kind in the world.
The destruction of the UNESCO World Heritage site which the Taliban deemed as idol worship is widely seen as the inspiration to the likes of ISIS which destroyed centuries old relics in Iraq and Syria.
Even though it is impossible to be restored to its original shape, in 2015, a Chinese company party restored it by filling the empty enclosure by hologram.