On 15th August 2021 with the Taliban standing on the outskirts of Kabul, reports of President Ghani and other government officials leaving the country started coming in. After all, Kabul was the last fort standing of the Afghanistan Government. That night, while the Taliban took over Kabul, the first plane carrying 129 Indian and Afghan passengers landed in New Delhi, India.
Nearly 1000 Afghans have already arrived in India in the past few days and many more are looking to do so. India has been monitoring the situation and has been in touch with Afghan Hindus and Sikhs, who are minorities in Afghanistan. Considering they are easy targets for terrorists, India has already started repatriating them back to India. In fact, India had facilitated the repatriation of a large number of Hindus and Sikhs last year as well.
Understanding the magnitude of the crisis in Afghanistan, the government has allowed Afghan Muslim nationals into India on a humanitarian basis. On 16th August, the MEA clarified in a press briefing that it will stand by the Afghans who “have been our partners in promoting mutual developmental, educational and people-to-people endeavours”. Accordingly, it has taken immediate steps, namely the Special Afghanistan Cell to coordinate repatriation and other requests from Afghanistan and the ‘e-Emergency X-Misc Visa’ to fast track visa applications of Afghans wishing to flee to India, without any restriction of religion.
PM Modi too has stated that “India must not only protect our citizens, but we must also provide refuge to those Sikh and Hindu minorities who want to come to India, and we must also provide all possible help to our Afghan brothers and sisters who are looking towards India for assistance”.
While India has been helping Afghans of all religions in this time of crisis, Western media is leaving no stone unturned in defaming India while conveniently ignoring actions of their own countries. More than anything, this behaviour is jeopardizing lives of Afghans considering refuge or asylum in India.
An NYT article has tried to discredit India’s evacuation on humanitarian grounds with a headline stating that only Afghan Hindus and Sikhs will be prioritized for emergency visas for Afghans. This deduction is on the basis of the CAA, 2019 which fast tracks applications of minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh for Indian citizenship by reducing the minimum mandatory period of stay to 5 years, down from 11 years, which is not applicable to other nationalities, and other religions of the three aforementioned countries.
The article tries to ascertain, without evidence, religion-based discrimination and in the same breath, only mentions the emergency visas being issued. The article does not bother to clarify that the rules of the CAA are yet to be framed. It also doesn’t bother to check facts – which is Journalism 101 – and note the Afghans who have been coming into India since past few weeks, statements by the PM and the MEA, and the government website for visa application for Afghan Nationals which has no column for religion.
Among the Afghan nationals who landed in New Delhi on the night of 15th August were Jamil Karzai, former MP and second cousin of Former President Hamid Karzai, Rizwanullah Ahmadzai, senior advisor to President Ghani, MP Abdul Qadir Zazai and several common people.
Another western journalist, Chris O’Neill-Yates, who is a senior reporter at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, had commented “India offers help to only to Hindus and Sikhs fleeing Afghanistan. This is the New India.” on Twitter. While the tweet has been taken down since, she forgot mention that her own country Canada didn’t include 100 Nepalese Gurkha soldiers guarding the Canadian Embassy in Afghanistan in their evacuation plans because they are “not Afghans” and hence “not eligible for the government’s special immigration program”.
The Western point of view has failed to understand that India’s bond with Afghanistan and its minorities is civilizational. The population of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs has dwindled from 700,000 in the 1970s to a mere 700 in 2020. They have been facing institutional discrimination. During the 1990s, they were harassed, and their lands were taken away. Under the Taliban’s rule, they had to live under Sharia law, and wear a yellow batch for identification. Post the Taliban, during last 20 years, minorities have been facing hurdles in practicing their faith, educating their children, and cremating their dead.
Moreover, minorities have been easy targets for terrorists – the 2018 Jalalabad Suicide bombing attack and 2020 Kabul Gurudwara attack (to name just two) have claimed 45+ lives and injured 25+ people. In 2013, the Afghan Parliament had rejected a legislative decree allotting minority seats to Hindus and Sikhs; it was approved only in 2018.
Ex-banker and now author and documentary filmmaker Amardeep Singh travelled to several Afghan cities in April 2019 where he interacted with Afghan Hindus and Sikhs. On seeing their reality first-hand, he started the “My Family, My Responsibility” programme facilitating sponsorships for the migration and soft landing of Afghan Hindu and Sikh families before taking Indian citizenship or moving to a third country. By May 2020, about 70 of such families had opted to move under this programme.
Mr Singh says, “The grim reality is that the Afghanistan chapter has ended for Hindus and Sikhs. There is no use hoping the contrary. It is continuing the narrative of the Partition of India. In the case of 1947, this was true for my forefathers: after generations of living in the Indus civilisation, we became baseless and uprooted overnight and had to find our homes elsewhere. Afghanistan, for whatever few Hindus and Sikhs there are, has closed as abruptly”.
Four days back, the Taliban stopped a contingent of 72 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs on their way to India, on the grounds that they were Afghans. After much deliberation, only 23 of them, including two minority MPs Narinder Khalsa and Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar were allowed to leave for India.
Western journalists with an inherent bias against India are incapable of understanding the decades-old discrimination faced by Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan. They will also not observe that despite not being party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, India has been hosting Afghan refugees of Muslim faith right since the 1970s Soviet invasion. Today, India hosts more than 15,000 Afghan refugees and asylum seekers and has issued 4600 visas to Afghan nationals – a revealing figure in the context that there are around 700 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs.
India doesn’t require a UN convention to open its doors to those in need. It has been providing refuge to various communities, from Parsis and Jews to Afghans, for thousands of years. Refuge-seeking communities have never been persecuted in India; instead, they have flourished, and the Parsis particularly have emerged as among the strongest pillars of India’s economy.
The reality of the current crisis in Afghanistan is that minorities are most certainly slated to end up dead. India’s religious affiliations and deep civilisational ties with these minorities entrust it with the duty to save them. Without heeding the West’s crooked journalism, India must take all steps to evacuate them and not leave them to die.
The views and opinions expressed in the above article belong to the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official opinion, policy or position of Lokmaanya.