The plight of Hindus and Sikhs in Jalalabad

Taliban impose new code for non-Muslim Afghans
AFP, October 22, 1998

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Under a rigid new social code imposed by the Taliban Islamic militia, the nearly 50 Hindu families living in this southern Afghan city are required to wear a distinctive yellow piece of cloth. Of an estimated 600 familes who once thrived in Kandahar, most moved out during the past 20 years of turmoil.

Their forefathers had settled in Afghanistan in the 17th century when the central Asian Moslem country was ruled by Ahmed Shah Abdali.

Mostly of South Asian origin, non Moslem minorities including Sikhs played vital role in commerce in Kandahar, once a thriving trade centre, which is now headquarters of the hardline militia.

Partab Chand, a 40-year old Afghani Hindu is desperate to meet his wife Shanti and six children who moved to India amid troubles in Afghanistan.

"I took them away to India because there was no future here," Chand told AFP. Chand, who sells milk-based sweets, said he had to comeback because of his business.

The family remains divided because of difficulties in visa facilities as the Taliban administration is not recognized by New Delhi and India, still recognizing the ousted Afghan government has closed its counsulate in Kandahar, he said.

"I cannot go nor can I invite my wife and children. But I miss my family," said Chand who has a shop in the city's busy Kabul Bazar, where most Hindus have businesses.

"This is my motherland but life here is too difficult," said Chand, who like other non-Moslems, speaks fluent Pushtu and holds an Afghani passport.

Mohan Lal, a 50-year old photographer, said, "We suffered the agonies of war like other Afghans. We saw deaths and destruction."

Lal, who said he has seen "both colourful and coulorless" life in Afghanistan added that his business was down under the militia as the Taliban have banned taking photgraphs.

The Taliban only allow the taking of passport-size pictures for official purposes such as identity cards or obtaining travel documents.

"We are left with only a quarter of the ususal business," Lal said.

After Kandahar fell to the Taliban four years ago, the Hindus were frequently intercepted by the religious police for not having beards as the hardline Islamic militia had banned the trimming of beards.

In an apparent bid to avoid confusion, the militia has enforced a new code for the non-Moslem community.

Two months ago the Taliban authorities asked Hindus to put a yellow coloured piece of cloth on their shirts to differentiate them from the bearded and turbaned Moslems, comunity members said last week.

The Sikhs, who keep beards and wear turbans, escape any Taliban action because they also wear a steel bangle as part of their faith.

A Taliban official told AFP there was no restriction on non-Moslem minorities performing their religious duties.

"Hindus and Sikhs live freely here but of course they have to abide the laws of the land," he added.

The Hindus are left with two temples while the Sikhs have one Gurdwara or place of their worship. The community claims several worship places had been converted into residential quarters during the prolonged civil war in the country.

Community elder S.L. Birwani, a leading trader in dry fruits, said the the minorities should adjust to the law of the land.

"Our women wear veils and cannot go to school like other Afghan girls," he said, referring to the restrictions imposed by the Taliban on the movement and conduct of women.

However, he said there were more troubles in the past, amid factional fighting after the fall of the communist regime in Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Chand said: "I have dreams of seeing my daughters becoming qualified doctors or teachers and sons as engineers."

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