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‘My Kids Born Here Will Finally Have Citizenship’: After Years of Wait, Afghan Sikhs a Relieved Lot

The situation in Afghanistan started deteriorating for minorities after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Attacks on temples and gurudwaras spiralled and the situation deteriorated after Taliban took control of the country in the late 90s.

PTI

Updated:December 13, 2019, 11:20 AM IST
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‘My Kids Born Here Will Finally Have Citizenship’: After Years of Wait, Afghan Sikhs a Relieved Lot
Representative image.

New Delhi: Twenty-six years after Jagmeet Singh, an Afghan Sikh, moved to India, he is hopeful that his wait for citizenship and an Indian passport is likely to end soon with the Citizenship Amendment Act coming into force.

Singh, 36, who owns a garment shop in central Delhi, said his two kids - son aged 10 and daughter seven - were born in the national capital and raised here, but could never apply for an Indian passport, he said.

"I pay tax to the Indian government. I have a GST number and also an Aadhaar, but we cannot apply for an Indian passport. My two children used to ask me about our citizenship and I always felt embarrassed. But now, we have a hope that after passing the bill, the government will grant us Indian citizenship," Jagmeet said.

Like Singh, there are nearly 10,000 Sikhs and Hindus - many settled in Tilak Nagar, Janakpuri, Vikaspuri areas of west Delhi and Amar Colony and Lajpat Nagar areas of south Delhi - who moved to India to escape religious persecution.

Many have been here for more than five decades now. "The whole Afghan Sikh community is happy with this bill," he said.

"My father was a solider in the Afghan Army and sustained a bullet injury in 1983. He died three months later, 40 days before my birth. We came to India through Pakistan in 1993 after the situation in Afghanistan worsened for minorities," he said.

Singh said the situation over there started deteriorating for Sikhs and Hindus after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992. Attacks on temples and gurudwaras spiralled and the situation deteriorated after Taliban took control of the country in the late 90s.

The condition has still not changed, he said, adding his two maternal uncles were killed in a blast in Jalalabad last year when the community was targeted by the ISIS.

On Wednesday, Parliament passed the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2019, completing the legislative process for giving Indian citizenship to non-Muslim migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. The bill was given assent by the President late on Thursday night.

Another Afghan Sikh, Manohar Singh (69), the president of Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society which works for the welfare of the displaced Aghan minorities, said the passage of the bill was a God sent gift.

"Many families have been living here (Delhi) for over 20 to 30 years and we have never asked the government for any kind of help, not even financial. We want a citizenship certificate which can prove that we are Indians. When the Rajya Sabha passed the bill last night, we felt like it was Diwali or Baisakhi for us," said Manohar.

He said the Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society was launched in 1921 in Afghanistan whose work was to build schools and gurudwaras and support the minorities over there.

Manohar said he came to India in 1979 after his father forced him to leave the country as the situation there were deteriorating day by day.

After moving to India, he also brought the organisation here, and since then it has been working for the welfare of the displaced community, Manohar said.

"When I came to India, I always thought and dreamt about my house, business and friends in the Afghanistan. The country was so beautiful that we never wanted to leave, but the situation was not good for minorities," Manohar said, whose father owned a garments business.

For Manohar, shifting to India meant leaving behind his homeland twice. He said his father hailed from an area in present-day Pakistan and their family migrated to Afghanistan during partition. His father had thought that they would move to India after the situation improved but it never happened.

Baldeep Kaur (26), who got married 10 years ago in Kabul, also welcomed the bill. "Just after my marriage, I came to India along with my husband in 2009 and after five years, my family also came here. My three children were born here, but do not have Indian nationality," Kaur said. The new amendments to the bill will make her eligible to become an Indian citizen.

Narender Singh Nagpal (70) said he first sent his family here and later closed his business in Afghanistan and traveled to Delhi.

"When my brother was in school, a fellow classmate uttered some expletives. He came to the house and said that he did not want to live in the country anymore," he said.

The Nagpal family moved here in 1965. "I kept travelling from Afghanistan to India and India to Afghanistan in search of work and finally settled in Delhi in 1999. I have a shop in Chandni Chowk and I'm now retired. My kids are running the shop," Nagpal said.

But many rue that their children will, perhaps, never know their language, or ever visit the country which boasts magnificent landscapes.

The Sikhs, who came here from Afghanistan, said that their kids do not want to leave India and do not speak Pashto or Farsi. "My three children - one girl and two boys - do not understand Farsi and when we speak in the language. They feel shy and ask me and my husband to communicate in Hindi or Punjabi," Kaur said.

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