Afghan Hindu And Sikh Leaders Meet EAM Jaishankar; Seeks Resolution Of Citizenship Issues, Establishment of "Afghan Nagar"
A group of Afghan Sikh and Hindu leaders met External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Delhi on Thursday (8 June) to discuss issues related to citizenship, visas, and the upkeep of gurdwaras and temples.
This meeting was the first of its kind, since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021.
During the meeting, the delegation informed EAM Jaishankar that only about 20 community members were left in Afghanistan, while the remaining members had been rescued and brought back to India.
The delegation urged Jaishankar for grant of multiple entry/exit visas to them, along with the freedom to return to Afghanistan to take care of the Gurdwaras and Temples after coming back to India.
They further suggested that a committee be formed, in association with the SGPC (Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee), Amritsar, to maintain and preserve the Sikh places of worship in Afghanistan.
Reportedly, the meeting was held in the Gurdwara Guru Arjan Dev, in Mahavir Nagar according to Guljeet Singh, a senior Afghan Sikh community leader and Guru Nanak Sahib Trust president.
Guljeet Singh also apprised the minister of the difficulties faced by Afghan Sikh and Hindu communities who have relocated to India.
Notably, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has left the Hindu and Sikh communities without any representation in the government, raising concerns about the security of their religious sites.
In Kabul, a handful of individuals are currently responsible for overseeing the care of these historic gurdwaras and temples, but the visas of the last group of 11 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have been issued and they will soon be returning to India.
To ensure the protection of these religious sites left behind, community leaders have appealed to the government for multiple entry/exit visas to be granted to at least 15 individuals who can continue traveling to Afghanistan.
Although all copies of the Sri Guru Granth Sahib have been transported to Delhi, there is still the possibility that temple and gurdwara properties and land could be encroached upon and seized by extremists.
The delegation also submitted a memorandum to Jaishankar, citing that many Afghan Sikhs and Hindus have been waiting for years to receive Indian citizenship.
Despite fulfilling the mandatory residency requirement of 12 years, there has reportedly been a delay in processing their applications due to a lack of coordination within the government agencies, according to them.
In their plea, the community members urged the government to set up a single window for the speedy processing of citizenship applications from Afghan minorities.
For several decades, the Indian government has been granting long-term visas, valid for up to five years, to a community of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus.
However, following the Taliban takeover in August 2021, all previously issued visas have been rendered invalid, causing difficulties for the community.
They have been told to apply for e-visas instead, but the processing time has reportedly been extremely slow.
Additionally, those who were already living in India on stay visas or residential permits have been unable to obtain exit/re-entry visas to go back to Afghanistan to take care of their properties.
Community leaders have highlighted these issues to EAM Jaishankar and called for urgent action to resolve the situation.
The delegation also urged Jaishankar to establish an "Afghan Nagar" for permanent housing at a suitable location.
After meeting with the delegation, Jaishankar held a media briefing where he said that he listened to their concerns, and promised to resolve their issues in both India and back in Afghanistan.
Jaishankar acknowledged the need for a mechanism that would allow them to go and return with ease for the upkeep of historical religious sites, and the strength of their case and suggested granting double/triple or multiple entry visas as a solution.
"There are certain reasons due to which people coming from or going to Afghanistan aren’t getting visas easily. But I have heard them and they have a strong case to be granted double/triple or multiple entry visas,” he said during the media briefing.
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