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Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in UAE seek Indian visas and OCI status

Afghan Sikhs after a bomb attack in 2018 in Jalalabad (Photo: Xinhua/IANS)

Taliban’s ascent to power in Kabul has left minorities in a state of disarray not just in Afghanistan but also in neighbouring countries.

A group of Sikhs and Hindus who are stranded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are demanding e-visas to come to India for business and family purposes. They are also seeking Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) status and Indian citizenship.

India Narrative spoke with Guljeet Singh, President of the Bala Pritam Sewa Society in Tilak Nagar, Delhi, who has been helping the Afghan Sikhs settle down in India. Talking about the small community stranded in the UAE, Singh said that these merchants got stuck in the UAE initially because of Covid-19 and later because their visas were cancelled by India after the takeover of Kabul by the Taliban in August 2021.

The stranded group of Sikh and Hindu Afghans consists of 60 people who are mainly textile merchants. They import raw cotton cloth from India and export it across the world including Iran, London, Moscow and Tashkent. Singh said: “Some of these traders went to Dubai from Afghanistan, while some went from India. Their homes and families are in India”.

The demand emanated after all valid visas issued by the Indian consulate in Dubai became invalid as the Taliban toppled the Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan on August 15, 2021. India took the precautionary measure as nearly 1,000 visas issued by the Indian embassy in Kabul were stolen during the chaotic exodus witnessed in the wake of the US leaving the conflict-torn country.

Since then, India has steadily granted e-visas to beleaguered Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan and helped them evacuate to Delhi through special flights with the active role of the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC).

The Afghan Sikhs and Hindus working and residing in the UAE are unable to visit India as their visas have not been restored under the new rules after India mandated that they apply a separate sub-category—e-Emergency X-Misc visa. Such Afghan nationals also have to register themselves with the Foreigners Registration Office (FRO) within seven days of arrival.

Singh said that many Afghan Sikhs and Hindus made it to India safely and then steadily left for other countries like the US, the UK and Canada. He added that the Hindus and Sikhs had a big role in running Afghanistan’s economy. “Afghanistan did not have much emphasis on education, therefore, our people did well as businessmen, traders and merchants”.

The Afghan Hindu and Sikh Association in the UAE has written to the Indian government seeking e-visas for their small group of people. It has also appealed to the government to give them OCI status and Indian citizenship as well.

In their letter to the government, Kartar Singh and Goshi Chand, who are fighting for the issuance of e-visas on behalf of the Hindu and Sikh Afghan citizens in UAE, said: “India is our backbone and our primary home as no other country has ever facilitated distressed Afghan minorities at the highest level like your leadership”.

The letter adds that the community based in UAE has not been able to perform the last rites of their family members who passed away in India. “We do have businesses and investments Including estate in India and maintaining the same has been affected due to this,” the letter says.

India has evacuated almost all Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan in small tranches of 30-60 people over the past many months. The latest flight touched down in Delhi on Sunday evening with 55 Afghan Sikh people. Now the last remaining 50-odd members of the community remain in Afghanistan, waiting to be evacuated any day now.

With a series of bomb blasts in Afghanistan’s main Gurdwaras like Karte Parwan in Kabul this year and in the Sri Guru Har Rai Sahib in 2020, the Sikh minority decided to shift to India. Many have relocated to the US and Canada as well. Besides the bombings, the minorities have been under pressure to convert to Islam. India has been the only country to have facilitated the grant of visas as well as organise flights to bring them back to Delhi.

Also Read: After Peshawar killings, will Pakistan follow Afghanistan’s example of persecuting Sikhs?

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