KABUL – Concerns about the fate of Afghanistan’s non-Muslim minorities under the Taliban rule have been amplified recently with draconian restrictions imposed on their religious and personal freedom.
Under the Taliban regime, Sikhs and Hindus have encountered stringent restrictions on their appearances and religious practices. They are prohibited from publicly observing their religious holidays, and have to wear Islamic attire to avoid harassment. This has compelled many Sikhs to leave or contemplate leaving Afghanistan for safety.
While Afghanistan’s last-known Jew left shortly after the Taliban’s rise to power, the Sikh and Hindu communities have significantly diminished, with just a few families remaining. Fari Kaur, one of the last remaining Sikhs in Kabul, told REF/RL about her lack of freedom to move around and the need to conform to Muslim attire, such as the burqa or niqab, to avoid identification.
Historically, Afghanistan was home to a substantial Hindu and Sikh population of up to 100,000 during the 1980s. Over the years, conflict, persecution, and forced displacement led to a significant decline in their numbers. Even during the civil war in the 1990s, promises of safeguarding minority rights from the Taliban and rival Islamist groups couldn’t prevent many Sikhs and Hindus from leaving for India.
The Taliban’s attempt to reassure non-Muslim Afghans, including Sikhs and Hindus, about their safety upon regaining power in 2021 has been overshadowed by the restrictive policies they have implemented. As the situation for religious minorities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Bahai’s, Christians, Ahmadis, continues to deteriorate.
The rise of political extremist factions claiming religious representation has exacerbated the challenges faced by these communities. The decline of diversity in Afghanistan’s religious landscape has left a significant void, marking a departure from the country’s historical pluralism. As international observers continue to monitor the situation, the plight of Afghanistan’s religious minorities remains a poignant concern.