Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Kabul to Canada via Delhi: Rescued by India, why Afghan Sikhs, Hindus were forced to move to Canada

As New Delhi rescued them from Kabul post-Taliban takeover, the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus hoped of finding a new home, and citizenship, in India. Two years in, more than 300 have moved to Canada.

afghan sikhs and hindus, indian expressAn Afghan Sikh family is welcomed into Canada. (Express Photo)

“India was like our second home. We never wanted to leave Delhi, but there was no employment, no means to survive”. Gurnam Singh sums up the story of nearly 350 Sikhs, who were rescued by India from Afghanistan when Taliban took over Kabul in August 2021 but who all have now shifted to Canada in hope of a better future.

Now trying to learn English — fluency in the language can open employment options in the North American country — Gurnam Singh was the president Gurdwara Karte Parwan in Kabul. He was evacuated from Kabul with five of his family members on August 14, 2022 after an attack on the gurdwara on June 18 had killed two. He left for Canada in April 2023 and now lives in Alberta.

Sawinder Singh (43), now working as an Uber delivery partner in Surrey, moved to Canada in April 2022. “We had left Afghanistan with a heavy heart. We were hopeful of getting settled in India but things move really slow there,” says Sawinder Singh.


The Afghan Sikhs had to twice undergo the pain of being uprooted — first from their homeland when the Taliban took control of the country, and the second from India, the country that rescued them but didn’t go much beyond that.

afghan sikh, indian express Another expresses gratitude to Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation, which sponsored them. (Express Photo)

It was on August 22, 2021 that the first batch of 24 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus had landed in Delhi in an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane. Among 24 were Narinder Singh Khalsa and Anarkali Kaur Honaryar, both members of the then Afghan Parliament and both representing the minority community. Subsequently, at least 300 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were safely evacuated to Delhi in several batches in coordination with philanthropists, religious organizations and NGOs.

Festive offer

The Afghan minorities were rescued by India with the help of several organizations including Rajya Sabha member Vikramjeet Sahney’s Sun Foundation, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee (DSGMC), and Indian World Forum among others.

Among the last to leave Aghanistan was Ram Saran Bhasin, 70. “Our hearts could not agree to abandon our temples and gurdwaras,” says Bhasin who is also president of the Afghan Hindu Sikh Minority Council. Bhasin with his wife are currently putting up at a friend’s place in Faridabad.


While Bhasin stayed back in India, most of others have left for Canada. Reason: they were struggling to survive in Delhi, with no jobs, no money to pay house rent, no means to educate their children and no financial support from the Indian government.

US-based philanthropist Paramjit Singh Bedi (72), who has been supporting Afghan minorities under the “My Family, My Responsibility” programme, says at least 340 of them have moved to Canada with their families after being rescued by India. “The Canadian government has given them instant PR (permanent residency) under the special rehabilitation programme for Afghan refugees and with the effort of Manmeet Singh Bhullar Foundation. They are also getting monthly financial support for one year till they get jobs. For how long could have they survived in Delhi with help from gurdwaras or NGOs? India was the first to rescue them and issue visas but once they landed in Delhi, it seems they were completely forgotten,” says Bedi, adding the remaining nearly 360 other Afghan Sikh and Hindus will also move soon.

Thousands of Afghan Sikh and Hindus already living in Delhi since decades are still waiting for citizenship, he says, adding, “we had no hope that these 700 would have got it anytime soon”.


In Canada, the community members are now attending mandatory classes to learn basic English language skills and doing part-time jobs.

From Alberta, Gurnam Singh says they never wanted to leave Delhi as other community members, friends, relatives are there but “those already living there since decades haven’t yet been granted citizenship”.

afghan sikhs and hindus, canada, indian express It was on August 22, 2021 that the first batch of 24 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus had landed in Delhi in an Indian Air Force (IAF) plane. (Express Photo)

Harinder Singh Khalsa, 45, who arrived in Ontario in July this year, says those who moved to Canada are now settled in different provinces “and trying to start new life”.

Those who still haven’t got Canadian visa are struggling for survival in India.

Darshan Singh, 60, who after his return from Kabul, is living with his son in Guru Nanakpura of Ludhiana, is unemployed. “No one gives me a job here,” he says.


Baghi Singh, working as an autorickshaw driver in Ludhiana after fleeing Taliban, says: “We had to leave our established herbal medicines business in Kabul. I am also waiting for my Canadian visa.”

Indian World Forum’s president Puneet Singh Chandhok puts the onus of the Afghan Sikhs and Hindus moving to Canada on Indian government. “Indian government failed to provide any financial assistance or citizenship. This even as India was the first to rescue and them. Despite our repeated pleas, they were not granted Indian nationality whereas Canada has already given them the PR status,” says Chandhok.


Guljeet Singh, a senior Afghan Sikh leader and president of Delhi-based Guru Nanak Sahib Trust, says that despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to help persecuted minorities, the process to grant nationality to Afghan Hindus and Sikhs was extremely slow. “Some of our people living here since three decades also haven’t got citizenship yet. We made multiple pleas to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and PM Modi to grant nationality to all of them. Roughly, at least 8,000 previous applications for citizenship must be pending (with the Indian government).”

afghan sikhs and hindus, indian express The Afghan Sikhs had to twice undergo the pain of being uprooted — first from their homeland when the Taliban took control of the country, and the second from India, the country that rescued them but didn’t go much beyond that. (Express Photo)

Chabbol Singh, the coordinator for the community in Delhi, says that prior to Taliban takeover in 2021, at least 25,000 Sikhs and Hindus were living in Delhi, Ludhiana and some other cities in India. “There isn’t an exact number of how many are settled in other countries such as Austria, Sweden, US, UK, Germany etc, but there were at least 2 lakh Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan before exodus began decades back,” says Chabbol Singh.


Sahney, whose NGO Sun Foundation supports Afghan minorities, says they had rescued 256 Afghan Sikhs and Hindus after the Taliban takeover in 2021 and provided them monetary support and other help. “Their MPs were nowhere in picture for rehabilitation of community members in Delhi or shifting them to Canada,” adds Sahney
Khalsa, who was a member of the lower House in Afghanistan rejected the allegation “that I did not help my community” members, but adds that “after we reached Delhi…the community never treated us (him and Anarkali) as MPs and we were not made part of any discussions”. Khalsa who moved to Canada in August 2022, hold its PR and lives in Surrey now, however, claims that he is “still doing sewa for many families in Canada who are facing issues in documentation”. He also claims that Taliban is “still in touch with us and want us to return”.

Anarkali, who was the first woman non-Muslim MP and a dentist turned human rights activist, is now in Paris, studying languages. “I am not in position to talk anything more,” she told the Indian Express.

afghan sikhs and hindus Many applications of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for nationality are under process and are being cleared as per the procedure. (Express Photo)

Reached out for comments, a senior official from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), requesting anonymity, said: “India rescued the persecuted minorities purely on humanitarian basis. We cannot stop anyone from migrating to Canada or elsewhere. The applications for citizenship are cleared by the Ministry of Home Affairs.”

The MHA is yet to respond to a detailed questionnaire sent to it. MHA spokesperson Raj Kumar, ADG (media and communication), said: “We have received the mail, which has been forwarded to the branch concerned. We are yet to receive a response from them.”

BJP national secretary and former president DSGMC, Manjinder Singh Sirsa brushed off the issue of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus moving to Canada as “an overall trend in Sikh community to move to the countries such as Canada, US, UK etc for better future”.

“Afghan Sikhs too left as they saw a brighter future in Canada. Many applications of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus for nationality are under process and are being cleared as per the procedure. Their immediate rescue after the Taliban takeover was a big challenge and it was only India which volunteered. Earlier also many Afghan minorities who had first landed in India, later moved to other countries for better future.” says Sirsa.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 09:01 IST
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