PM welcomes ‘home’ a team of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets a member of a delegation comprising of Afgan Sikhs and Hindus, during his meeting at his residence, in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets a member of a delegation comprising of Afgan Sikhs and Hindus, during his meeting at his residence, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

On the eve of voting in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, a delegation of Afghan Hindus and Sikhs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday. Concerns over pending citizenship for those who migrated many years ago as well as unavailability of visas for those trying to flee the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan came to the fore at the meeting.

Tomorrow, all seats in Punjab will go to the polls, and Uttar Pradesh will see voting in 55 seats in the third phase of polling.

The delegation comprised mostly Afghan Hindus and Sikhs who had migrated in the 1990s. It included Nidan Singh Sachdeva, who was kidnapped in Chamkani district of Paktia province in Afghanistan in June 2020 and returned to India after being rescued, as he awaits citizenship of India. There was also Indian businessman of Afghan origin Bansari Lal Arendeh, who was abducted by Taliban in September 2021 and released after paying ransom.

"Prime Minister welcomed the delegation and said that they are not guests but are in their own house, adding that India is their home," said a press statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office. Mr. Modi also spoke about the benefits of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019 for these communities. He also mentioned the special arrangements made to bring Saroop of Guru Granth Sahib from Afghanistan last year.

Primary demand

"Our primary demand was for granting citizenship to those who fled Afghanistan and moved to India in the 1990s. We want a single window clearance for all formalities so that there are no more delays. The Prime Minister introduced us to [Union Minister for Petrol and Natural Gas and Housing and Urban Affairs ] Hardeep Puri and [Minister of State for External Affairs] Meenakshi Lekhi and assured us that they will provide us all the help," said Guljeet Singh, who was among those present.

They demanded e-visas for those stuck in Afghanistan after the Ministry of Home Affairs last year declared as invalid long-term visas issued to Hindus and Sikhs after the Taliban reached Kabul. Guljeet Singh said that many wanted to travel to India to attend to personal emergencies or funerals of family members, but were unable to do so because of lack of visas.

The group sought jobs and land for those who fled Afghanistan for fear of Taliban in the past few months.

President of Indian World Forum Puneet Singh Chandok, who had sought an appointment for the delegation and submitted a memorandum to Mr. Modi on Friday, told The Hindu, "While the outreach has come just before elections, we hope there will be concrete outcomes from the meeting. We are happy that the government is engaging in a dialogue."

‘CAA rules not framed’

He said that while the government had brought in the CAA, the rules under it have not yet been framed delaying its implementation.

The law offers citizenship to Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrian communities who have come from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh before December 31, 2014 and have faced religious persecution. The nation witnessed protests for excluding Muslims and violating secular principles enshrined in the Constitution.

"Moreover, many who have been in India since 1990s and have completed the mandatory residency period of 12 years for grant of citizenship through naturalisation or have spent seven years and can register for citizenship [under Citizenship Act, 1955] have not yet received their citizenship. Therefore, we have sought a single-window facility for such applications. We have also demanded amnesty for those who were misled by touts and got fake passports without valid citizenship," Mr. Chandok said.

His memorandum also demands that the Government of India seek the help of international agencies to secure gurdwaras and temples in Afghanistan.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2022 11:58:21 pm |