Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in Jalalabad city in the east of Afghanistan on Monday celebrated the 322st Vesak Festival but it was now crowded if compared to their celebrations in previous years due to “security concerns” as some of them described.
Known also as Buddha Day, the festival is celebrated by music and dance in Nangarhar, Kabul and other provinces where the Hindu and Sikh residents are living.
The Hindu and Sikh residents said threats continue against them and that this has affected their festivals and rituals.
Those who participated in the festival called on warring parties to agree on a ceasefire and roll up their sleeves for bringing peace to the country.
“They should come forward to the peace table. Afghans are ready for peace,” said Gorbachchan Singh, a Nangarhar resident.
“We hope that peace is ensured in the country so that we celebrate our happy festivals in a peaceful environment,” said Iqbal Singh, a Nangarhar resident.
The Hindus and Sikhs war new clothes in the Vesak Festival and prepare special foods and invite special guest.
“They (Hindus and Sikhs) have a bright place in the history in Afghanistan. Afghans have trusted them and they have been a great part of Afghanistan in different sectors, including economy and politics,” Nangarhar Governor Shah Mahmood Miakhel said.
Hindus and Sikhs have lived in Afghanistan for generations, but the various wars have forced many to leave the country and settle elsewhere.
An investigation by TOLOnews from last June shows that close to 99 percent of former Hindu and Sikh citizens of Afghanistan have left the country over the past three decades.
The investigation revealed that the Sikh and Hindu population number was 220,000 in the 1980s. That number dropped sharply to 15,000 when the mujahedeen were in power during the 1990s and remained at that level during the Taliban regime. It is now estimated that only 1,350 Hindus and Sikhs remain in the country.
According to the findings, the main reasons behind their departure include religious discrimination and government's neglect of the minority group, during the Taliban era in particular.
The TOLOnews findings indicate that where Hindus and Sikhs were once very active in business within the country, they are now faced with increasing poverty.
The findings also show that Hindus and Sikhs had suffered huge setbacks after the Taliban regime collapsed in 2001. This forced a large number of them to leave the countryside and to migrate to Kabul for a living. As a result, there are no Sikh or Hindu citizens living in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
Despite their problems, remaining Hindu and Sikh residents have said they are trying to continue with their lives in Afghanistan as they are optimistic about the country's future.