News - Afghanistan
Afghanistan's once-thriving Sikh community is dwindling fast as many choose to leave the country of their birth to escape what they say is growing intolerance and discrimination.
Once boasting as many as 100,000 members in the 1990s, Afghanistan's Sikh population, according to community leaders, has dwindled to an estimated 2,500.
The reason for the exodus: endemic societal discrimination in the majority Muslim country and the illegal seizure of Sikh homes, businesses, houses of worship and even cemeteries.
Hindus in Afghanistan have also faced similar persecution.
Afghan Hindu lawmaker and human rights activist, Anarkali Kaur Honaryar has spoken out about this intolerance and said: "The minority of Hindus and Sikhs who are now in small numbers in Afghanistan face many problems. One of the main problems is that of social discrimination. But despite all these negative aspects, we still have good relations with our Muslim brothers and sisters, but we are vulnerable to social discrimination."
He went on to say that: "In all provinces they (Sikh and Hindus) owned land, but unfortunately their land was taken over by powerful individuals during the war. But the other problem that we have is that there is a group who use fraudulent power-of-attorney letters and sell properties owned by Hindus and Sikhs."
Under the Taliban, Sikhs and Hindus were pressured to convert to Islam and forced to pay a special tax and publicly identify themselves with yellow patches on their clothing.
Muslims were encouraged to avoid doing business with them.
During this period many Sikhs and Hindus were either forced to sell their land or had it openly seized by armed warlords.
And today, they say, societal discrimination and isolation continues.
Community figures and analysts believe that intolerance for non-Muslims has grown as constant violence and upheaval has made Afghans wary of those they perceive as outsiders - both Sikhs and Hindus are widely regarded as foreigners, more readily identified as Indians and Pakistanis.
For Afghan Sikhs, the constant discrimination is particularly bitter because many proclaim themselves to be proud Afghans.
Arinder Singh, a Sikh religious scholar said: "Our Muslim brothers know our history, they can see our Afghan passports and National Identity Cards and our records in governmental offices, but when we go to them, they still tell us that you are not Afghan, you are an Indian go back to your country. I want to say that Afghanistan is our country and this is the place of my birth, and as I believe we were born here and we will die in this country."
Jasmit Singh, an eight-year-old schoolboy said: "When we go out other kids pull off our turbans and sometimes beat us or even steal whatever we have in our hands."
An attempt in 2013 by former Afghan president Hamid Karzai to reserve parliamentary seats for Sikhs and Hindus was rejected by lawmakers who feared other minorities would make similar demands.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom noted in a 2009 report that while there is no longer any official discrimination against Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan, "They are effectively barred from most government jobs and face societal hostility and harassment."