Since he was a child, 60-year-old Nidan Singh Sachdeva has never missed a single Saavan mela, an annual religious gathering celebrated by the Sikh community in Afghanistan’s Paktya province to mark the monsoon season.
The dry mountainous terrains of Afghanistan do not experience monsoons, but these celebrations are a reminder of the minority community’s faith.
On June 22 this year, Sachdeva was at Gurudwara Tala Sahib, a 400-year-old temple in Paktya for the Saavan mela festivities when local Taliban insurgents kidnapped him.
Sachdeva’s cousin, Charan Singh, believes that a land dispute led to the abduction.
“The land surrounding the temple belonged to the Sikhs for centuries, but was illegally captured by some local strongmen. We have been fighting this case for a few years,” Singh told VICE News.
Sachdeva, born and raised Sikh in Afghanistan’s Khost province, returned to his family on July 19, but the ordeal made them leave the country. Afghanistan is predominantly a Muslim country.
Sachdeva belongs to the quickly disappearing minority that was 200,000-strong before the start of the Afghan conflict in 1979.
“Afghanistan’s had a vibrant diversity including Sikhs, Hindus and Jews, before the start of the conflict,” Inderjeet Singh, author of the book Afghan Hindus and Sikhs told VICE News. “These are Afghans who speak local languages and share cultural similarities with their Muslim counterparts.”
Afghan Sikhs and Hindus were known to have largely worked in trade and financial sector. Many were involved in money-lending, informal banking and trading of spices, herbs and medicines.
After decades of war and targeted persecution from the extremist Taliban regime, they have been leaving their homeland searching for asylums.
Read full report on Vice News