Several Afghan Sikh and Hindu families that hold Afghan passports and live in various European countries are allegedly being denied Indian visas ever since the Taliban stormed back to power in 2021.
By: Shubham Ghosh
A Hindu couple had fled Afghanistan nearly three 30 years ago when the first Taliban regime in that country was ready to take control. Three decades later, the duo have found their fate linked to the religious fundamentalist group again as it has returned to power in Kabul again in the wake of the US-led west’s retreat, The Indian Express reported.
Naveen Kakkar and his wife Sheela saw the birth of their son Nishant, a special child, in Germany in 1991 after they left Afghanistan where the Taliban came to power for the first time in 1996.
Three decades later, when the Taliban have returned to power in Afghanistan (since August 15, 2021), the couple’s visa applications to India to immerse the ashes of their son in the Ganges River have remained stuck “despite submitting all required documents”, ostensibly because of stringent checks required after the Taliban’s return to power last year, the Express report said.
Nishant passed away in February following a brain attack and his parents — Hindus from Afghanistan who still are in possession of Afghan passports — are waiting for a go-ahead from the Indian embassy to go to Haridwar in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and do the needful so that their late son’s soul can rest in peace.
But the Kakkars are not the only ones to face such an ordeal. Many among nearly 3,000 Afghan Sikh and Hindu families that are settled in Germany, many of whom still with Afghan passports, have not received a visa despite waiting for months as the Indian embassy has either reportedly rejected the applications without citing reason or simply by sitting over them, the Indian daily repory added.
Speaking of the situation, Jaganth Gerdezi, president of Afghan Hindu Cultural Association in Germany said a minimum of 100 visa applications of Afghan Sikhs and Hindus are waiting to be cleared of of them, at least 20 are sought by families that want to visit India for immersing ashes of their near ones in the Ganges.
Why is the delay? According to Gerdezi, they have been told off the record that there was security concern for people holding Afghan passports.
“No reason for visa denial has been given to us officially,” he was quoted as saying by the Express.
India’s external affairs ministry said visas are taken care of by the home ministry and a spokesperson from the latter said while there is no such policy to deny visas to those holding Afghan passport holders, the process of issuing visas is a time-taking one.
“Visas applications from Afghan nationals have been held due to security reasons since the Taliban came to power. The backlog is being cleared after due verification,” the Express quoted another official from the home ministry as saying.
Speaking to The Sunday Express over phone from Frankfurt, Naveen Kakkar, who works at McDonald’s, said his late son’s soul deserved to find peace and appealed to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to ensure that the visas are issued so that they could immerse the ashes in Haridwar.
But the problem is not restricted to only those living in Germany. According to an Afghan Sikh community leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that even Afghan Sikhs and Hindus holding Afghan passports and living in countries such as Sweden, UK, UAE, etc. are also being denied visas to India since the Taliban stormed back to power.
“Their valid visas were also declared invalid and fresh ones are not being issued despite emergencies such as deaths in family or medical treatment,” the individual was quoted as saying.
Afghan Hindus and Sikhs in Germany have been visiting India without any problem over the last few decades for purposes such as family visits, pilgrimage, or medical treatment, but the situation has suddenly worsened after the Taliban’s return to power, they said.
According to them, their visas are being rejected by New Delhi “without specifying any reason”, and despite Modi’s promise to “help persecuted minorities from Pakistan and Afghanistan,” the report said.
For people such as Kakkars, time is running out.
“We cannot keep the ashes here after cremation for long as per German rules,” Naveen said, adding, “We have to pay them a certain amount if ashes have to be kept beyond a year. I have only two months left to keep my son’s ashes at the local crematorium. Modi-ji said he will help Hindus and Sikhs persecuted in Islamic countries…. Then we are being denied visas? Special flights went from India to rescue Afghan Sikhs and Hindus from Kabul after the Taliban came. Why can’t we come to India to give peace to our son’s soul?”
The situation is no better for Bansi Lal Juneja, 67, and Pamila Devi, 60. The Afghan Hindu couple that live in Cologne, Germany, saw their visa getting rejected a year after application. Juneja, who has a liver ailment, wanted to receive Ayurveda treatment in India and also wanted to meet his relatives in Delhi.
Madhu Juneja, the elderly couple’s daughter-in-law said the couple had never faced any issues in getting a visa for India but once the Taliban returned to power, it seemed the Indian authorities were rejecting applications of the Afghan passport-holders without conducting a background check or verifying the purpose of visit.
Nearly 500 Afghan Hindu families are registered with Asamai Temple in Frankfurt, opened by immigrants after moving to Germany, and their association — Afghan Hindu Cultural Association — have written several letters to Modi and the external affairs ministry to consider visas of at least those families that want to complete last rites, but no positive response has come yet, Gerdezi told the Express.