A home is not just a physical place made of bricks and mortar; it is an eco-system cultivated with love. But when the very place that once was a refuge turns hostile, where does one go? The Afghan Sikh and Hindu families found themselves in a similar situation when radicals attacked a gurudwara in Kabul on March 25. In a bid to safely evacuate them and bring them to India, Vikramjit Singh Sahney, international president of World Punjabi Organisation (WPO) sprung into action. He arranged for three chartered flights, and not only helped these families, but also brought back the holy book, Guru Granth Sahib ji from Kabul. The last of these flights arrived in India on September 3.
“The first challenge was to evacuate them. There were no flights, so we arranged approvals for chartered flights. We brought back 420 Sikh and Hindu families in three flights. We also brought back Guru Granth Sahib ji with full dignity”, says Sahney, who bore the expenses for these flights. These families were spread in various cities of Afghanistan, including Jalalabad, Kandahar and Ghazni, which further lead to problems. “We had to cancel a flight twice because the people were unable to reach Kabul due to the civil unrest in that country. We chose not to go to the media because we didn’t want anyone to face threats,” he explains.
From this experience, Sahney says that one thing is very clear: that the people do not want to fight. “Their Muslim neighbours never wanted them to leave. They lived like families and were in tears as they left. They were discouraging them from leaving. There is no animosity among people; only some radical groups create trouble,” he says.
Sikh and Hindu Afghan families at the airport in Delhi.
With the doors closed on their homes, the only way forward is to help rehabilitate these families in India. “I, along with Dalip Singh Sethi (Los Angeles) and Paramjit Singh Bedi (New York) have launched a programme called My Family My Responsibility, under which all the families are being sponsored by Sikh NRIs, World Punjabi Organisation and Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee under MS Sirsa. Three quarantine centres have been set up for them in Gurudwara Rakab Ganj, Bangla Sahib and Moti Bagh. They will stay there for two months till we can find them furnished accommodation,” he says. Under the progamme, they will help meet their household expenses for two years, including education of children.
In addition to his duties at the WPO, Sahney is also the chairman of Sun Foundation, an NGO. “We set up a world class skill centre at Jail Road and will train some of these kids with job-oriented courses like data entry operator, mechanic, freighter, and for girls, fashion designing and embroidery,” says Sahney, with a hope that these families do not meet the fate of other displaced people.
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