2021-08-29 by Daisy I.
Afghanistan’s 1st non-Muslim woman MP
Afghanistan’s first non-Muslim woman MP Anarkali Kaur Honaryar never thought she would have to leave her country. But as the Taliban swept into Kabul, she had to take flight, not getting a chance to even collect a handful of the soil as a memory of her motherland.
Ms. Honaryar (36 a dentist, championed the cause of women in the highly patriarchal society of Afghanistan and led campaigns for the rights of the vulnerable communities. She dreamt of a life in a progressive and democratic Afghanistan.
“My dream is now shattered.” Ms. Honaryar still hopes that Afghanistan gets a government that protects the gains made in the last 20 years. “Maybe it’s little, but we still have time.” Hostilities in Afghanistan had earlier forced the Sikh MP’s relatives to move to India, Europe and Canada. Honaryar and her family reached India in an Indian Air Force’s C-17 transport aircraft on Sunday morning amid a deteriorating situation in her country after the return of the Taliban.
She overcame with emotions at the airport thinking whether she will be able to return home, ever.
“I didn’t even get the time to take a fistful of my country’s soil… a souvenir from my country. I could just touch the ground at the airport before boarding the flight,” said Ms. Honaryar as she broke into tears.
Staying at a hotel in Delhi, her ailing mother wants to go back to Kabul.
“I don’t know what to tell her,” Ms. Honaryar says.
In May 2009, she was chosen by Radio Free Europe’s Afghan chapter as their “Person of the Year”. The recognition made her a household name in Kabul.
A doctor by profession, the lawmaker recalls her days when she worked for the Afghan Human Rights commission and traversed the seemingly inaccessible mountains regions of the country.
“Muslim women trusted me despite not being from the same religion,” she says.
Asked about her friends and co-workers who are still stuck in the conflict-torn nation, she says “We tried really hard to avoid a situation where we have to leave our country.” “My colleagues and my friends have been calling me, sending me messages. But how do I respond? Every call, every message breaks my heart, makes me cry. They think I am safe and at ease in Delhi, but how do I tell them that I miss them a lot.” Ms. Honaryar says the memories that she wants to keep are of the love she received in Afghanistan.
“In Afghanistan, people would swarm around me and click selfies when I would come out from meetings. They loved me because I was their voice in the National Assembly. I fought for everyone. The issues I raised, all my speeches, are part of the records of the Assembly,” she said.
Among her recorded speeches is a vow that Ms. Honaryar took — not to work for a Taliban government ever.
“I said a lot of things against the Taliban. My ideas and principles are completely opposite. I’m alive and hopeful. I will continue to work for Afghanistan from Delhi,” she says. Ms. Honaryar feels that the future is unpredictable for the people of Afghanistan.
“The people are so depressed that they are desperately clinging onto planes… as if those are buses that would take them to safety,” she said gazing into a void.
The one question that troubles her the most is the future of women under Taliban rule.
“The Taliban said no one will be harmed. But peace does not mean non-violence. Peace means that they accept women as equals and recognize their rights,” she said.
The Taliban has said no harm will be done to gurdwaras in Afghanistan but who will take care of them now, asks Afghan Sikh MP Narendra Singh Khalsa, wondering what will happen to the Sikh religious places and property in the war-torn country once the rest of the community members move out.
The Afghan lawmaker, who arrived here from Kabul in a military transport aircraft of the IAF on Sunday, feels it is the “lowest point” for the Sikh community in Afghanistan.
“There were 1 million Sikhs in Afghanistan at one time. Now only a few hundred are left. They, too, are leaving,” he says.
According to the MP, there are around 72 gurdwaras in Afghanistan at present. Sikhism founder Guru Nanak visited Afghanistan in the early 16th century and laid the foundation of Sikhism there.
According to reports, there were at least 2 lakh Sikhs and Hindus in Afghanistan until the 1970s.
Of the around 300 vulnerable Afghan Sikhs and Hindus in the country, at least 60 have been brought to India as part of the evacuation mission that began on August 16, a day after capital city Kabul fell to the Taliban.