Washington: The minority Hindu and Sikh population in Afghanistan has been shrinking and they are having a tough time in cremating their deceased ones, a US report on international religious freedom said on Monday.
"As in previous years, Hindus and Sikhs complained of not being able to cremate the remains of their dead in accordance with their customs, due to interference by those who lived near the cremation sites," the State Department said in a report released today.
"The government did not protect Hindus` and Sikhs` right to carry out cremations. However, a Sikh senator requested the intervention of the Ministry of Interior to provide protection and escort to Hindus and Sikhs in the event of cremations within their communities," the report said.
"Subsequent to the senator`s intervention, they were able to cremate the remains. The community continued to petition the government for land on which to carry out cremations," it said.
According to the report, by 2001, non-Muslim populations had been virtually eliminated except for a small population of native Hindus and Sikhs.
Since the fall of the Taliban, some members of religious minorities have returned, but others have since left Kabul due to economic hardship and discrimination.
"Estimates from Hindu and Sikh religious leaders indicate that their population shrank in the past year as compared to the year before," the report said.
Although the Constitution expressly protects free exercise of faith for non-Muslims, in situations where the Constitution and penal code are silent, including apostasy and blasphemy, courts relied on interpretations of Islamic law, some of which conflict with the country`s international commitments to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Although a Hindu serves as senior economic adviser to President Hamid Karzai and one member of Sikh community continues to serve as a member of the Upper House of Parliament, the Hindu and Sikh communities lobbied unsuccessfully to have one seat each designated for a Hindu and a Sikh representative in Parliament, the report observed.
"They noted that 10 seats are reserved for the ethnic minority Kuchi community and that their communities should also have reserved representation," it said.
The government provided free electricity to mosques.
The Hindu and Sikh communities did not receive free electricity for their mandirs and gurdwaras, and mandirs and gurdwaras were charged as business entities, paying a higher rate, the report observed.
As of the end of the year, the government had not addressed repeated requests from the two communities to receive the same treatment as mosques, it said.