India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said it will introduce a new emergency e-visa to fast-track visa applications for people coming from Afghanistan, which is home to small Hindu and Sikh communities.
Indian Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar said late Monday that his office was "in constant touch with the Sikh and Hindu community leaders in Kabul.
"Their welfare will get our priority attention,” he said.
Afghanistan is home to Sikh and Hindu communities and holy sites for both religions. The Gurdwara (Sikh temple of worship) Chisma Sahib in Jalalabad is considered sacred as Sikhs believe Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion, visited the region in the 15th century. In Kabul, the Asamai temple is located on a hill named after Asha, the Hindu goddess of hope.
The country used to be home to large Sikh and Hindu communities. There were about 220,000 of them living in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to Afghanistan's TOLOnews, but most fled the Taliban's religious persecution in the 1990s. By 2016, nearly 99% had fled, according to TOLOnews.
Indian think tank Gateway House estimated in 2020 that only about 300 families of each faith were left in Afghanistan.
The Indian government has prioritized the safety of Hindus and Sikhs in Afghanistan because they are minority groups protected under the country's controversial 2019 Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
The law fast-tracks citizenship for religious minorities, including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan -- but not Muslims.
Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional as it bases citizenship on a person’s religion and would further marginalize India’s 200-million strong Muslim community.The government, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the bill seeks to protect religious minorities who fled persecution in their home countries.
Embassy closing and staff evacuating: India's External Affairs Ministry said it will close its embassy in Kabul and relocate its ambassador and diplomatic staff back to India “immediately” due to the situation in Afghanistan.