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Dr. Anarkali Kaur Honaryar:
Afghanistan's Sikh Heroine

by SAMBUDDHA MITRA MUSTAFI

 

 

"It is difficult for a woman to be a pilot in Afghanistan. My father said it does not fit in with this country's culture," Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar tells me, sitting in her office at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission.

In some ways the high flyer has taken on a challenge much tougher than piloting planes.

She fights for women's rights in a society that remains staunchly patriarchal, and where many of her gender still breathe beneath their veils.

In May 2009, the 25-year-old was chosen by Radio Free Europe's Afghan chapter as their "Person of the Year". The award has made her a household name in Kabul.

Anarkali Kaur - a trained dentist - is one of about 3,000 Sikhs and Hindus who remain in Afghanistan.

Their number - and their prosperity - has significantly dwindled since 1991 when civil war broke out.

Before then, there were an estimated 50,000 Sikhs and Hindus in this ethnically diverse country and many ran successful businesses in Kabul, Kandahar and other cities.

But the outbreak of hostilities meant that most - including Anarkali's relatives - moved to safer places in India, Europe and Canada.

She has led campaigns for the civil rights of the embattled communities who stayed on, including one to get crematoriums built for their dead.

"Some people still think we are foreigners. They think we are Indians who are working and living here for a while. But we are Afghans too, and we should have all the rights and opportunities that other Afghans have," says the demure yet outspoken doctor.

She has grown up in turbulent times.

In the early 1990s, Afghanistan was a country at war, with no stable central government.

The provinces - including Anarkali's native Baghlan in the north - were ruled by warlords.

To make matters worse, swathes of the country were falling into Taliban hands.

Girls' schools were banned in Taliban strongholds and religious minorities felt threatened by their extremist Sunni Muslim ideology - Anarkali Kaur fell into both categories: a female and a non-Muslim.

Fortunately for her, Baghlan did not come under Taliban rule. She carried on her education in relative freedom and graduated from high school four years ahead of her peers.

"I am grateful to my parents for supporting my education. Not all Afghan girls have been so lucky," she says.

Once the Taliban were overthrown in 2001, Anarkali went to Kabul University to study medicine. She was part of the Loya Jirga (grand council) that selected the interim government to replace the Taliban.

"The situation for women has improved since the Taliban days. Now if the Karzai government does not listen to us, at least we can appeal to human rights groups," she says.

And so she joined the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission in 2006.

"They know I am a Sikh but they still trust me with their most personal problems," she says of the hundreds of mostly Muslim women she meets.

"The culture here is loaded against women. We try to solve their problems, but we also need to change the laws."

Awareness of existing laws is also at a premium here - the female literacy rate is less than 20%.

Anarkali recounts how an illiterate woman had travelled a long way to Kabul to meet her. The woman's husband wanted to divorce her when she was expecting their child.

"She didn't know that Afghan laws state a husband cannot divorce his pregnant wife. He has to wait till the child is at least two months old. We helped her secure her rights," she says, with a hint of pride.

While conferences have taken her to different parts of the globe, Dr Anarkali Kaur Honaryar regrets not travelling enough in the land of her ancestors - Punjab and India.

A visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar - Sikhism's holiest shrine - is top of her to-do list. And of course, the Taj Mahal.

 

[Courtesy: BBC]

February 11, 2010

Conversation about this article

1: Harinder (Bangalore, India), February 11, 2010, 8:29 AM.

Anarkali ji: I am fascinated by the process of purifying gold. They take a chunk of gold that they have found in the earth, and put it in a crucible (a really freakin' hot pot!). They can add in lead, which, coupled with the heat, strips away much of the gold's impurities. The impurities then rise to the top of the crucible and form what is called "crud". The goldsmith then skims the surface, removing the "crud". This process continues and more crud is removed until you have a pure piece of Gold that is now ready to be used to make precious jewellery. Now the thing that really interests me, is that in order for the gold to become pure, you add a lesser metal ... lead. This acts as the object that strips away the impurities, along with the heat. Now, Anarkali ji, look at your life. As I look at mine, I now see that God has allowed people, places and things to come in one's life to act as lead that will strip away some of the impurities. And He turns up the heat of the circumstances for sure! My tendency is to want to JUMP out of the crucible, but I will be extending whatever pain is in my life until I wait patiently on the Waheguru, and try to pull a lesson out of what I am going through. Anarkali Kaur ji: you are the gold of our community!

2: Gur (Boston, U.S.A.), February 11, 2010, 7:12 PM.

Although it is a moment of pride for the Sikh community to see a Khalsa Lotus amid the religious quagmire, but at a personal and social level it should also be an opportunity for us to analyze what else and how much more could the Sikhs of prosperous nations be able to do to help our community in needy conditions and what will be the overall impact of such investment in the global Sikh diaspora and how to achieve the best objective with minimal wastage of resources.

3: Sukdev Kaur (Malaysia), February 11, 2010, 10:55 PM.

Somebody has to stand up to gracefully remove the veil of ignorance and educate mankind that the soul is the same, be it in a man or woman - each has separate functions, same responsibilities.

4: Dr. Ranjit Singh (Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, India ), February 12, 2010, 7:26 AM.

Shabash, Sikh bachhi. Keep your qoum's head high. An austere selfless life is ready for sacrifices anywhere. Be it Haiti or Afghanistan, we need to do our best to serve humanity.

5: Tejbir Singh Ahuja (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada), February 12, 2010, 8:11 AM.

Today, I see that the real teaching of Guru Nanak is spreading its essence in the world ... and, as described in this article, also in burning Afghanistan. I will try to emulate her in my own life.

6: Manmohan Singh Soori (Ajman, U.A.E), February 12, 2010, 10:48 AM.

Dr. Anarkali Kaur ji: Waheguru ji aap nu hamesha chardi kala vich rakhe, eh hi saadi ardaas hai. Take care. God bless you and your family.

7: Jagdeep Singh (Mumbai, India), February 13, 2010, 9:57 AM.

May Waheguru guide you all along your destined path of selfless service. You embody the Sikh Spirit in its true form. You have brought honour to your parents and the Sikh community.

8: Sandeep Singh (Jammu & Kashmir.), February 15, 2010, 12:10 AM.

It is a tough time for her and she manages well and adorably. Somebody has to stand up to gracefully remove the veil of ignorance and educate mankind that the souls of all people are from the same God. One shouldn't disrespect the views and values of others. May Akal Purakh bless her with more strength and courage to fight ignorance.

9: Narinder Pal Singh Hundal (Sacramento, California, U.S.A.), February 21, 2010, 6:37 PM.

I am very glad to read about Dr. Anarkali Kaur. We would love to honour her here in our city, state and country!

10: Zabi (Kunduz, Afghanistan), March 14, 2010, 5:14 AM.

I think it is difficult for Anarkali to promote Human Rights here, but I know she is working strongly and she is an active member of AIHRC. Last night I saw a particular report that Anarkali is working on Sikh rights in Afghanistan and she wants the lands and property of Sikh-Afghans to be returned to them. I appreciate her work. Land dispute is the biggest and critical issue in Afghanistan. It is especially appreciated that Anarkali is also working for the human rights of all Afghans. We have to support her and respect her.

11: Narinder Pal Singh Hundal (Sacramento, California, U.S.A.), August 31, 2010, 10:07 PM.

I am very happy to read about Dr. Anarkali Kaur. How can I help her election fund?

12: Taranjit Singh Dhillon (Kurukshetra, India), November 20, 2010, 3:05 PM.

Here in Kurukshetra University we have a lot of Afghanis studying here and the biggest thing is they don't know who Hindus are but they know about Sikhs. Yes, they have many Sikh friends in Afghanistan. Thanks to our identity.

13: Amandeeep Singh Bijral (Jammu, Jammu & Kashmir), November 18, 2011, 10:46 AM.

Ma'am, you are doing a great job in a war-torn nation and we are proud that a Sikh woman is changing life of others in such a difficult environment and showing the world what a Sikh woman can do.

14: Jan Muhammad  (Kabul, Afghanistan ), December 24, 2011, 10:05 AM.

I like Dr. Anarkali. I met her once in Kabul, at the Shenozada Hospital.

15: Sayed Abdul Hadi (Kabul, Afghanistan), February 23, 2013, 10:44 PM.

Dr. Anarkali Kaur is a brave lady who has adopted a challenging mission to defend human rights/ women's rights in a society where so many hurdles are ahead on the way to carry out her obligations and responsibilities. As an Afghan, she is really a honour for our society in general and for the Sikh Community in particular. We wish her great success, including in her attempt to restore the lands and properties of Sikhs usurped by warlords in Kabul or other provinces of Afghanistan. We are supporting her and will be on her side.

16: Rawaldeep Singh (Delhi, India), March 28, 2013, 7:27 AM.

Ma'am, you are doing a great job in such critical situations and I thank God that there is some one in that country to help minorities. Ma'am, recently I have seen a documentary about Sikh and other minority children not able to go to school and I felt terrible for them.

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Afghanistan's Sikh Heroine"









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