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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 16, April 15, 2023

Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, Apr 15, 2023

Saturday 15 April 2023


Letter to the Readers, Mainstream, April 15, 2023

The return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan in August 2021 led to a wave of outward migration, a humanitarian crisis & also the basic civil rights of Afghans have been ditched for a crude religious code determining what is considered right or wrong. Despite all the failings, the twenty-year effort at promoting education for girls and women and opening women’s participation in the economy had had some success – the number of girls in primary schools had risen from near zero in 2001 to 2.5 million in 2018. That effort had been possible due to a Ministry of Women’s Affairs. In September 2021, the Taliban shut down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and replaced it with a Ministry of Vice and Virtue which has been enforcing whatever they wish in their misogynist zeal through fear and intimidation. Women have been banished from pursuing education (secondary education is shut for girls and young women are barred from universities) and excluded from all forms of work. An estimated 100,000 women who then attended higher secondary or university education have been shut out. Those who protest are rounded up and face flak. Many sections of society are at risk, including NGOs, media workers, musicians, and of course the Minorities in the country. Since 2021 some 1.6 million Afghans have sought shelter in the immediate neighbourhood in Iran and Pakistan (which have hosted a large number of Afghan refugees over the decades) and also in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan – these five countries host close to some 8 million Afghan refugees. In distant Europe, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) has issued incredible guidance making all women and girls from Afghanistan eligible for refugee status since they face persecution by the Taliban regime. In comparison, the attitude of the Modi Government which currently flaunts its G-20 hat stands quite in contrast. Observers estimate that when 50,000 Afghans or so applied for emergency visas to India after the Taliban takeover in 2021, barely a few hundred applicants were granted such visas (mostly fleeing Sikhs and Hindus). Some news reports have pointed to quite a crisis with non-renewal of visas to Afghan students pursuing their studies in India who got stranded; Till 2021 the Indian Council of Cultural Relations used to provide small scholarships to Afghan students with proper visas but now no new applicants are accepted if they were refugees with an uncertain status. We hope the Government will review its policy in this regard and grant residence status to all stranded students and continue to support their education and extend similar support to those in need among workers and professionals from the small Afghan community based in India. India should like the EUAA grant refuge to all girl students and provide free schooling to all such girls. It can select a dozen universities across the country that will grant admission to Afghan women without competition. It is heartening that India’s Ministry of External Affairs has opened up to help students of the Sayed Jamaluddin Afghan High School (that functioned in a Delhi neighbourhood) which is no longer recognised by the Afghan education board and is facing closure. We hope the AAP-run Government of Delhi will also offer support to these Afghan children. Yes, the security concerns remain but the Government must nourish the goodwill and extend support to all Afghans currently based in India and who feel impacted by the arrival in power of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Government of India must also extend financial support to the UN agencies working in Afghanistan and with Afghan refugees in the region. We would really be doing great service as a neighbour. All social democratic and left political parties and also civil society groups must publicly extend support to the vulnerable Afghans needing support.

April 15, 2023 — HK

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