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Sikh Woman Fights for Afghan Women’s Rights

By Jagmit Singh
Thousands of Sikhs have fled Afghanistan as refugees
Thousands of Sikhs have fled Afghanistan as refugees

Kabul, Afghanistan (CHAKRA) – In a society where many women still breathe under full covering veils and live surrounded by patriarchy, Dr. Anarkali Kaur Honaryar fight’s for women’s rights.

“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,” she says.  Instead she has taken on a challenge much greater than flying a plane.

The 25-year-old is known in Afghanistan, after being chosen as their “Person of the Year”, by Radio Free Europes Afghan chapter, in May 2009.

Dr. Honaryar, a dentist, is one of 3000 Sikhs and Hindus that remain in Afghanistan.  Before the civil war of 1991, there were roughly 50 000 Sikhs and Hindus in ethnically diverse Afghanistan but now only a small percentage of that number remains.

The war caused most, including Honaryar’s family and relatives to move away to other countries such as India, Europe, and Canada.

“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 strong outspoken doctor.

In the early 1990’s, Afghanistan was in the middle of a war with an abundance of power in the Taliban’s hands. Due to this war-torn climate girls-schools were banned and closed down and religious minorities were threatened by the Taliban’s extremist Sunni Muslim ideology.

Dr. Honaryar was a victim not only for being a female but also because she was a non-Muslim.  Fortunately for her, she graduated from high school four years before her peers because Baghlan was not taken over by the Taliban.

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

“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.

That is why she joined the Afghan Humans 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.”

The female literacy rate in Afghanistan is less than 20%.  Honaryar recalls a women coming to her for assistance after husband wanted to divorce her after 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 said positively.

Although Dr. Honaryar travels to different places across the globe, she regrets not being able to see India, her ancestral land—her top priority is to visit the Golden temple in Amritsar as well as the Taj Mahal.

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