Kabul, Afghanistan – The sounds of screaming, some loud, many muffled, fill the halls of the Karte Parwan Gurudwara, one of the three remaining places of worship for the small Afghan Sikh and Hindu community in the capital of Afghanistan.
Some of the muffled wailing spills onto the streets of the Karte Parwan area, once home to large numbers of Afghan Sikhs who lived in harmony with the majority Muslim population in pre-conflict Afghanistan.
However, the last decades of war in Afghanistan have been harsh for the community that has not only suffered from the conflict, but also faced persecution of a society that has become increasingly intolerant.
Afghan forces killed gunmen who attacked a Sikh religious complex in the capital on Wednesday, ending a one-hour siege that killed 25 people.
The most recent attack, against 400-year-old Gurudwara, at Kabul's Shor Bazar bazaar, has left the community devastated. "The situation is very frightening, the whole community is in mourning and crying," Raj Sutaka, 25, an Afghan Sikh from Kabul who runs a pharmacy business, told Al Jazeera.
Over the years, the Afghan Sikhs and the Hindu population have declined from nearly 700,000 in the 1970s to less than a few hundred today. "We are about 70 to 80 families left across Afghanistan. There used to be many more, but as of today, we are perhaps 400 to 450 adults and around 100 to 200 children. So we are just a total. 700 "Sutaka said, trying to keep a consistent tone.
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& # 39; Living with fear & # 39;
Around him, men and women mourned the loss of their loved ones. Some families lost up to seven people, including children. In addition to the faithful, there were also at least 40 families living in the Gurudwara complex. Sutaka himself lost a dear friend and relative.
"Everyone is scared and living in fear. We are even afraid to go to Gurdwaras to cry, at least something happens again," he said.
And his fears were justified. On Thursday afternoon, when Sutaka and other community members were carrying 25 bodies to the cremation sites for the final rites, another explosion, detonated remotely, occurred near their procession in the Qalacha area.
"Right now we were carrying the bodies and an explosion happened nearby. Fortunately we survived and made it to the crematorium," he said, showing photos and videos from inside the crematorium, where a mass funeral was held.
"We used to receive threats from time to time, but except for an attack 40 to 45 years ago in Jalalabad, no one had ever attacked a Gurudwara. Not even during the war years in the past four decades."
Sutaka described the chain of events for Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
"I was here at the Karte Parwan Gurudrawa when we heard about the attack on Shor Bazaar around 7:30 am. The morning prayers had just ended and prasad was distributed. There were also snacks for the gathering and many were waiting to be served. two armed men stormed inside, "he said, sharing a reconstructed story of those who survived.
"First they dropped bombs and then they started shooting bullets at people. The massacre continued for six hours," he said.
While the armed group ISIL (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, government sources said it was carried out by the Haqqani Network and that it may have been in retaliation for recent violence against Muslims in India.
"In the past, the Taliban and other terrorist groups sponsored by the governments of our region also attacked our society and tried to create divisions among the people," said Javid Faisal, spokesman for the Afghanistan National Security Council.
"Such past events instill fear and insecurity within the community and can also affect the unity of the nation," he said.
On Wednesday night, Hamdullah Mohib, the national security adviser, visited the survivors and their families to offer their condolences and promised to investigate the attacks, Sutaka said.
Despite the grim situation, the community is not alone in its grief, and messages of solidarity have come from all corners of Afghanistan.
"They are more Afghan than many other Afghans," said Sahira Sharif, a member of the Khost province parliament, who was once home to hundreds of Sikh families.
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& # 39; Bonhomie and cordiality & # 39;
While there are only a few Sikhs left, Sharif said he has fond memories of growing up in a multicultural society.
"There was a lot of bonhomie and cordiality among the Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus at Khost. We got together and, when we grew up, they came to our houses and we went to theirs," he recalled to Al Jazeera, adding. that the Sikh community was so reliable that other Afghans would save their money with them, in the absence of a bank.
Later, when Sharif was campaigning for a parliamentary seat, many Sikhs backed her. "When I ran for the 15th round of elections, I went to her neighborhood and met with women from the community. They campaigned for me, organized me for lunch, and I could see that their cultures and practices were still very close to those of the women. elections. other Khostis, "he said.
Samira Hamidi, Afghan activist and regional activist for Amnesty International, said: "The Sikh community in Afghanistan is among the most resilient, peaceful and loving citizens of the country. There are many of them who have preferred to live in Afghanistan despite all threats. Against them."
This deep social connection has raised collective pain among Afghans, regardless of their faith and beliefs.
"Yesterday's attack on our Sikh brothers and sisters is inhumane and cowardly. It is painful to hear the father whose three-year-old daughter was shot in front of him," she added, visibly disturbed by the tragedy of Harinder Singh Khalsa, who lost seven members of his family, including his wife, mother and daughter.
Hamidi, like many Afghan Muslims, extended his solidarity to the Sikhs.
"At this painful time, all I can say is that we must support them, share their complaints and comfort them. I have great respect for each of them for the love and compassion they feel for Afghanistan, and I do not wish anyone, including them , to face tragedies like yesterday, "he said.