Hicksville, New York: Kulwinder Singh Soni’s voice quavered as he recounted the day in March 2020 when an Islamic State gunman burst into a Sikh gurdwara’s prayer hall in Kabul, hurling grenades and firing assault rifles. Among the 25 people killed were Soni’s father, sister-in-law, and 4-year-old niece.
“That’s when we decided we needed to leave Afghanistan,” Soni said. “There was absolutely no future for our family in that country.”
After a two-year struggle to make an exit, including nearly a year under restored rule of the fundamentalist Taliban group, Soni and 12 family members including his mother, siblings, nieces, and nephews, arrived in the United States last month.
They are settling in Hicksville, on Long Island, a community that has come to be a growing refuge for Afghan Sikhs. Sikhs and Hindus make up only a tiny fraction of the population of Afghanistan, which is almost entirely Muslim.
After an ISIS suicide bombing at the airport scuttled their exit plan and fears escalated under Taliban rule, the women and children in Soni’s family moved to New Delhi and the men shuttled between India and Kabul to care for their sacred shrine. It then took months of struggle and daily communication between the U.S. State Department; the Sikh Coalition – a Sikh American advocacy group and Afghan Sikhs in Hicksville to get the entire family of 13 to the U.S.
Paramjit Singh Bedi, a longtime community leader who moved to the United States in 1984 and was instrumental in bringing them over, is now hoping to help them get housing, work permits, medical insurance, and the children enrolled in school.
“This family has been through a lot,” Bedi said. “But we are a resilient people and we are strong and steadfast in our faith. I know they will be OK.”
There are around 200 Afghan Sikhs and 800 Afghan Hindus currently living on Long Island, according to Doulat Radhu Bathija, a leader of that community.