NEW DELHI: When Afghan refugees in India held a protest in Delhi on August 23, sisters Dia and Diyana were at its forefront, one wrapped in the Afghan national flag while the other held up a placard, appealing to the United Nations to help the people of the war-torn nation.
Dia (10) and Diyana (12), residents of an Afghan enclave in south Delhi, should be learning and playing, but at this tender age, the sisters braved it out in a hot weather, expressing their concern about the children, particularly girls, in Afghanistan since its takeover by the Taliban.
“We are scared. We know what the Taliban are, even though we were not born when they first took over our homeland. And, we know how insecure the children and women are feeling in our homeland right now,” said the elder sister.
Along with their parents, the sisters had gone to take part in the protest held in front of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar.
The protest which started on Monday, have since been relayed, and the refugees are refusing to relent from their position until their demands are met, which includes issuing of support letters from the UN agency to allow migration to other countries and better opportunities in India.
On August 23, when the protest began, a large number of Afghan refugees had gathered there, drawn from Delhi and neighbouring cities.
Among them were scores of children, as young as a two-year-old Nihanz who came with her family members from Bhogal and took part in the demonstration riding her mother’s shoulders.
Women power was evident at the protest, and participation by young girls, brought the focus on their plight, their vulnerability to the current circumstances and their sheer hopelessness of living a pitiable refugee life, even as Afghanistan descended further down the spiral of uncertainty.
Holding a poster, Zuleikha Khadarkhil, 10, sat quietly next to her eight-year-old brother Mohammed Rameen, who raised vociferous slogans against the Taliban, when most children of his age are playing with toys and not taking part in a protest that may have global ramifications.
While Zuleikha was silent, the image on the poster she held screamed about the plight of girls and their bleak future.
There were no words on the moving artwork, just a sketch of a young girl depicted in a traditional Afghani costume, almost matching what the young protester had worn, with sadness in her eyes and one arm outstretched, reaching out for a book, signifying the curbs that the Taliban imposes on freedom and education of girls and women.
“As refugees we feel insecure, as children we feel insecure, as girls we feel insecure, more so now after what has happened in our Afghanistan. I have a terrible feeling about the young girls and women of Afghanistan. How will they be treated now,” she lamented.
Rameen and Zuleikha had come to the protest with their parents from Tilak Nagar, where a small community of Afghans reside.
The protest has been led by Afghan Solidarity Committee (ASC), an umbrella organisation of Afghan refugees in India.
The crowd shouted slogans like ‘we want future’, ‘we want justice’, ‘no more silence’ and clapped and cheered each other, as many others held banners bearing messages like ‘UN Geneva help Afghan Refugees’ and ‘Issue resident visas to all Afghan refugees’.
The Taliban swept across the country this month, seizing control of almost all key towns and cities in the backdrop of withdrawal of the US forces that began on May 1.
On August 15, the capital city Kabul also fell to the Taliban, even as a large number of Afghans attempted in vain to flee the war-torn nation.
The insurgent forces have now sought to portray themselves as more moderate than when they had imposed a brutal rule in the late 1990s.
But many Afghans remain sceptical of this and fear the return of the “regressive” regime.
The hopelessness and dejection among the children about their future was unmistakable, with Tamanna, 10, who had come from Noida, echoing Zuleikha’s sentiments.
“With the current situation, the future seems all dark for us, stuck between a poor refugee life with almost no education or job opportunities, and the horror of the Taliban back home,” she rued.