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Wednesday, 23 May, 2001, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
Taleban justify tagging Hindus
Veiled Muslim woman in Afghanistan
Now Hindu and Sikh women will have to wear veils too
A controversial order that Hindus in Afghanistan should carry identity tags is designed to protect them from police harassment, a Taleban official has said.

Giving details of the edict, the head of the Taleban news agency said Hindus should carry thumb-size pieces of yellow cloth to identify themselves as non-Muslims.

The Taleban's religious police has the power to detain people without trial for not complying with Islamic rulings.

A leader of the Sikh and Hindu community in Afghanistan, Inder Singh Majboor, has said they are happy with the ruling if it spares them harassment from the religious police.

However, the tagging edict has been fiercely denounced outside the country as discriminatory and oppressive.

No interference

Mr Majboor said there had been no mention of new dress requirements for non-Muslim women - as mentioned in some reports.

Sikh women
Sikh women leave a temple in Kabul
He also said the Taleban had not interfered in Hindu or Sikh religious rituals or imposed any restrictions on them.

However, other members of the community said they would have no religious freedoms if they were told what to wear.

One man said he had an Indian visa and would rather leave than wear yellow identity tags.

Complying with Islam

The Taleban's religious police regularly herd men into mosques at prayer time, often using short lengths of cable to whip them into line.


Forcing social groups to wear distinctive clothing or identifying marks can never, never be justified

Richard Boucher,
US State Department

The police, whose job is to promote virtue and prevent vice, also check men's beards to make sure they are at least the length of a fist.

The head of the Taleban news agency, Abdul Hanan Hemat, said identity tags for Hindus would mean the police would not harass them.

The tags are not deemed necessary for Sikhs because of their distinctive turbans.

Mr Hemat denied reports that Hindus would have to fly yellow flags from their roof tops.

'Outrageous'

Tuesday's announcement of the tagging order prompted swift international condemnation.

Buddhist statues at Bamiyan, Afghanistan
The Taleban destroyed Buddhist statues in March

US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called it "the latest in a long list of outrageous oppressions" by the country's militant Muslim movement.

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raminder Singh Jassal said his government "absolutely deplored such orders which patently discriminate against minorities".

The Taleban's Minister for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, Mohammed Wali, says the movement's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, will approve the new edict soon.

Under the directive, Hindu and Sikh women will also have to veil themselves like other Afghan women.

Minorities

Afghanistan has only a tiny non-Muslim community, including several thousand Hindus and Sikhs and, it is thought, only one single Jew. Some 500 Hindus live in Kabul.

Most of the minorities left in the mid-1990s, when their property was looted by warring factions, but some returned to Afghanistan when the Taleban took power.

The Taleban's destruction of ancient Buddhist statues in March raised fears for the safety of these minorities.

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See also:

17 May 01 | South Asia
'Liberty' for Afghan women
26 Mar 01 | South Asia
Reporters see wrecked Buddhas
20 Dec 00 | South Asia
Analysis: Who are the Taleban?
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