Hindus to Be Required to Wear Label

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Hindus will be required to wear an identity label on their clothing in Islamic Afghanistan to distinguish them from Muslims, a Taliban minister said Tuesday.

The hardline Taliban regime that controls 95 percent of this poor Central Asian state plans to enforce the edict soon, Mohammed Wali, religious police minister, told The Associated Press. An exact date was not set, he said.

The law will also make it mandatory for Hindu women to veil themselves - just like Muslim women of Afghanistan, Wali said.

The edict prompted an angry statement from Hindu-dominated India.

``We absolutely deplore such orders which patently discriminate against minorities,'' Press Trust of India quoted an unnamed Indian foreign ministry official as saying. ``It is further evidence of the backward and unacceptable ideological underpinning of the Taliban.''

The decision could further isolate the orthodox Islamic militia, already under fire from the West for alleged discriminatory policies toward ethnic and religious minorities, human rights abuses and poor treatment of women.

But Wali said the decision is in line with Islam. ``Religious minorities living in an Islamic state must be identified,'' he said.

The Taliban have not yet decided what sort of an identity label Hindus will have to wear.

There are at least 5,000 Hindus living in Kabul. Thousands of other Hindus live in other Afghan cities, but there are no reliable figures on exactly how many.

The new law will be meant for only Hindus because there are no Christians or Jews in Afghanistan and Sikhs can be easily recognized by their turbans, Wali said. However, at least one Jew is known to live in the Afghan capital of Kabul and there may also be some Christians.

It was unclear whether foreigners living in Afghanistan would be required to wear the identity label.

Anar, an Afghan Hindu in Kabul who uses just one name, said he does not want to wear a label identifying him as Hindu.

``It will make us vulnerable and degrade our position in the society,'' he said.

But Munawaar Hasan, general secretary of a major Islamic political party in neighboring Pakistan called Jamaat-e-Islami, or Islamic Party, said the move seems aimed to give protection to Hindus.

``The Taliban should win praise for this step,'' he said. ``Providing protection to religious minorities is a must in any Islamic country and this step seems in line with this concept.''

The Taliban follow a harsh version of Islam that bars women from most jobs and education, and makes it mandatory for men to wear beards and pray five times a day. All forms of light entertainment, including television and music, are outlawed.

The Taliban drew worldwide criticism when in March they destroyed two ancient statues of Buddha in central Bamiyan, calling it their religious duty.

Most of the Islamic world, including pro-Taliban Pakistan, differ with the Taliban regime's narrow interpretation of Islam and say that it is tarnishing Islam's image.

The Taliban face U.N. sanctions for giving protection to Saudi billionaire Osama bin Laden, wanted by Washington for allegedly running a global terrorist network. The Taliban deny the charge and say the United States has no evidence against him for terrorism.

AP-NY-05-22-01 0452EDT

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.