As fundamentalism spreads in Pakistan and minorities come under frequent attacks and face discrimination, thousands of Hindus have arrived in India to live under security and peace. But for the Indian government, they remain unwanted guests from an enemy country.
Jeevo’s husband and son were arrested and sent to jail after landing in India
"My husband and son left Pakistan to save themselves from frequent attacks on Hindus and with a hope to live a peaceful life in India. I followed them after getting visa but soon they were arrested and put in jail by Indian authorities, mistaking them to be infiltrators. It was two years ago, when I last saw them. Please do something for us”, pleads Jeevo who came from Pakistan seeking shelter in India.
She is not alone. Thousands of Hindus, scared for their lives after being subjected to frequent torture, kidnappings and violent attacks in Pakistan, have arrived in India in the last few decades and many more are waiting for their chance to get into India. But after reaching India, they find a different kind of problem facing them. For the authorities here, they are unwanted guests from an enemy country.
Division of India changed the fate of millions of families caught on the wrong side of newly formed border. As millions of Muslims decided against moving to Pakistan from their birthplaces, few lakh Hindus too opted to stay put in Pakistan. Unfortunately for them, the conditions in Pakistan continued to deteriorate and all their hopes of a peaceful life there were soon belied. The increased suspicion and hostility between the two South-Asian neighbours only added to their woes. Unlike a secular India, Pakistan became an Islamic nation and fundamentalists hold sway over its society. The resultant experience of minorities in Pakistan is horrifying and having lost all hopes of return of normalcy, the number of Hindu families migrating to India has been on the rise.
Recently media reported that over 100 Hindu families from different parts of Balochistan in Pakistan are making efforts to migrate to India, as the authorities do not take action against the locals criminals who frequently attack, abduct and torment members of minority communities at the behest of fundamentalists. They also complain that law and administration is deteriorating in Pakistan and no one comes to their rescue when their families encounter loot, burglary and abduction. If someone dares to resist, he gets killed.
The experience of minorities in Pakistan is horrifying and having lost all hopes of return of normalcy, the number of Hindu families migrating to India has been on the rise.
Unfortunately for these asylum seekers their plight does not end even after they safely reach India mostly by Thar Express, a weekly train that runs between border points of India and Pakistan in Thar desert.
Uttam Puri, who came five years back from Amarkot in Sindh, Pakistan, still has no place to stay in India and takes shelter in a temple. With tears in his eyes he says that he was subjected to barbaric atrocities by the local fundamentalists in Pakistan. From looting, beatings to having forced to eat beef, Uttam Puri faced it all. He hoped India, the land of his forefathers, would help him settle down and live peacefully. But he was soon disappointed. “I feel disgusted when we are termed as intruders in the country of our origin and are put behind bars,” he says with pain.
After having tired of begging Indian government for citizenship for years, now these migrants fear they are neither here nor there. They can’t go back to Pakistan as their tormentors would be more hostile than ever before and the Pakistan government would also view them with suspicion. Here in India, they are denied citizenship and are regularly harassed by authorities for having reached India on Pakistani passports and extending their stay.
Seemant Lok Sangathan, the only organisation working for these migrants from Pakistan, has often took their cause to the Indian government but the authorities remain indifferent to their pleas for permanent shelter in India. Most of these refugees seeking Indian citizenship are temporarily based in western Rajasthan, with few hundred families settled in Haryana and Punjab as well.
Hindu Singh Sodha, the founder president of Seemant Lok Sangathan, and himself an immigrant from Pakistan, says, “Indian government considers these migrants as Pakistani nationals. The officials hardly bother about the problems these refugees face on daily basis. Absence of concrete policy and laws worsen the situation.”
Hindu migrants from Pakistan do not want to go back and request
“We may be made to feel unwanted here by the government but the local people have accepted us. There is no resistance because culturally we are very close. We might remain poor but at least we can live here with izzat (self respect)”
He informs that during 1971 war thousands of Hindus families in Pakistan were repeatedly attacked and forced to migrate to India. Families split and people wandered homeless in India. Yet, the Indian government remained unconcerned. Around one lakh people migrated and all were stranded in India. But no organisation came forward to help them.
Hindu Singh Sodha painfully recalls his journey from Pakistan and the subsequent struggle in India. He says he had to overcome many obstacles, but he continues to fight for the welfare of the people who migrated from Pakistan since 1971 and still come to India in the hope of living a life without facing violence and torture.
Recalling an incident to substantiate his charge of Indian authorities’ apathy, Mr Sodha says, “Government of Rajasthan constituted a committee in 2001 to look into the problems of the Hindu refugees from Pakistan. I was the only non government member to represent the migrants. But whenever the topic of their problems was brought in, a senior police official present in the committee would comment that these migrants had links with the ISI and they were anti-social elements. I had to ask him to either name a single migrant who was involved in any anti-national activity or stop levelling false charges. It took a lot of efforts to convince the committee to forward our pleas to the union government.”
“Though these refugees are allowed to stay in India for some duration but they are denied a permanent settlement. They come to India on verified documents. But they only get a tourist visa and their request for a permanent settlement visa is denied by the authorities in Islamabad,” informs Neelu Shekhawat, a volunteer with Seemant Lok Sangathan.
Mr Sodha says that citizenship is one major issue but there are millions of small problems to face till one gets citizenship. Movement at times becomes difficult for these refugees. “After our persistent demands, Rajasthan government has formed a permanent cell and a state level committee headed by additional chief secretary. Now Jodhpur and Bikaner divisions, where most of refugees live, have district level committees and issues are somewhat looked after,” he says.
But for these asylum seekers, getting their documents verified regularly from police and extending their stay in India is not a solution to their problems. They demand permanent citizenship of India but for some or other reason the successive governments at the centre have ignored it. For the officials, issue of permanent settlement is grave and can not be taken in haste. But the wait has become unbearable for many.
“Migrants are constantly approaching us. They are helpless. No concrete policy has been made for them. Indian Government can and should take a stand now. If the issue is raised with seriousness at diplomatic levels, government of Pakistan will have to behave in a responsible manner. But, neither Pakistan is acting responsibly nor India is taking it seriously, says Ms Shekhawat.
Yet, the sense of security and freedom to live according to their traditions are reasons enough for these Hindu migrants to settle here in India. When asked if situation improves would they like to go back to Pakistan, most refugees expressed their unwillingness. “We may be made to feel unwanted here by the government but the local people have accepted us. There is no resistance because culturally we are very close. We might remain poor but at least we can live here with izzat (self respect),” concludes Uttam Puri.
Ragini Shankar Sinha
Ragini Shankar Sinha is a reporter with d-sector.org.
Sustained pollution of major rivers; continuous decline in groundwater reserves; priority allocation to non-consumptive sectors; and, growing disparity in water distribution only indicates that the worst is still to come!..