Pakistani Hindus in India unwilling to return
Plight of Pakistani Hindus staying in Punjab
Many Hindu families which migrated from India are facing a piquant situation as the government has stopped extending their visas
Eighteen years after the Babri Masjid demolition at Ayodhya triggered migration of Pakistan-based Hindus to India, over 1000 families of Hindus settled in Punjab continue to live illegally, banking on Indian benevolence for guests. They do not want to go back and are now demanding either citizenship or visa extension. Settled in various parts of
Punjab, including Amritsar, Jalandhar and Rajpura, their stay in India is illegal since 2004 when the government stopped granting visa extension to these migrant families.
“We know that our stay is illegal, but we do not want to go back to Pakistan” says 70-year old Mulakh Raj. He has been living in Jalandhar with his wife and eight children since 1997 after migrating from Sialkot in Pakistan.
“There is nothing left for us in Pakistan. We feel safe and have a more dignified life in India,” he says.
Most of the families say they had decided to settle down in India as they felt insecure in Pakistan. “Hindus in Pakistan particularly felt vulnerable after the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992. We felt very insecure as there was a spate of attacks on our religious places,” says Sardari Lal.
Buaditta Mal, who has come from Sialkot, says, “People at our native place make fun of us and interfere in our religious congregations. They even throw away idols of gods and goddesses. If we protest, they beat us up.”
Pakistani Hindus have often complained of destruction of their religious places, forced conversions and abduction of girls for forced betrothal to Muslim men. There are an estimated 25 lakh Hindus living in Pakistan according to the 1998 census which is about 2.5 per cent of that country's total population. Life is not easy for these migrants in India, though. The families face difficulties in procuring driving licence or opening bank accounts for lack of any identity.
“We are in no man’s land. We have Pakistani passports but we prefer to live in
India. But despite several appeals to the Union government, India has not granted us citizenship,” says Sardari Lal.
Sammakh Ram came from Peshawar in 1998 and settled at Jalandhar along with his family members. “You cannot imagine the plight of minorities in Pakistan. They have no rights. We will never return,” he says emphatically. Many of the migrants
allege that they are asked by the Pakistani authorities to spy for them against India.
The Punjab unit of the BJP has now taken cudgels to fight for granting citizenship status to these migrants. The party has constituted a three-member committee to take up the plight of these families with the Central government.
BJP MP Avinash Rai Khanna says the committee would prepare lists of all such Hindu migrant families living in Punjab with the help of legislators from respective areas. He says several Hindu families had been forced to convert in Pakistan.
A senior BJP minister in the Akali-BJP government, Laxmikanta Chawla has written to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh urging the Centre government to provide full protection and citizenship to Hindu and Sikh migrants from Pakistan. “Since the Pakistan government has failed to protect the minorities from frequent atrocities, the Indian government needs to look after them,” she said in the letter.