India may extend visas of Pak Hindu pilgrims

Delhi appeals to Islamabad to protect minorities

India may extend visas  of Pak Hindu pilgrims

The Union government on Thursday indicated that it may extend the visas granted to Pakistani Hindu pilgrims currently in India. It recently served a demarche to Islamabad, conveying its concern over the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan.

“Recently, India’s serious concerns on the matter of abduction, forced conversion and marriage of Hindu girls against their will to Muslim men in Pakistan have been conveyed to Pakistan. A demarche was made with Pakistan on May 8, 2012, in this regard,” E Ahmed, Minister of State for External Affairs, informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.
Sources indicated that New Delhi may also extend validity of visas of the Pakistani Hindus.

In a written reply to a question from BJP MP Tarun Vijay, Ahmed informed the Rajya Sabha that New Delhi conveyed to Islamabad that it expected the Government of Pakistan “to look after the well being of its minority communities and discharge its responsibility in this regard.”

In response to the demarche in May, Islamabad told New Delhi that the Pakistani government was “seized of the matter and the Supreme Court of Pakistan had taken up the issue.” Pakistani officials claimed that the government provided “full protection to all minorities”.

Sources told Deccan Herald that New Delhi will decide on extending validity of visas of the Hindus coming from Pakistan by a few months “on case-to-case basis,” if they apply for an extension through the Foreigner Regional Registration Offices concerned.

Media and human rights organisations have since long been reporting on the plight of religious minorities in Pakistan. The issue, however, hogged limelight once again on August 10, when Pakistani immigration authorities stopped 242 Hindus from crossing over to India, although they had valid visas. They were questioned by immigration officials and the Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan for several hours before being allowed to enter India.

Islamabad’s move was apparently a reaction to reports in the Pakistani media about Hindus from the country’s Sindh and Balochistan provinces leaving en masse for India. The Pakistani media linked the exodus with the recent kidnapping of a young Hindu woman from Jacobabad in Sindh.

Sources, however, ruled out granting asylum to the Hindus fleeing Pakistan.

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