Home is where the heart is not

PAKISTANI HINDUS CAMP IN CITY HOPING TO GET INDIAN CITIZEN

When they applied for the Indian visa, the stated purpose for their visit was pilgrimage. But even before they set foot on Indian soil, they were clear that it was going to be a one-way trip: they were never going to back to their ancestral homes in Pakistan.

About 150 such Pakistani Hindus have been camping for over a week at Bijwasan village, on Delhi's edge near the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Like similar batches before them, they see themselves as refugees – fleeing from what they call “hell on earth.”

They narrate harrowing tales of murder, rape, kidnapping for ransom and forcible conversions by religious zealots back home. The group – which has taken shelter at properties owned in the village by a Excise Department superintendent – includes a 90-year-old and newborn babies. 

“In the last stage of my life, I had to run away from that country. I wanted to spent rest of my life peacefully with my children. I am lucky that I escaped before being murdered or forcibly converted to Islam,”  says Mula Ram, 90.

He is angry. “The Pakistanis treat us like their slaves. They kidnapped me two years back and my family had to pay Rs 6 lakh as  ransom.” 

His wife Palo Devi says she had to sell all her gold and silver ornaments to save him from the  kidnappers. “I want to die peacefully. All of my wealth is gone and I don’t even care about it. I am happy that I am in India and whenever I die on this land, my last rites will be held in traditional Hindu way, ” she says.

She claims fellow Pakistanis in Sindh province – from where this batch of refugees has come – object to a cremation, and would have forced an Islamic burial.  Mula’s son-in-law Punnu Ram was also kidnapped two years back and they had to pay Rs 3 lakh as a ransom.

For Kishan Ram, 22, fleeing to India was a tough decision: he has left behind a newborn daughter. “The Pakistani authorities denied my second daughter a passport so I had to cross the border with my wife and first daughter. We have left her at her uncle’s place. Now we don’t have money to apply for her visa. We are seeking help from the Indian government.” 

Kishan's father was a farmer but he claims that his land was snatched and his family had become daily wage workers.

“We were working as labourers on the farms which once belonged to us. They don’t even pay us for our work. When we ask for our money they just give us 50 percent of it.” 

Most of them worked on banana plantations in Sindh. 

Some like 19-year-old Parvati are now looking forward to a brighter future. She staged a protest at Jantar Mantar for 25 consecutive days demanding an Indian citizenship.

“People of this country don’t care whether anyone is Hindu or Muslim, or from any other religion. Now I want to be called an Indian and not a Pakistani Hindu. What happened to us was wrong but no one is going to change it. Now we have to look forward and seek opportunities in this great and diverse country,” she says.

Parvati is a studying for a BSc degree from Indira Gandhi Open University (IGNOU). “It is hard for a Hindu girl to live in Pakistan. Kidnapping, forcible conversions and rapes are very common in Hindu villages.

One of my cousins was forcibly converted,” she says. When this reporter clicked a photograph of the alleged victim from a family album, Parvati requested it should not be published for the sake of her cousin's safety. 

Chandu Ram, a relative of Mula Ram, talks about women of his community living in fear of kidnapping. “No one comes forward to support us. Here in India, we feel like we are in some place like heaven. No one can touch us. Even a pedestrian will help us or fight for us if someone tries to kidnap our women,” he says.

The refugees say the fear of forcible conversion is leading to increasing cases of early marriages and school dropouts. “We cannot allow our daughters to study in schools. The teachers ask them to wear burqas and force them to eat beef. The only way to escapo kidnappings, rapes and forcible conversion of our daughters is early marriage,” Chandu says.

The trip to India wasn't easy.  “When we decided to leave, robbers attacked our convoy. Pakistani police demand big bribes for letting us cross the border, says Kishan Lal, a father of six who fled with his family.

Kishan claims thousands of Pakistani rupees, gold rings and other valuables were snatched from his relatives by Pakistani security men at the border.

The refugees says they can't worship in the open. 

“We worship at our homes with the doors closed. The fundamentalists can attack Hindu temples any moment. On the day of Holi, one of the Hindu temples was burnt in Sindh province,” Kishan  says.

Indian citizenship 

Since November 2011, several hunderd Pakistani Hindus have arrived in India as pilgrim-refugees, all of them applying for citizenship. But in these three years, none of them have received a confirmation letter from the Indian authorities.

“Even after repeated requests the Indian government is not ready to give us an Indian nationality. Without it, it's hard for us to search for a job or go for higher studies. For how long will we be dependent on financial help from different organisations?”  Kishan says.

The refugees say the Pakistani government is not letting their relatives cross the border. Stories about flight of Hindus to India in media has caused Pakistan international  embarrassment, and authorities are now preventing their ‘escape’, they say.

“The Pakistani police which never heard a single complaint of our community are now stopping our family members from crossing the border. However, the situation remains the same in Hindu colonies,” says 17-year-old Mohan Das. 

“In many cases, they are refusing to make photo identity cards of people from our community, to prevent them from getting passports and visas made for pilgrimage to India.”

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