Hindus from Pak live in hope

They are denied facilities in Pakistan and treated as second class citizens

Hindus from Pak live in hope

For 65-year-old Moti Bheel (name changed), meeting his family members in Pakistan will be a dream. A resident of Sindh in Pakistan, Moti came to India two years ago with eight members of his family, including his wife, son and grandchildren.

Carrying tales of deprivation and oppression, the family  never wanted to return and applied for extension of visa with the Indian embassy. Moti, his wife and two grand children, were given permission to stay back. Rest had to return. Since then, Moti and his grandchildren want to meet the other family members.

In another case, a 35-year-old woman from Paki­stan had come to India to meet her ailing father. She gave birth to a son who was held back at Munabao Railway Station in the Barmer district of Rajasthan by immigration officers as the child didn’t have a passport or visa. Both India and Pakistan were initially ready to issue documents to the child.

The case of 38-year-old, Payal Solanki, a resident of Road Samro in Pakistan, is different. He was refu­sed sonography test at a Jodhpur hospital as she had no ID proof. She was pregnant and the doctor had advised her the test. Payal was a part of around 600 Hindu migrants from Pakistan who came six months ago and do not wish to return.

The plight of Hindu migrants from Pakistan is sometimes poignant. Oppressed by religious fundamentalism and social atrocities, the migration to the western part of Rajasthan has seen a steady rise. None of the families wants to go back, despite suff­ering hardships while living in refugee camps in border districts of Rajasthan. Despite basic facilities missing in camps, they prefer to stay back than face social, moral and religious humiliation in Pakistan.

“In the last few years more than 20,000 Pak Hindus have come to Rajasthan, who are neither citizens of India nor have refugee status. No one wants to go back as Hindus are in a minority in Pakistan and exposed to all kinds of atrocities and humiliation,” said Hindu Singh Sodha of Seemant Lok Sangathan, an organisation working for rehabilitation of migrant Hindus.

The migrants mainly comprise scheduled castes and tribes and have settled down in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Barmer and Sriganganagar districts in Rajasthan. The migration has reportedly increased manifold after the start of The Thar Expr­ess, that provides them direct access to India.

According to social activists, Hindus in Pakistan are subjected to myriad atrocities and coerced to convert to Islam. After the 1965 war and demolition of the Babri Masjid, there has been a mass exodus of Hindus from Pakistan. Since then they have been coming in small groups regularly to India.

The Hindu migrants are considered as Pakistan citizens living in India. Pakistan imposes a lot of limitations and has deprived them of basic facilities. “Like any other foreigner, they are not allowed to open bank account, set up their business, work on their own names, purchase a house, get water, electricity or gas connection. They cannot get driving licence or a mobile phone connection. Many families, despite living here for a couple of years, are in dire straits,” said Sodha. Hindu migrants are unable to provide education to their children.

“It’s a double whammy for them. In Pakistan, they are subjected to atrocities and in India they are legally not entitled to get basic facility to live their life. They are being exploited in both the countries but in different manner. None in the governments in the past has ever announced any facilities or schemes for them,” said Sodha. In such a situation, they either live in refugee camps run by social organisations or with their relatives in Rajasthan. In a way they are forced to suffer.

Adding to their plight is the rigid immigration laws at Munabao railway station in Barmer. Hindu migrants generally carry all their belongings, including gold ornaments and currency notes. Unaware of legal restriction, they are caught by officials and heavily penalised. “Their life is a big mess, be it in India or Pakistan. When Hindu migrants enter India with gold ornaments and other belongings they are not only fined by Indian officials but also have to undergo harassment in the name of investigation,” said Sodha.

A large number cross border movement of the people is attributed to strong social ties. “You cannot stop the people from meeting their relatives. You have several examples where a woman is living in India and her son in Pakistan. In a recent incident, a woman served in the Rajasthan government for many years and after retirement she went to Pakistan to stay with her relatives and became a citizen of that country. Now, you have a Pakistan national drawing her pension from the Rajasthan government,” said Maan Singh Hada of Jaisalmer.

According to information revealed by the Indian Government, till December 2013, nearly 15,000 Pakistani nationals extended their stay in India after expiry of visa. Of them, a maximum of 8,000 are in Rajasthan, followed by 2,000 in Maharashtra, 1,700 in Madhya Pradesh and 1,600 in Gujarat. Only two Pak nationals were found to be overstaying in Jammu and Kashmir in 2013. Activists claimed that most of them are Hindu migrants and have all documents required to live legally in India.
Several memoranda have been submitted to state and union governments seeking a flexible rehabilitation policy for Pak Hindu migrants. They want among other things friendly visa policy for migrant Hindus, reducing the minimum required stay of
seven years in India to get the citizenship and permission to earn livelihood and open bank accounts.

A group of migrants, led by Sodha, recently met Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh at Jodhpur airport. Singh promised that the BJP government is in the process of taking important decisions to help the migrants Hindus.

Several social activists like Hindu Singh Sodha  have been fighting for a decade, demanding a rehabilitation policy for the Hindu migrants and ensuring basic facilities for them to live a peaceful life.

A high-level meeting is scheduled for next week in New Delhi to discuss the issue. The government may announce a rehabilitation policy or take new initiatives for the Hindu migrants living in different parts of the country. 

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