Tortured in Pakistan, Hindu migrants want to stay in India

He came to Jodhpur with his family of five over six months ago when, he says, things started to worsen. "I do not want to go back....being a Hindu, there are so many problems for you in Pakistan," Ram Lala told reporters, adding that only one member of his family, his brother, now lives in Pakistan.

"In Pakistan we, being Hindus, are not allowed to eat in a restaurant or a dhaba and if allowed by chance, we are served food in different utensils which we have to clean ourselves after eating," said Ram Lal, whose name was changed on request, as he feared for the safety of his brother.

Ram Lal, who used to work in a farm in Dilshakh near Hyderabad in Sindh province, said: "Hindus were given a paltry remuneration in comparison to Muslims and we had no one to complain to".

Imran Kumar, another Hindu refugee, adopted a Muslim name saying this was the best way to live peacefully in Pakistan. His father's name is Nemi Kumar. "I come from a Hindu family. I did not change my religion, I only changed my name and it helped me to get admission in school easily," said Imran, a man in his early 30s, adding that if you are a Hindu in Pakistan it is most likely that you will not get admission in educational institutions.

Lal and Kumar are not the only Pakistani refugees in Jodhpur. According to rough estimates by Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), a group working for refugees in Rajasthan, over 10,000 Hindu migrants from Pakistan are living in this city.

Over 5,300 of them were granted citizenship till 2005 and SLS says more than 5,000 others have now already applied for long term visa (LTV).

SLS president Hindu Singh Sodha said: "The LTV number keeps on changing because whoever stays here for six months can apply for it to the union home ministry and according to our information, the displaced who have applied for LTV till date are around 5,000."

"Religious persecution, discrimination and harassment of the Hindu minority are the main reasons behind people wanting to come to India. While the Pakistani government has discriminatory policies for the minority community members, they are also victims of rising fundamentalism in Pakistan," Ranaram told reporters.

Ranaram, a farm labourer, who used to live in a village in the Pakistani part of Punjab, said he was held hostage by fundamentalists, was tortured and was forced to convert to Islam.

"Me and my family were tortured by a fundamentalist group which forced us to convert to Islam. My wife and children were kidnapped when I complained about it. I was told that I would only get back my son and daughter and I should forget about my wife as she is a Muslim now. That day, I decided to come to India and now I am here," Ranaram said. He came here over eight months ago.

"I am not alone. There are thousands of others who are facing this torture and harassment. But they have nowhere to go. We had no option but to come here," Ranaram said.

With tears in his eyes, another farmer said: "Our children are forced to perform Namaz and they call us Kafirs. The life for Hindus is very difficult there." He was too scared to reveal his identity.

According to him, such incidents have increased after the ouster of Gen.Pervez Musharraf from the post of Pakistan's president in 2008. Sodha criticised New Delhi for rarely taking up the issue with Islamabad. "At the same time, it is getting more difficult for these people to get Indian citizenship," he held. "The minimum period of stay in India to apply for citizenship has been increased from five years to seven years and the fees have been hiked steeply."

"Most of these people are agricultural labourers and from 2005 onwards the government has raised the prescribed citizenship fee structure from Rs.100-500 to Rs.3,000-20,000. It has just become impossible for this deprived group," Sodha said, adding that the process of acquiring Indian citizenship is also very complicated.

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