A Long Wait

Over 10,000 displaced Hindus from Pakistan who came to Rajasthan as refugees or oustees after the two wars between India and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 are yet to receive Indian citizenship. These Hindu migrants left behind their land and properties in the Sindh province of Pakistan after the two wars to settle down in India fearing persecution. The refugees and oustees settled down in various parts of western Rajasthan becoming a part of the mainstream, but without any nationality.

                Large number of such refugees and oustees who came with their family died in the past 45 years but their offspring’s are yet to get the Indian nationality. “In the year 2005 about 11,000 such refugees were granted Indian nationality through a notification of the Indian government in which the district magistrates were allowed to issue citizenship certificates after receiving the applications and affidavits proving the applicants bonafides. But a fee ranging between Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 were charged for entertaining such applications which the poor migrants, a large number of them being very poor and backward and wage earners could ill afford it. These were refugees who were living in India for the past 40 years and were doing odd jobs as labourers to earn their livelihood. During this period applications for granting nationality was authorised by the district magistrate. But this process was later withdrawn and it was given to a committee that would decided on the nationality. This committee has not met since 2006 and the matter relating to grant of nationality to those who have been staying in India for over five years has not been settled” said Hindu Singh Sodha, chief of the Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), the body fighting for the cause of the migrants Hindus.

                “We have been raising our demands since 1998 and at the initiative of the late Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, who was the chief minister the former Home minister LK Advani held a special camp at Jaisalmer to hear our problems. After that when the Congress government came in power the chief minister Ashok Gehlot constituted a review committee especially for these oustees in 2001. The committee had sent recommendations to the centre, that the Union I government should accept applications of citizenship from Pakistani nationals against a simple affidavit. The committee also suggested to authorise the District Magistrates to grant nationality.” said Sodha. The BJP government under Vasundhara Raje also endorsed its support for the cause and reiterated the recommendations, adding that the minors of the oustees should be granted nationality against a simple application by their parents. The Home Department of Rajasthan had also repeatedly and consistently appealed to the centre.

                In 2004, the Rajasthan government set up a cell for the oustees to look into their problems and recommend suitable solutions. In response to the consistent efforts of the Rajastrhan government the Union government decided to grant the power to the District Magistrates through a notification in 2004.

                But the Union government under the 1955 Citizenship Act, imposed heavy fees for the applicant of citizenship. However, strong representations by the Pakistani Visthapit Sangh the heavy fees were withdrawn. When this relief was granted 10,000 oustees were provided with citizenship and they now live in India with dignity and rights.

                But the fee structure waiver was for a small period and it has been imposed once again and the poor oustees who can ill afford the fees are unable to get the citizenship. Sodha said slow disposal process, red tapism and high fees have deprived over 10,000 migrants of getting the nationality. Such people are unable to educate their children properly for want of nationality certificates and unable to get government jobs.

                Sodha demanded that the earlier relaxed rules of authorising the district magistrates to issue nationality certificates should be reintroduced. Sodha said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) through a recent order has asked the various state governments to give extension of Long Term Visas (LTV) of certain categories of Pakistani nationals without insisting of validity of passports as per its recent decision. Under this relaxation such Pakistani nationals who have come to India permanently with the intention to attain Indian citizenship would be granted extension of visa and eventually granted citizenship. But those who have been demanding citizenship and have become a part of the Indian mainstream for the past 40 years have not been given justice.

By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur

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