Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 19:01:56

Strangers In Their Homeland The Plight Of The Hindu Refugees From Pakistan

Updated: August 9, 2015 10:50 am

I am a Hindu in Pakistan, but a Pakistani in Hindustan,” laments Prajapati Rawlani, a Masters graduate from Pakistan’s Sindh Agricultural University, laments. Her adds, “ my life was dark in Pakistan where I had to hide my identity as a Hindu. And now in India, my life continues to be in darkness as I have to hide that I am Pakistani.”

Prajapati’s plight embodies the adversity that is commonly experienced by thousands of Pakistani Hindus like him, who have fled perceived persecution and harassment to take refuge in Hindu-majority India, only to be rebuffed and treated with suspicion. Hindus form the single largest minority in Pakistan, accounting for 1.6 percent of its total population of about 180 million. About 95 percent of Pakistan’s Hindu population is concentrated in its southern provinces of Punjab and Sindh. The last big influx was when 479 Hindus of Sindh Province arrived in Delhi as pilgrims to the Kumbh Mela last year. Shelter has given to them by a hindu philanthrophist, Nahar Singh in Briswajan area in South Delhi. The group of 480 Hindus who migrated during the Kumbh Mela are residing in a 28-room building owned by him.

The inhuman condition of the Hindus in Pakistan attracted public attention last year when a Hindu girl Rinkle Kumari was forcibly converted to Islam and subjected to unfair treatment not only at the hands of the Islamic zealots but the Pakistani judiciary as well, leaving no scope for the justice to the grossly persecuted Hindus.

Even the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP), an independent body campaigning for human rights, says that Hindus face increasing hostility in Pakistan. There is a collective fear and collective silence. The situation is such that the Hindus live under perpetual threat. In Singh, the Hindus are largely traders, businessmen and landlords. By targeting them for ransom with death threats and abductions, forceful conversions and marriages, and rapes , the extremist Islamic elements spread fear and drive them to migrate, thus taking over their houses, lands and businesses. In the other region, Hindus are forced to work as bonded labour under the wealthy landowners. Temples and religious structures are encroached upon and destroyed. There is not dignity even in death, they are forced to bury the corpses and many regions do not allow cremation.

According to HRCP, religious intimidation against Hindus has caused both internal displacements from the Frontier Provinces and Baluchistan to the cities around Karachi and Hyderabad, and external migration which saw around the exodus of 600 to 1,000 families in 2012-2013.

A recent report by the Jinnah Institute at Islamabad highlights the complicity of the State at all in the persecution of and discrimination against minorities. The findings of this report confirm that the legislature, executive and judiciary have historically played a foundational role in creating two-tiers of Pakistani citizenship, which are defined by whether a person is a Muslim or a non-Muslim. Both democratic processes and martial rule have been used to institute discriminatory laws and practices. It is a “double jeopardy” for Pakistan’s religious minorities who face the multiple assaults of vigilante attacks, increased physical threats and social persecution from extremist groups, as well as the discriminatory legal frameworks of the state and failure of the state to punish hate crimes.

Post partition, Jinnah had once remarked on the fate of minorities: “the treatment of minorities in India (read Muslims) will act as safeguard towards the minorities in Pakistan (read Hindus).” By that logic, it seems that Pakistan has failed to protect its minorities and India has every reason to question the policy of persecution adopted by Pakistan towards the Hindus.

In recent years, the exodus of Hindus from Pakistan has reportedly accelerated and India’s border state of Rajasthan is one of their favourite destinations. There are now about 400 refugee settlements in cities like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Jaipur. The four-hour journey to India by the Thar Express train is increasingly being viewed by many Pakistani Hindus as a passport to a secure career and a better future.

According to Seemant Lok Sanghatana, a Rajasthan-based organisation fighting for the rights of Pakistani Hindu immigrants, almost 120,000 Pakistani Hindus are now known to live in India and approximately 1,000 migrate annually to Rajasthan alone in the hope of securing Indian citizenship.

What separates the Pakistani Hindus from the other refugees is that they come with valid documents and visas. After crossing over, they do not return but keep on extending their visas. Ironically, their sole identity is still their Pakistani passports. The Pakistani embassy now does not renew their visas; hence in true sense they become stateless citizens.

India is home to one of the largest refugee populations in the world. In a strange anomaly, India refuses to recognise fleeing Pakistani Hindus as “refugees”. Although India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, we offer asylum to a considerable number of refugees. India has granted asylum to nearly 200,000 refugees from different countries. This are under the auspicies of the UNDCR, however illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Tibet and Nepal will make this number mindboggling. India is a signatory to various other international humanitarian instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which set out principles of universal human rights. Despite being a non-signatory to the Refugee Convention, India has an obligation under international law to protect asylum seekers, which it has traditionally honored.

Shelter, food, schooling, healthcare and other basic amenities should be provided to all the helpless migrants. There should be no forced deportations of Hindu migrants, as they will face certain death if sent back. The long term visa applicants should be allowed to work, to educate, to open bank account, to get driving licence, to move within the country for work. No penalties or harassment should be imposed on overstaying Hindu migrants. The United Nations High Commission for Refuges should be asked to include Pakistan Religious persecuted minorities in their target beneficiaries.

The Government of India needs to take up this issue with urgency with Pakistan and other international bodies and make Pakistan accountable to international laws governing refugees persecuted by a theocratic state. Narendra Modi is being anxiously watched over the treatment of millions of non-Hindu refugees and asylum seekers who have made their homes in the country for decades. It is a tightrope walk for him, first because he is turning himself into a responsible statesman so doesn’t want to do anything extreme, second because there are forces in the Bharitiya Janata Party that will try to make him more hardline, and third because he may himself want to take hard lines but may not want to show this till later in this five-year government or till the next one. During a campaign rally in West Bengal he had said, “I want to warn from here, brothers and sisters write it down, that after May 16, we will send these Bangladeshis beyond the border with their bags and baggages.” The nations and the persecuted Hindus from across our borders wait and watch.

By Anil Dhir

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