The nowhere people: Hindu families escaped from Pakistan, stranded in Delhi

New Delhi: ‘People without a post office’ is how celebrated Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali identified himself and his fellow Kashmiris amidst the political turmoil in the Valley at the peak of militancy in the state. The Hindus from Pakistan living at Majnu-ka-Tilla in north-east Delhi could be described in a similar fashion: people without a country.

As many as 101 Hindu families — 504 persons in all — from Pakistan had landed in India on pilgrimage visa during Maha Kumbh last year. They had no intention to return to a land where they faced atrocities on a routine basis. They wanted a better life in India, but without citizenship, income and facilities for education of their children, it’s proving to be a long wait. Living on a patch of barren land across Yamuna, they are exposed to the worst nature can offer in Delhi.

Hindu refugees from Pakistan protest in New Delhi. AFP

Hindu refugees from Pakistan protest in New Delhi. AFP

Sukhnandan, a resident of Hyderabad in Sindh (Pakistan), told Firstpost, "We want the Indian government to either recognise us as the citizens of this country or grant the status of permanent refugees that could enable us to get some work. We also want our living conditions to improve, a roof over our heads." They have been given a verbal extension of five years although no official documents support this assurance by the government.

Being a Pakistani has become a curse for them because as they are finding it difficult to get a job here because of their nationality. "If we were discriminated against for religion in Pakistan, here we are discriminated against for being Pakistani. At least let us the privilege to work here," he said.

Some of the children who were born in India have no access to schools as they have no proof of permanent citizenship. In dearth of work and the flow of money, managing basic necessities like even food are a problem for them. The only food item available to them is those donated to them by civil society organisations and individuals who sympathise with them.

"It is the people of Hindu Mahasabha, Shri Ram Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad who are consistently helping us with our daily needs. They are the ones who are arranging articles of daily needs for us," he added.

Recounting the horror being faced by them back in their own homeland, Rukmani (23), who is also from Sindh, says sexual harassment and oppression of other kind against religious minorities is common across the border. "It is extremely difficult to live in Pakistan as a Hindu woman. We had to face eve teasing and sexual harassment. We did not want to leave our country but it was impossible for us to stay there anymore amidst all these excesses," she says.

Prem Das, 75, migrated to India almost a decade ago when things in Pakistan were not as difficult as it is today. He says that the government of Pakistan did not create much problems for them even in troubled times. But it was people from extremist organisations that troubled them the most.

Drawing connection between incidents against minorities in Pakistan and those in other countries of the South Asian region, he says, "Whenever there were incidents against Muslim minorities in India, we felt the heat in Pakistan." Recalling incidents after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in India in 1992, he says, "Hundreds of temples were razed to the ground in Pakistan in reaction."

Interestingly, despite being a victim of forced conversion, Das and many other like-minded refugees refused to support ‘Ghar Wapsi’ or forced conversion.

"How can we support such campaigns here as we ourselves fled our country on account of being victimised for the same? No one should be forced to embrace any faith against his or her will," he added.

Kanwar Singh, who has been living in India ever since the decades of seventies, questioned the intention of incumbent government’s position on the Hindu refugees from Pakistan.

"When we came to India, the Congress government led by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi supported us and we were recognised as Indian citizens. We were even given a place to live in Faridabad. But the present government of this country has only been talking about Hindu refugees, but nothing substantial has been done for us on the ground," he complained.

Notably, India has been declared as ‘a natural home for persecuted Hindus’ in the 2014 election manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) while the party's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, has reiterated support for Hindu refugees in his speeches.

Ganga Kaur, who came to India 20 years ago, is uncertain about her future. She still does not possess an Indian citizenship and in no case is willing to go back to Pakistan. Her fate keeps her stuck in an imaginative country of her own, where she thought she could live happily. "My own country is not ready to accept us and the country which we thought will give us shelter does not bother to look up on to us," she says in distress.

Amidst all this fiasco, children who left their studies to come to India remain uncertain about their future here. Lakshmi Singh, who is a student of sixth class in a private school, aims to become a doctor but his dream hang in a balance due to the lofty uncertainties of diplomatic logjams. Interestingly, all the kids who responded to the question on their education in Pakistan, unanimously replied, we did not go to schools because we were made to recite the kalma.

Authorities in the Ministry of Home Affairs told Firstpost they will ensure the refugees receive visa extensions — but cannot hold out the hope of documents guaranteeing them long term stay. "There are thousands of cases like these," said a senior official adding that "frankly, we know they will buy identity documents and begin a life as Indians. But the law is the law and it is for politicians to change, not us".

The special branch of Delhi Police is learnt to have surveyed the area to establish the exact number of refugees. The district administration had sent a team. However, relief from the nodal agencies of the government is yet to reach the people in need out here in the camps.

Updated Date: Dec 30, 2014 19:14 PM

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