Per­se­cuted at home, Pak­istani Hindu refugees dis­cover they are be­ing be­trayed by In­dia

India Today - - COVER STORY - By Bhavna Vij-aurora

On March 26, 19-yearold Rin­kle Ku­mari, from a vil­lage in Sindh, told Chief Jus­tice of Pak­istan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry that she had been ab­ducted by a man called Naveed Shah, and pleaded with the high­est court to let her re­turn to her mother. It was a brave plea. Hindu women in Pak­istan are rou­tinely kid­napped and then forced to con­vert if they want the re­spectabil­ity of mar­riage. They are help­less, as they have nei­ther the num­bers nor the po­lit­i­cal clout to pro­tect them­selves. As Rin­kle left the court, she screamed be­fore jour­nal­ists, ac­cus­ing her cap­tors of forcible con­ver­sion, be­fore she was hus­tled away by the po­lice.

The case grabbed head­lines, gen­er­ated im­pas­sioned ed­i­to­ri­als, and high­lighted the cause of a per­se­cuted com­mu­nity, the 3.5 mil­lion Hin­dus in Pak­istan. It an­gered lib­er­als in Pak­istan and caused the Dawn news­pa­per to take a strong po­si­tion on per­se­cu­tion of mi­nori­ties.

But Rin­kle had dared to raise her

voice, and there would be a price to pay. Her par­ents in Ghotki vil­lage were threat­ened, her 70-year-old grand­fa­ther was shot at, gun-tot­ing goons roamed out­side her house. When she re­turned to the Pak­istan Supreme Court on April 18, she meekly said she had con­verted to Is­lam. At a packed me­dia brief­ing in Islamabad’s Press Club, with Shah by her side, the spunk in her snuffed out, she would only say she wants to be­come an “obe­di­ent” wife.

Ac­cord­ing to po­lice records, each month, an av­er­age of 25 girls meet Rin­kle’s fate in Sindh alone, home to 90 per cent of the Hin­dus liv­ing in Pak­istan. Young Hindu girls are ‘marked’, ab­ducted, raped, and forcibly con­verted. Dis­crim­i­na­tion, ex­tor­tion threats, killings and re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion are driv­ing the re­main­ing Hin­dus out of Pak­istan. They had cho­sen to stay back af­ter Par­ti­tion; six decades later, they are no longer wel­come.

In In­dia, they are fac­ing a shock worse than catas­tro­phe—be­trayal. The Gov­ern­ment of In­dia re­fuses to recog­nise them as refugees and is un­moved by their plight. In its re­ply to ac­tivist S.C. Agrawal’s RTI query on Novem­ber 1, 2011, on the sta­tus of Pak­istani Hindu refugees, the Min­istry of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs ( MEA) claimed it was an “in­ter­nal mat­ter’’ of Pak­istan. In the same re­ply, the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs ( MHA) ad­mit­ted that it could not say how many Pak­istani Hin­dus had em­i­grated.

Ac­cord­ing to Delhi’s For­eign­ers Re­gional Reg­is­tra­tion Of­fice ( FRRO), there has been a rapid in­crease in the num­ber of Hin­dus com­ing from Pak­istan. Till mid-2011, it used to be around eight-ten fam­i­lies a month. But in the past 10 months, an es­ti­mated 400 fam­i­lies have come. They are set­tling down all over In­dia, in Ra­jasthan, Pun­jab and Gu­jarat. A trickle has be­come a stream. Hin­dus, who ac­counted for 15 per cent of Pak­istan’s pop­u­la­tion in 1947, now con­sti­tute a mere 2 per cent of its 170 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion. Many have mi­grated, oth­ers have been killed, and yet oth­ers forced to con­vert to sur­vive. In some cases, the dead have even been de­nied a proper cre­ma­tion.

Ask Me­her Chand, 55. He ar­rived in Delhi on Jan­uary 21, 2011, with a del­e­ga­tion of Pak­istani Hin­dus, car­ry­ing 135 plas­tic jars, aboard the Samjhauta Ex­press. The jars con­tained the ashes of Hin­dus who had died in Pak­istan, some of them way back in the 1950s, and stored in Karachi’s Hindu Cre­ma­tion Ground. The re­mains were fi­nally al­lowed their final jour­ney, to be scat­tered in the Ganga.

Chand did not re­turn to Pak­istan. He joined a group of 200-odd Pak­istani Hin­dus set­tled in Ja­hangir­puri in Delhi. His voice chokes as he talks about what he faced in Karachi. “My wife died of can­cer in 2009, leav­ing two daugh­ters be­hind. One morn­ing, soon af­ter my wife’s death, I found my younger daugh­ter, 16 at that time, miss­ing. When I made in­quiries, I was told that she had eloped with a much older man, known to be a goon. She had con­verted to Is­lam overnight. I was al­lowed to meet her af­ter in­ter­ven­tion by some el­ders. She cried and hugged me with­out say­ing a word. I never be­lieved she eloped. The man had been eye­ing my daugh­ters. I man­aged to marry the older one in time. This one was just a child,” he trails off. “I wish I had the courage to fight for my daugh­ter. The kid­nap­pers had pri­vate armies and threat­ened me. Even the lo­cal po­lice did not pay heed. They mocked me on the streets,” says Chand.

The Ja­hangir­puri camp mostly has peo­ple who have come from Sindh, Karachi and Hy­der­abad. Most of the other refugees from the re­gion are con­cen­trated in Ra­jasthan and Gu­jarat. Some have been here since the 1990s and have still not got cit­i­zen­ship and ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­ve­niences like a ra­tion card, driv­ing li­cence, gas con­nec­tion, right to buy prop­erty and even trav­el­ling to an­other part of the coun­try, other than the one place their visa per­mits.

“There are thou­sands like me who want to come and set­tle in In­dia but are con­strained by the bor­der,’’ says Chand, sit­ting in a one-room ten­e­ment he shares with three other refugees. Chand was a hakim (med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner) in Karachi. Even though he has ac­quired a small clien­tele within the camp and nearby, his in­come is not even one- fourth of what it used to be.

Oth­ers in his camp feel Chand has spo­ken more than he ought to. They chide him, say­ing he will face prob­lems with the Pak­istan High Com­mis­sion. “Till we get cit­i­zen­ship of In­dia, we re­main Pak­ista­nis, and have to go to the high com­mis­sion again and again. Ear­lier, they used to re­new our pass­port for five years, now they are do­ing it on an an­nual ba­sis. They ask us un­com­fort­able ques­tions,’’ says a camp res­i­dent.

There are many more like Chand, wait­ing to flee Pak­istan for the safety of their daugh­ters. Sit­ting in a well-fur­nished draw­ing room of his house in Ghotki, Sindh, 52-year-old Kishore Kumar is a wor­ried man. Wealth has not pro­vided him any se­cu­rity. Owner of three tex­tile-gin­ning fac­to­ries, and fa­ther of two daugh­ters and a son, he is pre­par­ing to leave Pak­istan. “It is hard to leave your place of birth, the place where four gen­er­a­tions have been born. But we have to move now as things have be­come crit­i­cal. I love my moth­er­land but I am shift­ing to In­dia for the fu­ture of my chil­dren,’’ he tells IN­DIA TO­DAY.

Kumar ex­presses con­cern about his two col­lege-go­ing daugh­ters. “You can’t imag­ine what it means to be the fa­ther of two young girls in a land where mi­nori­ties are treated like third-class cit­i­zens. I re­ceive ex­tor­tion calls from peo­ple for hefty sums to en­sure my fam­ily is not touched, es­pe­cially my daugh­ters,” he says.

He is wait­ing for his visa, which has in­creas­ingly be­come dif­fi­cult to get. It took 38-year-old Dr Ashok Kumar Kar­mani three years to get a visa for him­self and his fam­ily, en­abling pas­sage from Mir Khas in Sindh to Ahmed­abad in Fe­bru­ary 2012.

Af­ter the 2009 Mum­bai ter­ror at­tack, In­dia put curbs on visas from Pak­istan. Only one out of five visa ap­pli­ca­tions gets cleared. “If visa rules are eased, the ma­jor­ity of Hin­dus in Sindh would shift to In­dia,’’ says Kar­mani.

Son of a businessman and a med­i­cal grad­u­ate from Li­aquat Med­i­cal Col­lege in Karachi, Kar­mani was liv­ing in a huge bun­ga­low as part of a joint fam­ily. Now he hopes that he, his wife Ramila, a sci--


ence grad­u­ate, and their two chil­dren get a long-term visa soon, and per­ma­nent cit­i­zen­ship af­ter they com­plete seven years in In­dia. The fam­ily is wor­ried about those left be­hind. “There are dozens of cases in Sindh where Hin­dus have be­come tar­gets of kid­nap­pings and forcible con­ver­sions. It was time to say good­bye,” says Kar­mani.

In­deed, the prej­u­dice against Hin­dus runs deep. Lahore High Court Chief Jus­tice Khawaja Muhammad Sharif is re­ported to have said that Hin­dus were re­spon­si­ble for fi­nanc­ing acts of ter­ror­ism in Pak­istan. A March 18 ed­i­to­rial in Dawn pulled him up for it: “It may well have been a slip of the tongue by Mr Sharif, who might have mis­tak­enly said ‘Hindu’ in­stead of ‘In­dia’— nev­er­the­less, it was a taste­less re­mark to say the least.’’

There are other lib­eral voices. Dr Azra Fazal Pechuho, mem­ber of the Na­tional Assem­bly and el­der sis­ter of Pak­istani Pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari, told

IN­DIA TO­DAY that she be­lieves girls like Rin­kle Ku­mari are be­ing forcibly con­verted. “It is true that Hindu girls are be­ing forcibly kept in madras­sas in Sindh and forced to marry Mus­lims. We have to take steps to end this prac­tice, in­clud­ing leg­is­la­tion,’’ she says.

Among the lat­est to flee Pak­istan is

a group of 145 Hin­dus who ar­rived in Delhi in De­cem­ber 2011 on a pil­grim­age ( jattha) visa. They man­aged to ex­tend their visa and are look­ing for­ward to be­ing ac­cepted by In­dia as cit­i­zens. Stay­ing in makeshift tents at Ma­jnu ka Tilla in north Delhi, Sav­itri Devi, 32, gave birth to her daugh­ter in the camp two months ago. “When po­lice­men come to re­mind us we have to leave, I show them my daugh­ter Bharti and tell them to at least ac­cept her as she was born on In­dian soil,” she says, nurs­ing the in­fant with her older daugh­ter Rani, 3, sit­ting along­side.

There is no way that they want to re­turn to Pak­istan. “I have been try­ing for a visa for the past five years and got it only now, that too only as part of the

jattha,’’ says Kr­is­han Lal, 30, as his wife Ruk­mani makes cha­p­at­tis nearby. His three chil­dren run around in the camp bare­foot, play­ing with other chil­dren. “Hin­dus are like fish out of water in Pak­istan. They all want to come to In­dia, hop­ing to put an end to their mis­eries—but it is a dif­fer­ent story here al­to­gether,’’ he adds.

Kr­is­han­lal Bhatar, 54, who came with his fam­ily from Mirpurkhas dis­trict of Sindh to Ahmed­abad in 2009, says with folded hands, “We don’t want any­thing from this coun­try, only se­cu­rity. We shall re­main loyal to In­dia for­ever and die in this land only.’’ Tears roll down his cheek as he re­calls his life as a gro­cery shop owner in Pak­istan. His is the all-too-fa­mil­iar story of a daugh­ter, Jay­mala, 22, kid­napped, con­verted and mar­ried off to a Mus­lim farm labourer.

Bhatar and his fam­ily went pil­lar to post to get her cus­tody. Lo­cal Pak­istan Peo­ples Party politi­cians whom he ap­proached were ei­ther hand in glove with the group that had kid­napped the girl or too scared. Bhatar man­aged to file a case and also went to the court. On the day of the final hear­ing in the court, over three dozen Mus­lim boys gath­ered, many of them ri­fles in hand. A trem­bling Jay­mala was brought be­fore him and his wife. She didn’t even look at them and just told the woman judge, “I don’t know them.’’

Pu­jari Lal, 31, came from Kohat near Peshawar in 1999 and set­tled in Khanna, Pun­jab. He fled af­ter his teenaged sis­ter was kid­napped and raped. He does not feel com­fort­able talk­ing about it but dwells in de­tail on the prob­lems in Khanna. There are around 1,200 Hin­dus and Sikhs set­tled in Khanna. “It has been 13 years but I still don’t have In­dian cit­i­zen­ship. My pa­pers have come back a dozen times. They want proof of my par­ents’ date of birth and birth­place. My fa­ther is dead; my mother is with me but we do not have all the pa­pers,” he says.

Lal sells toma­toes and chill­ies in the crowded whole­sale vegetable mar­ket in Khanna. Pak­istani refugees run the mandi here. The rel­a­tively bet­ter-off ones have big­ger shops, and can af­ford to do the run­ning around be­tween the Gov­ern­ment of­fices, the Pak­istan High Com­mis­sion and FRRO. They are thrilled that one among them, Data Ram, 33, re­cently got a no-ob­jec­tion certificate from both the Pak­istan High Com­mis­sion and the home min­istry, mak­ing him el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship. Now he needs Rs 6,000 each for his five fam­ily mem­bers as pass­port fortei­ture fee and is in the process of “ar­rang­ing the money”. Hav­ing fin­ished high school, Ram is one of the most ed­u­cated per­sons there. He says he had kept all his pa­pers metic­u­lously, mak­ing it eas­ier for him to get cit­i­zen­ship. They all come to Ram for ad­vice. He tells Lala Madan Lal that since he was born in 1946, he is el­i­gi­ble for cit­i­zen­ship ac­cord­ing to the In­dian Cit­i­zen­ship Act.

In the Al Kausar set­tle­ment of Hindu Pak­ista­nis in Jodh­pur, Tul­siram talks about the prob­lems in get­ting a visa from the In­dian High Com­mis­sion in Islamabad. From Tharparkar dis­trict in Sindh, where most em­i­grants in the camp came from, it is a seven-day jour­ney to Islamabad, which not many can af­ford. “The min­i­mum cost for such a jour­ney is Rs 30,000,’’ says Tul­siram, who was a scribe in Sindh. He calls it a pol­icy of dis­cour­age­ment by the In­dian min­istries of home and ex­ter­nal af­fairs.

In an­other camp amid the sand­stone quar­ries on the out­skirts of Jodh­pur, Ja­muna Devi, 40, talks about lack of ameni­ties at the camp. “When

our chil­dren fall ill, Gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tals refuse to give us medicines, say­ing we are Pak­ista­nis,’’ she says.

Rana Ram, 32, per­son­i­fies the prob­lems on both sides of the bor­der. He came to Jodh­pur in 2008 with his two chil­dren af­ter his wife Samdha Ben was kid­napped, raped and con­verted by re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists in Rahim Yar Khan. “I en­treated them to re­turn my wife. They just laughed,’’ he says. In Jodh­pur, the com­mu­nity mem­bers got him mar­ried again so that his chil­dren could be looked af­ter. His sec­ond wife died of malaria within two months.

Since they are not a vote­bank, only a hand­ful of politi­cians have taken up the cause of Pak­istani Hin­dus and Sikhs. Av­inash Rai Khanna, a BJP Ra­jya Sabha MP, keeps rais­ing ques-- tions about their plight in the Up­per House. It was in re­ply to a ques­tion raised by him on per­se­cu­tion of Hin­dus in Pak­istan that Min­is­ter of State ( MOS) in MEA E. Ahamed said on March 22: “The Gov­ern­ment has taken up the mat­ter with the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan. It has stated that it looked af­ter the wel­fare of all its cit­i­zens, par­tic­u­larly the mi­nor­ity com­mu­nity.’’ A sec­u­lar In­dia’s MEA ac­cepts Pak­istan’s claims at face value. They claim that since In­dia does not en­dorse any re­li­gion, it can­not be seen as speak­ing for Hin­dus in Pak­istan.

Data col­lected by IN­DIA TO­DAY de­fies Pak­istan’s claim. More than 90 fam­i­lies mi­grated to In­dia in 2010, 145 in 2011 while 54 Hindu fam­i­lies have al­ready mi­grated to In­dia since Jan­uary 2012. Since 2010, as doc­u­ments show, 24 Hindu fam­i­lies mi­grated to Nepal while 12 fam­i­lies chose to live in Sri Lanka af­ter flee­ing Pak­istan. In Fe­bru­ary it­self, 30 Hin­dus com­pris­ing five fam­i­lies left Thul, a small town in Ja­cob­a­bad dis­trict, for In­dia.

In re­ply to an­other ques­tion by the MP on March 28, MOS in MHA M. Ra­machan­dran said that they had re­ceived 148 ap­pli­ca­tions for cit­i­zen­ship of Pak­istani Hin­dus from Pun­jab state from 2009 to 2011. Only 16 ap­pli­ca­tions were ac­cepted for cit­i­zen­ship; 119 are pend­ing for want of doc­u­ments and 13 were re­jected.

Amid the cold fig­ures of re­jec­tion are the scars left on the psy­che of refugees. Lala Madan Lal, 66, of Khanna, re­cently read Toba Tek Singh, a short story by Saa­dat Hasan Manto in Urdu, and can’t stop talk­ing about it. “Like Bis­han Singh in the story, we will all die in no man’s land as peo­ple with no land to call their own,” he rues.

CHANDRADEEP KUMAR/­di­a­to­day­im­


PU­RUSHOT­TAM Di­wakar/­di­a­to­day­im­

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