Pak­istan Hin­dus find lit­tle refuge in In­dia

For many, the par­ti­tion is not over

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

For decades, Jog­das dreamed of mov­ing to In­dia to es­cape the per­se­cu­tion he suf­fered as a Hindu in Mus­lim Pak­istan. But the re­al­ity of life over the bor­der is a far cry from those dreams. Sev­enty years af­ter par­ti­tion un­leashed the largest mass mi­gra­tion in hu­man his­tory, Hin­dus are still mov­ing from Pak­istan to In­dia, where tens of thou­sands lan­guish in makeshift camps near the bor­der with no le­gal right to work.

Many have no choice but to toil il­le­gally in the stone quar­ries near where they live be­cause their move­ments are strictly con­trolled by the au­thor­i­ties, sus­pi­cious of any­one from across the bor­der. It is not the wel­come most of them ex­pected in Hin­du­ma­jor­ity In­dia. “No job, no house, no money, no food. There, we were work­ing in the fields, we were farm­ers. But here peo­ple like us are forced to break rocks to earn a liv­ing,” said 81-year-old Jog­das, who goes by just one name.

“For us the par­ti­tion is still not over. Hin­dus are still try­ing to come back to their coun­try. And when they come here, they have noth­ing,” he told AFP from the camp on the out­skirts of the west­ern city of Jodh­pur where he lives. More than 15 mil­lion peo­ple were up­rooted fol­low­ing In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain in 1947, which trig­gered months of vi­o­lence in which at least a mil­lion peo­ple were killed for their faith.

Amid the bloody chaos, Hin­dus and Sikhs fled the newly formed Pak­istan, as Mus­lims moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. De­spite the ex­o­dus, Hin­dus re­main one of Pak­istan’s largest re­li­gious mi­nori­ties. Es­ti­mates vary, but they are be­lieved to ac­count for around 1.6 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of roughly 200 mil­lion. Many say they face dis­crim­i­na­tion and even risk ab­duc­tion, rape and forced mar­riage. “Soon af­ter par­ti­tion, the ha­rass­ment started,” said Jog­das, whose fam­ily had only moved to what is now Pak­istan a few months be­fore par­ti­tion to es­cape a dev­as­tat­ing drought. “There was not even a sin­gle day when we could live in peace. I wanted to come back to live with my Hindu broth­ers.”

‘We are alone’

Most of the mi­grants to In­dia come from Pak­istan’s Sindh prov­ince, tak­ing a four-hour train jour­ney through the Thar desert to Jodh­pur in the arid west­ern state of Ra­jasthan. That they share the cul­ture, food and lan­guage of Ra­jasthan should make it easy for them to as­sim­i­late in their adopted home­land. In re­al­ity, they live in iso­lated camps, far from lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and are treated with sus­pi­cion by au­thor­i­ties.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s Hindu na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment has said it wants to make it eas­ier for per­se­cuted ad­her­ents of the faith to find refuge in In­dia. Last year it changed the rules to al­low im­mi­grants to ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship in the state where they live, rather than hav­ing to go through the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.

Hin­dus from Pak­istan qual­ify for a fast track to cit­i­zen­ship af­ter seven years in the coun­try. But bu­reau­cratic de­lays have meant the process of get­ting it can take longer to com­plete. Kha­naramji, 64, be­came an In­dian cit­i­zen in 2005 af­ter flee­ing Pak­istan in 1997. He said many oth­ers had given up and re­turned to Pak­istan, dis­il­lu­sioned by life in In­dia. “There is no as­sis­tance from the gov­ern­ment. We are just like cat­tle with no own­ers. We are just sur­viv­ing on our own,” he said.

‘Life be­comes hell’

Worse even than the poverty is the sus­pi­cion from au­thor­i­ties. “Those who do not have cit­i­zen­ship are ha­rassed by (in­tel­li­gence) agen­cies. They are al­ways treated like sus­pects and agents of Pak­istan,” said Kha­naramji, who goes by only one name. “They spend most of what they earn on go­ing to po­lice sta­tions and agency of­fices.”

Hindu Singh Sodha, who runs a char­ity in Jodh­pur for Pak­istani Hin­dus seek­ing to set­tle in In­dia, said they had high hopes of Modi when he came to of­fice in 2014, but had been dis­ap­pointed. The mi­grants still come un­der in­creased scru­tiny when­ever ten­sions flare be­tween In­dia and Pak­istan-a fre­quent oc­cur­rence un­der the Modi gov­ern­ment. “Their life be­comes hell,” he said. “Be­cause ev­ery­thing is af­fected. Their shel­ter, healthcare, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion, their liveli­hood.” But some feel even that is worth tol­er­at­ing.

Horoji fled to In­dia with his two adult sons two years ago af­ter re­ceiv­ing death threats from the fam­ily’s Mus­lim neigh­bors in Pak­istan. “To save our lives, we had to run to In­dia,” said 65-year-old Horoji, whose grand­par­ents were orig­i­nally from present­day In­dia but found them­selves on the wrong side of the bor­der at par­ti­tion. “My grand­fa­ther had gone to the other side for work. But he had told us to move to In­dia when the right time comes as he had sensed times would not be safe for Hin­dus in fu­ture.”

— AFP pho­tos

JODH­PUR, Ra­jasthan: This photo taken on June 16, 2017 shows Dhanki (C), 32, who has been liv­ing in In­dia for 16 years, at an ar­ti­san shop in an unau­tho­rized set­tle­ment for Pak­istani Hin­dus in Jodh­pur in In­dia’s west­ern state of Ra­jasthan. (In­set) This photo shows Pak­istani na­tional Jog­das, 81, in an unau­tho­rized set­tle­ment for Pak­istani Hin­dus in Jodh­pur.

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