Plight of monorities in Pakistan

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Plight of monorities in Pakistan

Postby sati » Sun Mar 14, 2010 2:49 pm ... Id=6852857


Fearing persecution, Pakistani Hindus seek shelter in Rajasthan’s border districts. Now, they are going through identity crises

By Ajay Uprety/Jodhpur & Jaisalmer

Women are raped. Men are harassed, beaten up or slain. Children are abducted. It’s the Taliban effect. Persecution of Hindus in Pakistan is on the rise. And the hapless victims have nowhere to go, except to the grand old Mother. Mother India.

Over the last five years, about 5,000 Pakistani Hindus have sought shelter in Rajasthan’s border districts such as Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and Ganganagar. And none wants to return home, ever.
Ranaram Bhil is one of them. He left behind his hearth and home in Rahim Yar Khan district near the Indo-Pak border in Sindh province last year, and crossed over to India.

Fanatics had abducted his wife and forcibly converted her to Islam. Local Urdu dailies celebrated it. The next targets would have been Ranaram and his children. “There pressure was unbearable. So I fled Pakistan. I have no idea whether my wife is alive or dead,” he says.
Indraram Meghwal, 55, who migrated to India in 2006, dreads even the memory of life in Pakistan. He still has not got over the horror of watching a pundit, who refused to embrace Islam, being thrown off a roof by a fanatic mob in his hometown, Rahim Yar Khan.

“They looted his house, desecrated the small temple there and killed him and his family. If that could happen to my neighbour, it could have happened to me and my family anytime,” says Indraram.
Influx of Pakistani Hindus was witnessed during the Indo-Pak wars. The Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, too, led to hounding of Hindus and destruction of temples in Pakistan. Now, there is a spurt in religious persecution in Pakistan, as the Taliban influence is steadily increasing.

External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna recently stated in Parliament that the attacks on minorities in Pakistan were “barbaric and heinous”, and they were “deplorable in the strongest possible terms”.
Kishore Kumar, a Hindu legislator in the North-West Frontier Province assembly, too, urged the Pakistan government to deal with the “many problems” minorities were facing. He also noted that “minorities have been hit hard by growing extremism”.

Most of the Hindus who are ‘returning’ to India are have-nots whose forefathers had migrated from Rajasthan’s border districts to Pakistan before Partition, in search of work. But, returning is not a cakewalk, and life on this side of the border is not a bed of roses for these refugees.
“In India, we feel like an illegitimate, orphaned child. While fleeing Pakistan, I thought that I am going back to my home, but all my hopes broke down as the Indian authorities consider us Pakis and loathe us,” says Premchand, 28, who came to India in 2005.

Premchand, along with seven others from Sindh, hoped to enter India through the Wagha border, but the authorities allegedly told them that their visas were fake and asked Rs 5,000 each for clearance. As they did not have that much money, Premchand’s grandfather fell at the officials’ feet. But, he was allegedly kicked and beaten up, leaving him unconscious.

Seeing his condition, the officials took all the money the group had and let them cross the border. The old man paid with his life to enter India—he died on the way.
The refugees seek easy visas and, later, Indian citizenship. But, being Hindus does not offer them any privileges. Also, until 2004, these refugees had to wait for five years to become eligible for citizenship. This period has been increased to seven years. The process fee, too, has been increased from Rs 100 to Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 to Rs 30,000.

That India is not a signatory to UN Convention on Refugees (1951) and its 1967 protocol makes matters worse, as there is no clear policy on refugees.
Hundreds of these refugees can be seen residing in Kali Beri and Ramdev Nagar on the outskirts of Jodhpur. Most look like zombies. Their tattered clothes, emotionless faces and vacuous eyes tell their tale.

They live in sandstone huts with thatched roofs. Basic amenities such as electricity, water supply, sanitation and roads are unheard of here. Most of the refugees work in the stone quarries in the area for more than 12 hours, and some have become rickshaw-pullers. Wages are meagre and employment is uncertain. There are cases where more than 10 members of a family survive on Rs 100 a day.
“I was a farmer in Pakistan. Now, I have to slog in a stone quarry. There is no option,” says Mitthu Ram, whose hands are full of blisters, thanks to his job.

Rubbing salt into their wounds, the local police and intelligence officers allegedly hound them often and demand bribes. “If we do not cough up the money, they threaten to jail us,” says Hemant.
Furthermore, the law does not allow refugees to move out of the district limits. “Even if someone is seriously ill we cannot take him to a hospital in the city,” says Nainu Ram.

Travelling back to Pakistan is difficult, too. Ajita Ram, who has been living here for the six years, could not attend his mother’s funeral in Pakistan, as Indian authorities refused him visa him. “Only God knows when I will be able to immerse her ashes. Till then, her soul will not rest in peace,” he says.

The refugees’ grievances find a voice in Hindu Singh Sodha, the founder of Pak Visthapit Sangh, a community-based organisation that fights for refugees’ rights.
Says Sodha, who has been helping refugees for more than a decade: “We need to have a proper mechanism devoid of red tape and corruption to mitigate their woes. Those who do not get citizenship cannot get driving licences, open bank accounts and access development schemes.”

A review committee appointed by the Rajasthan government in 2001 had recommended that district magistrates should be authorised to grant citizenship. But, since 2007, the Centre has assumed this power, thus making the process more cumbersome.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot wrote to Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in April 2009 to look into the matter, but no action has been taken. His predecessor Vasundhara Raje, too, had written to then home minister Shivraj Patil in September 2008.

In March 2009, the state government formed committees under the additional chief secretary, divisional commissioners and district magistrates. But none has been functional so far.
Tormented by fanatics on one side, and legal rigmarole on the other, Nainu Ram asks: “We did not divide the country. Then why are we bearing the brunt?”

God of small people
Hindu Singh Sodha has been fighting for the cause of the refugees in Rajasthan for the last 13 years through his Pak Visthapit Sangh. Sodha’s family had crossed over from Pakistan in 1971, so he knows the pains of a refugee.
With a team of volunteers, Sodha, a law graduate from Jodhpur University, keeps track of refugees, pursues their cases with the local administration and fights for their rights across Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Barmer and Bikaner districts.
Thanks to his efforts, so far, 13,000 Pakistani refugees have got Indian citizenship. Sodha mobilises refugees and highlights their plight at public meetings. “These people are not vote banks, so nobody cares for them,” he says.
With the meagre income from his agricultural land, Sodha travels across Rajasthan every month to look into the woes of refugees. “He is a crusader and a god to us,” gushes Mitthuram, a refugee.

A rail line, a lifeline
Chants of “Hindustan zindabad, Pakistan zindabad” reverberate across the Jodhpur railway station as the Thar Express leaves for Pakistan at midnight. Relaunched in 2006, the weekly train, which had been suspended since the 1965 Indo-Pak war, links Rajasthan and Karachi. This is the only trans-border train other than the Samjhauta Express.
The Thar Express is a godsend for Hindus who seek to flee Pakistan. In the first year of its operation, it brought 385 Hindus. In 2007, the figure rose to 880. Unconfirmed reports say, more than 2,000 Pakistani Hindus came by the train the last two years, never to return.
Ranaram Bhil, who fled to India by the Thar Express, says, “Had this train not been there, my life would have been hell.”
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