Hindus: Harassed in Pakistan, homeless in India
Jodhpur: "We would much rather die than go back to Pakistan," said a Hindu migrant echoing the sentiments of many migrants who have come here in the last few days from Pakistan.
The exodus of Pakistani Hindus is on the rise. In the last fortnight alone, a fresh batch of 350 migrants, including 150 children and 90 women, have arrived here.
They were initially lodged in a local temple, but as the numbers swelled, it was impossible for them to continue to stay in the premises. They have since vacated, and now live in tents.
"We are happy to be here, but we had been staying in just two rooms at the Dali Bai temple here. It is becoming impossible for 200 people to sleep in such a small space. We were asked to vacate, and then had just the sky for a roof. Some locals have erected tents for us," said Ramadas, one of the migrants.
The Pakistani Hindus said that girls were being kidnapped and forced into marriage and conversion to Islam. Besides, torture of Hindu families is also reported.
On Sep 10, over 200 people had come to Jodhpur by the Thar Express train. Sources said that about 150 others have also arrived here in small groups since then.
According to rough estimates by Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), a group working for refugees in Rajasthan, over 1,10,000 Hindu migrants from Pakistan have been living in Rajasthan since 1971.
Over 13,000 of them were granted citizenship by 2005-06; SLS says more than 7,000 others have now applied for long-term visas (LTV).
"The largest number of Hindu migrants comes to Rajasthan. We have asked the state government to frame a rehabilitation policy for them. We have also urged the central government to introduce a proper policy and law for the refugees," said Hindu Singh Sodha, social activist and head of SLS, which has been arranging food for the migrants in their camps.
"Our girls are not safe in Pakistan. In the recent past, there have been several cases of teenagers being kidnapped, raped and converted to Islam. There is nobody to help us there. Those who refuse to accept Islam are tortured, along with family members," said one of the migrants who, fearing for his safety, requested anonymity.
"We worked as daily wagers, but our landlords would not pay us and beat us up if we refused to work," said Pancharam Bhil, one of the migrants.
"Most of the people who have come here belong to Sangalsindh, Hyderabad, Matiyari and Khiparo areas of Sindh province in Pakistan. We have no desire to go back," said Pancharam.
Krishna, a forty-year-old woman migrant told IANS: "We used to fear moving out of the house and stayed indoors. But even within the house, we were not safe as there were robbers who could just barge in and harass us." And there was no question of complaining to the authorities -- that was like inviting more trouble, Krishna said.
Chetandas, 45, said there was just no political will in Pakistan to help Hindu minorities. "If Hindu families are provided a visa easily, no one would stay in Pakistan. We were among the lucky few to get a visa. Ever since reports have appeared that many Hindus are leaving Pakistan, authorities are more stringent about giving out visas."
It is not as if the migrants have an easy time on this side of the border, either.
Officials from intelligence agencies at the central and the state levels keep close watch on their movements.
One migrant refused to engage in conversation with this correspondent, fearing that he was speaking with an agent of the Intelligence Bureau. It was only after NGOs highlighting their concerns assured the migrants that this correspondent was a bonafide journalist that some of them expressed a willingness to speak about their plight.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has assured the migrants of all help, and has met the people who have recently moved into the state from Pakistan.
The migrants complain that despite all the assurances from Chief Minister Gehlot and leaders of both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, no earnest efforts have been made to provide them proper accommodation, as they have no vote in India.
Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Rajasthan Om Prakash Lakhawat met these migrants Sunday and said that everything would be done to offer proper accommodation and other facilities to the migrants.
Arjun Ram Meghwal, BJP MP from Bikaner, who also met the migrants Sunday said that the process of offering them citizenship would be expedited.