Jodhpur: 171 Pakistani Hindus crowd the premises of a temple in Jodhpur. They crossed over last week on pilgrim visas carrying the little that they own and tales of horror and discrimination. They do not know what the future holds, but say they know that they will not return to Pakistan.
In that group, the largest to have crossed over and taken refuge in India recently, is 50-year-old Railu Mal. He traveled over 500 km to make this journey - from Sindh, where he lived, through Khokhrapar into Munabao and across the western border. And refuses to return. He says a climate of intolerance in Pakistan has made it impossible for poor daily-wage labourers like him to exist; he and his family have worked for months without being paid, he claims.
What made Railu Mal flee his hometown, Jhol Shaher, he says, was the murder of his cousin. He recounts that his cousin worked for a Muslim family for 20 years. When he finally asked to be paid for his service, Railu Mal alleges he was killed and his body thrown away. Railu Mal immediately set off for India with his two sons and a daughter.
Another pilgrim, Chetan, 60, talks of how he roamed with his dead father's body for two days looking for space to cremate him, but no one helped. Then, there are stories of Hindu women being abducted and converted to Islam. Girls, like young Khimi, have grown up, they say, in an atmosphere of fear and are too afraid to even go to school in Pakistan.
Khimi, 17, says in Sindhi, "There they carry women away. We are too scared to go out of our homes. We can't even go to school or go out for daily chores. That's why we decided to come here."
Not that it will be very easy for Khimi to go to school in India. She will require documents. The process of getting Indian citizenship is not easy. These refugees can apply for Indian citizenship only after seven years of being in the country. Till then, they can have no work permits and so cannot hold jobs and they have no access to healthcare, schools or benefits like insurance. They have to eke a living doing odd jobs or work as daily-wagers which keeps them economically backward. And so, when they are eligible to apply for citizenship, just the cost, between Rs 5000 to Rs 20000, is prohibitive.
Gaji, who crossed over into India with his family 14 years ago, finally got citizenship in 2005. He managed to pay Rs 200 each for himself and his wife. But citizenship for his four children cost Rs 1800 each, which the daily wage earner could ill-afford. So they are still Pakistani citizens with no access to school. His daughter Marwan studied in a private school till class 6, after that she was forced to drop out. She still wants to go to college, says Gaji, but without legal papers, that is a distant dream.
Hindu Singh Sodha, who runs an organisation called the Pak Visthapit Sangh, says the three-fold increase in fees since then is "a policy of discouragement by the Indian government...are the citizenship fees going to earn them large revenues? I don't think so."
For the Indian government, this is a big humanitarian issue. These 171 people just joined over 1.2 lakh Pakistani Hindu migrants in this part of Rajasthan alone. The Indian government has no clear policy as yet on how to treat Hindu refugees. The worry is that as incidents of religious intolerance across the border increase, more people will try and find their way into India through the western border and to the first stop, Jodhpur.
For now, Jodhpur Collector Siddarth Mahajan has identified two community halls to shift this group of refugees to and has roped in an NGO to teach the children, since without proper documents, they will not get admission in schools. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot made a visit to the makeshift refugee camp yesterday, but beyond providing temporary humanitarian aid, the administration has no guidelines on what to do next.
Story first published:
September 11, 2012 15:59 IST