Lokpal Sethi in Jaipur
DUE to continuous repression of minorities, particularly the Hindus, a fresh exodus of Hindus from Sindh province of Pakistan has started. They are arriving by Thar Express, a biweekly train between the two countries on Munnabao-Khokhrapar route.
Though most of them have come on pilgrim visas, which allows them to visit three Hindu religious places in India during one month visa period, they are camping in Jodhpur. Soon after the arrival of biggest group of 171 pilgrims in the first week of September, its leader Chetan Das, made it known that they have no plan to go back to Pakistan. They have made the local Dali Bai temple premises as their home, till administration provides them camps to stay in the Gangana locality of the city. Chetan Das and some other members organised a rally to highlight their plight in Pakistan and met Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot to take up their case with the Central government to allow them to stay in India even after the expiry of their visas.
Presently they are being looked after by volunteers of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Seemant Lok Sangthan (SLS). But they do not want to live on the mercy of these organisations for long. “Let the administration provide us a shelter, we would take any job to earn bread and butter for our families with honour,” says Chetan Das, who was a Sarpanch in his village in Mitayari region of Sindh province. Before Partition of the country people from western Rajasthan used to go and settle in Sindh. Most of them were agriculture labourers working for the landlords of the areas.
According to a rough estimate, the number of Hindus in Pakistan is about twenty lakh and about more then half of them are living in Umerkot (previously known as Amarkot), where Sodha Rajput royal family still lives. Though this area has a good number of Rajputs, others belong to Naiks and other Dalit communities . “These poor people are the target of fundamentalists. The members of fundamentalist outfits often Kidnap their young girls, convert them to Islam many them off to local Muslims youths. This has been going for the past several decades,” says Hindu Singh Sodha, convener of SLS, who for the past three decades is taking cases of Hindus from Pakistan, who are arriving in India with intentions not to go back to Pakistan.
No attention is being paid to the complaints of Hindu families who are victims of Muslim fundamentalists. According to Sodha, exodus of Hindus from Sindh province to Rajasthan started after the 1965 war between two countries . “Atrocities on poor Hindu families left no option for them but to come to India”, says Sodha.
At that time there was no fence on the international border and crossing the border illegally was not difficult in this desert part of the region. Hindus used to just walk down to Barmer and Jaisalmer area without any travel documents For years they ran from pillar to post either to get long term visas or Indian citizenship. In absence of any policy for these legal and illegal Hindu migrants from Pakistan, they remained stateless persons for decades.
“ If under the International Charter, government of India can give refugee status to people of Tamil origin from Sri Lanka, why can’t the same be applied to the Hindus coming from Pakistan. Like Tamilians from Sri Lanka, these Hindus had left their country (Pakistan) because of atrocities on them. In 1971 about three crore people from erstwhile East Pakistan crossed over India and they were looked after by the government of India by giving the status of refugees under the International Charter,” says Onkar Singh Lakhawat, senior BJP leader and former Rajya Sabha Member.
According to official figures since 1965 about 1.25 lakh Hindus from Pakistan had reached Rajasthan. Most of them got Indian citizenship or long term visas to live here permanently.
As arrival of the Hindus from Pakistan never stopped, during BJP led NDA government a major decision was taken to give Indian citizenship to those Hindu refugees who have been living here for the last seven years.
Over 13,000 displaced Hindus from Pakistan in one stroke got Indian citizenship in 2005. SLS and senior BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who belongs to Jodhpur, played a major role in granting Indian citizenship to these displaced Hindus.
Many of them missed the bus at that time as they had not completed the mandatory seven year period.
Many of them who could not fulfill seven-year stay conditions had to wait for nearly ten years. Following the policy of NDA government, Central government in September invited applications from those displaced Hindus from Pakistan who are living here for the past seven years.
So far, about 7,000 have applied to get Indian citizenship. With the completion of the formalities, they are hoping to become Indian citizens by this Diwali.
But there would be another 3,000 to 4,000 who would not be able to get Indian citizenship in the absence of seven year stay as they are not eligible to apply for Indian citizenship. “This seven years condition should be relaxed or done away with,” says Sodha and others who are fighting for the cause of these displaced Hindus from Pakistan.