Citing persecution and a worsening climate for religious minorities in Pakistan, a group of Pakistani Hindus who crossed into India over the weekend said they do not want to return to their native country.
A contingent of 171 Pakistani Hindus who arrived in Jodhpur in Rajasthan on ‘pilgrim visas’ on Sunday have demanded asylum in India. They are reportedly from the Bheel tribe from Sindh in southern Pakistan.
They follow on the heels of other Hindus from Muslim-dominated Pakistan who have made similar requests of the Indian government. One recent arrival at Jodhpur described the ordeal of his journey to BBC: "I lost my father recently and did not get a place to perform his last rites, we were denied wherever we went. You cannot even imagine our pain.”
He added: "We will not return to Pakistan, you can kill us here, but we do not want to go back. Every day we face persecution and our troubles have doubled with the rise of Islamic extremism.”
The leader of the recent batch of Hindu pilgrims, a man named Chetan Ram, who served as the sarpanch (head) of his village, told Press Trust of India (PTI) that his group had to leave Pakistan in secret.
“If the news that we were planning or preparing to leave for India had spread, the masters, whom we serve, would have made it difficult or almost impossible for us to leave Pakistan driven by a fear that they will lose [their] laborers,” he said.
“So, as a strategy, all these families left their houses about three months back and kept changing their locations [to avoid attracting] any suspicion [from] our masters or landlords. And on Friday, we left for India leaving all our belongings back in Pakistan.”
Chetan also described the desperation of Hindus living in Pakistan.
“We were daily [workers] there and would do the same here but this is for the sake of our self-respect, religious freedom and children’s future, that made us take such an extreme [measure],” he noted.
“Had anybody knew about the exodus, we would not have been able to leave ever and our lives would have become virtually a hell.” BBC stated that an activist group called Seemant Lok Sangthan (SLS) seeks to help the Pakistani Hindus obtain refugee status in India, while providing them with food and temporary shelter.
Singh Sodha, president of SLS, told the Press Trust of India: “We have [asked] the chief minister [of Rajasthan] about this [issue]…. and expect him to direct the administration to make some arrangements for them.”
Sodha also noted: “The exodus of Hindus from Pakistan on account of religious, financial and social persecution, is not a new phenomenon but this largest-ever migration… is a testimony that the conditions for the Hindu families in Pakistan continue to be intolerable and humiliating.”
It is unclear if the Indian government will grant refugee status to the Pakistani arrivals. BBC noted that state officials in Rajasthan would consider granting citizenship status only to those applicants would have lived in India for seven years.
While Pakistani government officials have long denied charges that Hindus in Pakistan are subject to persecution, the Economic Times noted that religious minorities in the country are subject to forced conversion to Islam, kidnapping and extortion, among other indignities.
Moreover, last month, Pakistan’s president Asif Ali Zardari formed a parliamentary committee to probe the persecution of Hindus.
According to the Pakistan Hindu Council, there are some 7,000,000 Hindus currently living in Pakistan, with more than 90 percent of them in Sindh province. (However, other reports claims there are only half that number).
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.