Vishwajeet Singh Bhati
In providing a short albeit historical account of Pakistani Hindu refugees, the article, it is hoped, gives a clear picture of the issue and on this basis, expose the reader to the present status of these refugees. As a result of government dereliction, Pakistani Hindu refugees do not have access to basic facilities and face restricted freedoms, which in turn highlights the prevalent administrative ineffectiveness and ignorance. It reiterates that in the absence of a uniform refugee policy, India is impaired in handling refugee populations. The ad-hoc refugee policy is inefficient as is evident from the conditions of refugee groups in India, the Pakistani Hindus being a part of them. This paper serves to give a voice to the plight of the Pakistani Hindu refugees and in the backdrop of it suggest some points for their betterment. In the process, the article seeks to answer the following questions. What has compelled Hindus in Pakistan to flee to India, what number of refugees are found in Rajasthan and Gujarat, two states known to house the largest numbers? Has the rehabilitation package for refugees who came in 1971 made a difference in the lives of the refugees? What is their present status and what efforts on part of the government and activists have been made to redress their plight?
Identifying the Pakistani Hindus
As per the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (hereafter UNHCR), India hosts a total of 1,85,118 refugees and 3518 asylum seekers as of January 2012.1 Pakistani Hindus account for nearly 1,10,000. A majority are known to live in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat and while some have been given citizenship, many others are forced to perpetually renew their visas. The degree of neglect is such that they are often confused with the Pakistani Sindhis who flew in from Pakistan 2 in the post partition scenario. The ones arriving in the more recent past are Hindus belonging to various castes like the Meghwals, Bhils, Sansis, Jogis, Odhs, Rajputs, Brahmins, Malis, Rabaris, Sonars, Jats, Nais, Darzis among others.3 A major chunk of them resided in Thar Parkar 4 district of Sindh; others are from the districts of Umarkot, Mirpur Khas, Hyderabad in Sindh and Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur in Punjab. Some of these refugees have a distinct cultural identity - their own language Dhatki 5 but at the same time share a lot in common with the people living across the border in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Some others comprise the more common Marwari and Gujarati speaking people. They were actually of Rajasthani and, to a lesser extent, Gujarati origin and traditionally engaged in seasonal migration to work in the fertile fields of Sindh. This seasonal migration continued till the mid-1960s after which the Indo-Pak border was fenced and many of them could not return to their homes.6 As The Nowhere People, an unpublished report by Seemant Lok Sanghathan notes, most of them were landless Dalits and Tribals, in addition to which they were mostly illiterate and poor.
Places in Rajasthan Where the Migrants are Currently Residing (Both Rehabilitated and Non-Rehabilitated People (Taken from The Nowhere People)
A Timeline of Events: The 1965 and 1971 Waves of Influx
According to Seemant Lok Sanghatan, Pakistani Hindus took to flight in two major waves- in 1965 and 1971. Considerable migration took place during the Indo-Pak war of 1965 when some 10,000 people crossed over to India. The second and the most colossal transfer took place when India occupied a large part of Thar Parkar in the 1971 Indo-Pak war. It was due to this occupation that almost 90,000 people got temporarily shifted into Indian Territory and decided not to return. These patterns of migration need to be seen in the light of the Shimla Agreement of 1972 where India decided to return the annexed territory back to Pakistan and Pakistan also accepted to take back its citizens. However, as it turned out most Hindus did not want to return to Pakistan. Hindu Singh Sodha of the Seemanth Lok Sanghatan spearheading the movement for rights of Pak Hindus, argues that Pakistan also did not show any interest in accepting these people back.
Why did the Hindus migrate? Pakistan, at the time of Independence, chose to be an Islamic republic. Going by its 1998 Census, it can be clearly discerned that Hindus were a meagre 1.6%, of the total population. 7 As a minority, they had to face discrimination and religious persecution in the form of abductions, rape and forced conversions at the hands of fundamentalists. Also, the law and order situation in Pakistan was never stable. 8 As a result, there was a sense of insecurity prevailing in the minds of the Hindus. In addition, the conditions of war led to serious repercussions and most of them found Pakistan unsafe.
Accommodation in the Camps
Those who migrated in 1965 and 1971 have been officially rehabilitated but it had serious faults. The 1965 migrants were never accorded refugee status but over time most of them were granted Indian citizenship and relocated in villages and colonies in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Hindu Singh Sodha notes that this process of securing citizenship and basic amenities was not hassle-free. For the refugees of 1971, some information is available in official statements. Colonel Sona Ram Choudhary, an MP, in responding to a query in the Lok Sabha on 25 February 1977 stated that the central government established 24 refugee camps in Barmer district. The camps had limited tents and multiple families were assigned a single tent. Ration cards were issued to the heads of families. There were strict rules pertaining to the conduct and stay of the refugees, and movements restricted; refugees were forced to remain inside the camps and many were refused permission to visit their families. Hindu Singh Sodha also notes that there were daily roll calls, suggesting the strict surveillance prevelant at the time.
The Rehabilitation Package and Its Shortcomings
The Janata Party Government, after coming into power in 1978 in the Centre and in Rajasthan initiated the process of granting citizenship. As Hindu Singh Sodha explains, not only were District Magistrates authorized in Rajasthan and Gujarat to grant citizenship, a rehabilitation package was also implemented. The 1965 refugees were allocated villages inhabited by Muslims who migrated to Pakistan during the 1965 Indo-Pak war. For the 1971 refugees, the rehabilitation package included grant of land and a total of Rs. 90 million in cash from the Centre. Each family was to be allotted either 25 bighas (roughly 10 hectares) of land in the canal area or 75 bighas (roughly 30 hectares) of barren land in the desert.
Seemant Lok Sanghathan's survey in 2000 documented the implementation of the rehabilitation package. According to it, land was officially allocated to 4033 families in Barmer district, 3166 families in the command area of the Indira Gandhi Canal in Bikaner district, 507 families in Jaisalmer district and 51 families in Jalore district. Most of the land was of poor quality and uncultivable, both in the canal area and in the arid zone. Besides that, the State Government asked for Rs 30,000, to be paid over 20 years against 18% as revenue for each murabba (25 acres) of land from families, a huge sum for mostly poor families. The survey revealed that many families did not get any land at all due to administrative ignorance and corruption. A part of the land allocated for rehabilitation came under the Desert National Park, hear Jaisalmer. There were also reported instances of locals opposing the grant of land as well as illegal occupation of these lands. In one incident in Vedihar (Kutch, Gujarat), as the survey documents, 500 locals attacked refugees resulting in one death.
The Post 1992 Surge
The influx of refugees did not cease after 1971. Hindus continued to migrate on visas and stayed back. The demolition Babri Masjid further ignited tensions across the border and Hindus in Pakistan had to face the wrath of the Muslims.9 As a result, the influx suddenly flared.
Unlike the refugees coming in the mid 1960s, the ones that came later, including the post 1992 refugees were neither recognized as refugees, not given citizenship. Visa renewals became tedious and costly and many were denied renewals. People, most of whom had relatives living in the border districts, were unable to travel, given that their movement were confined to the cities for which they initially got the visas. As foreign nationals, no formal employment was open to refugees, with the result that they started working as daily wage labourers and highly exploited. They had to stay for at least a period of five years before they could apply for citizenship under the Citizenship Act of 1955, which now has been extended to 7 years.
Continuing Influx and Activist Efforts
Owing to minority discrimination and persecution and the rise of fundamentalism, it is unlikely that Pak Hindu refugees will stop fleeing to India. In this scenario, the issue of citizenship has became the primary agenda for both refugees and activists. Citizenship however has proved elusive. While the residency period under section 5 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 was initially 5 years, it has now been extended to 7 years. Also, after the signing of the Assam Accord in 1986, the Government of India withdrew the power vested in District Magistrates to grant citizenship and transferred it into the hands of the Ministry of Home Affairs in New Delhi. For the poor and illiterate migrants, applying in New Delhi is an expensive and arduous process. In addition, the citizenship application process requires that the applicant hold a valid passport, visa 10 and a Residence Permit issued by the Foreigners Registration Office, none of which Pakistani Hindus are able to possess. The application fee is prohibitively expensive. As a result, the lack of citizenship amounts to denial of basic rights, and as a result, basic services such as health care and education; this has created a vicious circle of illiteracy and poverty.
Seemant Lok Sanghathan, which has been at the forefront of securing rights of refugees has lobbied both the governments of Rajasthan and India for modification of the citizenship process. In 2001-2002, a State level Review Committee was set up as a result of its efforts. At the time, it recommended the following, among which only the first two were accepted:
•Accept applications of Pakistani nationals on receipt of a simple affidavit renouncing Pakistani citizenship.
•Setting up of cells in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer to facilitate the processing of applications for citizenship.
•Pakistani nationals resident in India for five years be allowed to visit the border districts.
In January 2004, the Government of India decided to grant citizenship to Pakistani migrants of 1965 and 1971 living in Barmer and Jaisalmer through citizenship camps. According to Hindu Singh Sodha, this excluded those who came post 1971 and had stayed for more than five years. In February of the same year, the Government decided to grant citizenship to all eligible people delegated the power under Section 16 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 to District Magistrates in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Meanwhile the processing fee for application was hiked but subsequently rolled back as a result of protest from the Seemant Lok Sanghatan. In January and February 2005, a Government notification lead to setting up of citizenship camps in which more than 13,000 refugees became Indian citizens. The powers given to the District Magistrates were extended for another year. Even after the organisation of citizenship camps, many were reportedly left out either because of their inability to afford the application fee or because of absence of documents. The camps concluded its task in two months, which many, including Sodha argue was insufficient time.
The Bhil basti in Kali Beri: An Account of Resettlement and Its Implementation
The Bhil basti (colony, ghetto) provides an excellent example of the living conditions of the refugees. Located in Kali Beri, the colony is situated in the outskirts of Jodhpur and was established when they occupied government lands about 15 years back. About 250 Pakistani Hindu families live in the colony and include those who have been naturalized as citizens as well as those who continue to wait for citizenship. Houses are built of mud and stone with little or no access to electricity, sanitation, health care facilities or water supply. Most people living in the basti were agricultural labourers in Pakistan.
The conditions in which the migrants live are deplorable. While only half of the colony has access to water, there is no system in place to ensure that the water provided to them is clean. Sanitation is non existent, impacting women more than men. Toilets constructed for the school are in an unusable condition. No proper health care facility exists in the vicinity of the colony. The nearest Primary Health Care centre is about three kilometres away and the General Hospital is about ten kilometres from the basti. Located about 15 kms from the main city and having infrequent transport services makes it impossible for people to access services in an emergency. It is reported that doctors and hospital authorities often neglect people from this community. It is not uncommon for complications and deaths due to the absence of health care even in case of diseases that can otherwise be cured easily. 11 Most of those who have acquired citizenship have ration cards and are eligible to have BPL cards. Many however are unable to get one owing to delays and lenghty process and what some call “unnecessary” inquiries. 12 Taking into consideration their poverty, granting BPL status is a necessary step in their upliftement.
Children form a large chunk of the basti’s population (60-65 children enrolled in primary school) but have little or no access to education. The primary school in the basti which has only one teacher. Children have to travel long distances to reach the nearest high school.
Those without citizenship are barred from taking up any sort of work in India. Most migrants in the basti belong to the Bhil, a tribal community, engaged mostly in agriculture. Refugees are however reported to be working in sandstone quarries.
The Present Condition
According to a report, nearly 5000 Hindus crossed the border to take refuge in India till September, 2009 though they claimed not to stay. There is a clear increase in the trickle with 880 people crossing over in 2007, 1240 in 2008 and 1000 till August 2009. 13 According to Hindu Singh Sodha, as of September 2012, nearly 7000 refugees in Rajasthan and about 2000 in Gujarat are believed to have arrived. A batch of around 350 people, which included 150 children and 90 women, came to Jodhpur aboard the Thar Express in the same month and were lodged in a temple on the outskirts of Jodhpur. This is considered to be one of the largest influxes of Hindus from Pakistan in the recent times. 14 Mostly arriving on pilgrim visas, refugees have no intention to return. It is reported that the Pakistan government makes them sign a bond declaring that they would return, in order to project Pakistan's image as a tolerant country. 15 Factors contributing to the flight remain unchanged although the force with which these factors are operating in Pakistan is greater now. The rising influence of the Taliban is another factor. With their increasing influence over areas of Sindh and Punjab, 16 Hindus are an easy target. There have been instances of violence, rape abductions and forced conversions.17 Pakistan chose to be an Islamic country and hence there is a firm grip of fundamentalists over its society. The result is persecution of minorities. One very evident case showing the practice of abduction and forced conversion of Hindu girls is the Rinkle Kumari Case. 18 The state of Pakistan and its affairs are in shambles.19
The Pakistani Hindu refugees are a highly ignored lot facing a number of problems including the non-provision of citizenship and lack of access to basic facilities. Hindus continue to arrive in India making it an important issue to address. This can be done by adopting a refugee policy with clear and well defined provisions. These further need to be implemented in letter and spirit. India has always been an accommodative and tolerant country and in furtherance of its constitutional principles and its international obligations it becomes imperative for the Government to take some affirmative action to benefit the cause of these refugees.
1.For detailed data see 2012 Regional Profiles Operations, available at http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4876d6.html (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
2. They are ethnic Sindhis who primarily speak Sindhi. For more understanding of the issue of Pakistani Sindhi refugees and for purposes of distinguishing them from the more general Pakistani Hindu refugees refer to Victor Barnouw, The Sindhis, Mercantile Refugees in India: Problems of their Assimilation, 27(1), PHYLON, 40, 40-49 (1966).
3. Hindu Singh Sodha, THE NOWHERE PEOPLE, 5 (2010). Unpublished.
4. Thar Parkar has a mixed Hindu Muslim population. The Muslims comprise of various castes like the Rajputs, Baluchis, Syeds and Lohanas. Hindus include people belonging to various castes like the Meghwals, Bhils, Sansis, Jogis, Odhs, Rajputs, Brahmins, Malis, Rabaris, Sonars, Jats, Nais, Darzis and several others. In the absence of proper census data, the Pakistan Hindu Council estimates that there are nearly 7000000 Hindus in the country out of which 94% are in Sindh. Going by district population figures Thar Parkar is the district with the highest number of Hindus. For figures refer to Population of Hindus in Pakistan, available at http://pakistanhinducouncil.org/hindupopulation.asp (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
5. According to Ethnologue, there are nearly 132000 people in Pakistan who speak Dhatki which is similar to Marwari. For more details visit Dhatki- A language of Pakistan, available at http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=mki (Last visited on September 18, 2012).
6. For more information on the close ties between the regions of Rajasthan and Sindh see Bani Gill, The Border Dialogues in Sindh and Rajasthan available at http://www.safhr.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=289:the-border-dialogues-in-sindh-and-rajasthan&catid=184:indo-pak&Itemid=624 (Last visited on September 20, 2012).
7. Due to the unavailability of census data from the Censuses of 1961 and 1971, the author had to rely on the data of Census of 1998. According to it, Hindus were a meager 1.60% of the total population where Muslims accounted for a whopping 96.28%. For the data see Population by Religion, available at http://www.census.gov.pk/Religion.htm (Last visited on September 19,2012).
8. The declaration of Martial Law in 1958, which remained in force till 1962, and the status of fundamental rights are very well discussed in the book by A.B.M. Mafizul Islam Patwari. See A.B.M. Mafizul Islam Patwari, Protection of the Constitution and Fundamental Rights under the Martial Law in Pakistan, 1958-1962 (1988) and Elliot Tepper, Pakistan in Retrospect, 27(3), INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL, 357 (1972).
9. Faiza Mirza, Where God once lived, DAWN (June 25, 2012), available at http://dawn.com/2012/06/25/where-god-once-lived/ (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
10. The present procedure for grant of citizenship involves extending visas initially. Extension is first granted for 6 months which can be subsequently renewed for another 6 months the first time, a year at the time of the subsequent 2 renewals, and 2 years for renewals after that. See Shyamveer Singh, Saat Hazar Pak Visthapito Ko Nagarikta Ka Intezaar, RAJASTHAN PATRIKA (September 22, 2012), available at http://www.rajasthanpatrika.com/news/jodhpur/9222012/city-news/373406 (Last visited on September 23, 2012).
11. Ranaram, a refugee residing in Jodhpur, lost his wife to malaria in the absence of access to healthcare. See Bhavna Vij-Aurora, No country for Pakistani Hindus, INDIA TODAY (April 27, 2012), available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pakistani-hindu-refugees-suffer-in-india-no-rehabilitation/1/186372.html (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
12. Interview with Tatraram, a Pakistani migrant (Bhil Basti, Kali Beri, Jodhpur, August 4, 2012). “Unnecessary” inquiries refers to the intelligence checks that refugees are invariably made to go through, given that all Pakistani nationals are naturally suspected.
13. Vimal Bhatia, Fearing Taliban, Pak Hindus take Thar Express to India, THE TIMES OF INDIA (September 10, 2009), available at http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-09-10/india/28087838_1_pak-hindus-indian-citizenship-munabao (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
14. In a television report by NDTV, it was told that this is the largest number of Pakistani Hindu refugees crossing over post the fencing of the border back in the mid-1960s. See the report NDTV, Pakistani Hindus refuse to go back, demand refugee status in India, September 11, 2012.
15. Harassed in Pakistan, homeless in India, NDTV (September 17, 2012), available at http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/harassed-in-pakistan-homeless-in-india-268291 (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
16. Richard Engel, The ‘Talibanization’ of Pakistan’s biggest city, NBC NEWS (September 30, 2008), available at http://worldblog.nbcnews.com/_news/2008/09/30/4376914-the-talibanization-of-pakistans-biggest-city (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
17. Bhatia, infra note 13.
18. Rinkle Kumari was abducted by a Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian Mian Mithu who forced her to marry Naveed Shah, his son, and convert to Islam. She approached the Supreme Court in order to be sent back to her mother but had to pay for it. Her grandfather was killed and goons roamed around her house. As a result she had to step down and accepted before the court that she converted to Islam and wanted to remain with Shah. The Court could not do anything and she was sent back to her ‘husband’. She has reportedly attempted suicide multiple times. See Anita Joshua, A growing intolerance, THE HINDU (August 21, 2012), available at http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article3800097.ece (Last visited on September 22, 2012).
19. Failure of successive regimes in fulfilling their developmental agendas has created a crisis situation. The weakness of the judicial system and deterioration of the law and order situation blocks out any possible recourse. See Laila Bokhari, Radicalization, Political Violence, and Militancy, in THE FUTURE OF PAKISTAN, 82, 84 (2011).