Khan Zadi, 40, an expectant mother, fled Pakistan four months back, hoping for a better life for her child in India. She has been living in a village near the forest area of Bhati Mines with other Hindus from across the border since then. Unfortunately, she hardly found a change in her life here as she continues to battle for basics. A couple of days back, she gave birth to a baby boy. Facing religious persecution across the border, many Pakistani Hindus crossed over.
Hers is among the 10-12 jhuggis located on both sides of the Sanjay Colony police chowki. The area is called ‘Pakistani mohalla’. Ironically, their kuccha houses were referred as a Hindu colony in Pakistan. “We are seen as Hindus there and Pakistanis here. Our kids don’t mix well with other kids complaining of being teased as Pakistanis. Our struggle brought no difference to our lives. We continue to live in fear,” said Khan.
She is one of the 40 Pakistani Hindus who carried the tales of discrimination with them on a 20-day pilgrimage visa and have now decided to seek asylum in India. Since India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, it cannot recognise fleeing Pakistani Hindus as ‘refugees’ officially. So the emigrants have to wait for seven years before applying for citizenship under the Indian Citizenship Act of 1955. Being born and brought up in Rahim Yar Khan District in the Punjab province of Pakistan, this Hindu minority group faced severe discrimination there.
“We have worked so hard as labourers there that our bodies shivered after a point. But there was no money for our work. The way Britishers treated Indians in old Bollywood films, we were treated the same way in our birthplace. At least here we have a place to live and work to do,” said Laila bai, who has three toddlers to take care of.
In his speech in April 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that Pakistani Hindu refugees would be treated like other Indian citizens but without proper identification documents, people like Laila are waiting for help from the government. Pakistani refugees cannot get proper jobs or reap benefits from state welfare schemes. According to Seemant Lok Sangathan, a Rajasthan-based organisation fighting for the rights of Pakistani Hindu refugees, almost 1,20,000 Pakistani Hindus are now living in India and approximately 1,000 migrate to India annually in the hope of an Indian citizenship.
Most people from the Pakistani colony, including children, work in various south Delhi colonies like Chhatarpur,
Khanpur, Saket, Khirki etc as construction workers and daily wage labourers. After selling their cattle and household possessions at throwaway prices, they managed money for a train journey to India. For people who claim to have never felt happiness since birth, India is their last resort.
“I had to give up my education after class VI because of religious discrimination in schools. We were asked to recite kalmas in school. The only reason we crossed over was for our kids so that they could study, have a dignified life and jobs,” said construction worker Soda Ram with his thick Riasti accent.
Hindus are the single largest minority in Pakistan and form about 2% of the total population. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) stated that Pakistan saw a 22% rise in religious violence in 2014 when 687 people were killed in more than 200 attacks. The HRCP also added that around 600 to 1,000 families fled to India in 2012-13. With half of their families stranded in Pakistan and the other half struggling to make a life here, both long for a closure to their problems.
“All we demand are basic amenities. We have a place to cover our heads here but no life. In this forest, we are as good as animals. Wild animals attack our kids and fear cripples our lives after sunset,” said Ramesh Kumar, another asylum seeker.
Last week, a wild pig from the forest attacked one of the children and injured his arm. Since then there has been no movement in the village after the sunset. Stories of mine workers dying in a stream next to the jhuggis makes them wary of stepping out of their makeshift tents.
“It is said that people who died here were never cremated. But for us, this is our home. It is better than our earlier home where everybody used to haul abuses at us. And none of the women stepped out of houses out of fear. We were always told that India is our home and that is why we came here,” said nine-year-old Ramesha, who is learning the art of embroidery from her mother so that she is able to make a living soon.