Hindus from Pakistan are streaming into Rajasthan, claiming religious persecution, and local authorities say the migration could create a security problem in and around Jodhpur where they arrive.
There is also a vote bank emerging, which political organisations would like to exploit, people in the area said. Mostly agriculture workers, these “nowhere” people land in Jodhpur on the Thar Express from Karachi. Since they are given city-specific visas, most are stuck here working in sandstone mines and hoping for an Indian citizenship that would allow them a better life.
“India is a big country… hence there is considerable possibility for refugees to take shelter by crossing international frontiers. Recent migration of Hindus is owing to religious persecution and discrimination, which continues even today,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, spokesperson for Pak Visthapit Sangh (PVS), which is pressing for better rights for migrants.
According to official records, 64,000 such migrants from Pakistan who live in the state have secured Indian citizenship. Until 2004, citizenship was available to those who had lived in India for five years. It has now been raised to seven years.
Government officials and locals said the number of Hindus coming from Pakistan peaked after the two wars in 1965 and 1971. The third time people rolled across claiming religious persecution was after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992.
Since the Thar Express started in 2006, more have arrived in Jodhpur, with groups like the PVS demanding that the time required to obtain citizenship be reduced for these people. Some caste-based and politically motivated groups are also fanning emotions by projecting the migrants as victims of racial and religious abuse.
The local population sees recent migrants as Pakistanis using their Hindu identity to take away jobs. “Since India is developing rapidly it would be an obvious destination for people from across the border. If they fulfill the eligibility criteria for citizenship then we cannot deny them citizenship,” said Kiranswami Gupta, Commissioner of Jodhpur. She also warned against lowering the guard. “There is a lot of movement on the Indo-Pak border and nothing can be ruled out,” Gupta said, alluding to the security risk because of migration.
Some migrants said they moved because they had been persecuted, while others said they were offered jobs and land.
According to N. Gangwal, Jodhpur’s district magistrate, there was little evidence that these people had moved due to religious persecution. One of the difficulties, he said, the administration faced was in establishing the caste of the migrants. “Their papers only say Hindus so it is difficult,” he said.