After years of discrimination, 3 Pakistani Hindu migrants become Indian citizens
Tejveer Singh Sodha was only too happy to express his elation and gratitude whereas Sandesh Kumar and Vinita were cautious about talking to the media for fear of being identified by their past.jaipur Updated: Jun 16, 2017 15:57 IST
Tejveer Singh Sodha is a relieved man. The 25-year-old former Pakistani Hindu can now lead a “normal” life as he has become an Indian.
Sodha, along with Sandesh Kumar and Vinita , was among the three Pakistani Hindus to be made Indian citizens on Wednesday by the Jaipur district collector after they satisfied the eligibility conditions — seven years of stay in India.
While Kumar and Vinita were cautious about talking to the media for fear of being identified by their past, Sodha was only too happy to express his elation and gratitude.
“I can’t express how happy I am to become an Indian citizen and to shed the Pakistani tag. I want to thank the district collector and all the officials who supported us,” he told HT on Thursday.
The happiness and suffering he went through can be dated back to 1947 when India was partitioned into India and Pakistan after independence from the British. In the bloodiest of mass churnings, many Muslims from India moved to Pakistan and Hindus from there shifted to this part of the subcontinent. Yet, many were left behind or stayed back, and have been facing harassment and discrimination.
According to activists, 1.35 lakh Pakistani Hindus have come to India since 1965 and now their population is estimated to have increased to around 5 lakh. In Rajasthan, their numbers is said to be 21,000 and counting.
Many of them take up odd jobs or live in ghettos in Jaisalmer and Jodhpur districts. Those who are lucky and better-educated find occupations that pay them more. But they often have to face difficulties because of their Pakistani citizenship.
Sodha came from his ancestral home in Sindh province of Pakistan in 2006, a year after his sisters were married off to Indian men, and has been staying with them in Jaipur until his parents came here a couple of years ago (they are not yet eligible for applying for Indian citizenship).
After school, he completed his hotel management degree from an institute in the Pink City three years ago and has been hunting for a good job. The Pakistani tag had, however, affected the process.
“It took me five years to get the (Indian) citizenship. A little late, and it would have done irreparable damage to my career,” Sodha said, adding that he now plans to move out of Jaipur to some metro cities to pursue a career in the hospitality industry.
A December 2016 order from the Union ministry of home affairs had given 40 district collectors, including those of Jaipur, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, the power to award citizenships to Pakistani migrants who fulfilled the criteria for the same.
‘Discrimination and mistreatment’
Sodha recalled how he was mistreated by people here and called a ‘Pakistani’.
“At times I have been called a Pakistani by people here who couldn’t quite fathom that why we are here. It felt bad, to be discriminated in across the border because of being a Hindu and in India as a Pakistani,” he said.
Sandesh Kumar noted that he had to face discrimination in Pakistan too.
“When I used to travel by public transport in Pakistan during Rakshabandhan, I would wipe off the tilak from my forehead and remove the Rakhi that my sister tied me. I would never call my family members by their names, in fear that they will be identified as Hindus,” he told HT.
Kumar said that he can now finally breathe a sigh of relief.
“I urge the government to consider our plight and reduce the eligibility criteria from seven to five years. It becomes extremely difficult in India without proper identity cards,” he said, without revealing further details about himself.
Vinita did not talk to journalists on the matter.