“Aurat ke liye sabse achcha hai wahan se aana (it is the best for women to escape from Pakistan), say these Hindu women refugees.
Hindu refugee from Pakistan, Sunheri, arrived at the Majnu Ka Tila camp in New Delhi along with her husband Mangal Das and eight other members of their family "two days ago". Their arrival had not clocked 24 hours, when Sunheri announced that she was going on a mission.
She made the first move to rebuild her life. Along with her husband, she toiled to dig over and lay mud on a vacant piece of ground outside their relative Kishen Das's kutcha dwelling. Sunheri, ideally, should have chosen to take some rest - in her new commotion-filled set up.
Instead, she prepared to initiate the mission with her husband at the camp, which is home to Hindu refugees from Pakistan.
They are rebuilding a home - from scratch - "in Bharat" - a place she calls her "motherland". In the process of toil, they perhaps wanted to forget, and finally turn away from, the looming fears and threats to their lives of persecuted Hindus living in Pakistan.
Sunheri and Mangal Das want to forget the anxieties which surrounded their long and arduous journey from Sindh. This is a beginning of a new set of hardships in their lives, but it was part of the game of escape, as per Mangal Das.
Anything for dharma, he says. Why did Mangal Das want to cross over - to India? One answer: "dharm".
He adds, "Dharm ki dikkat hai. Hum bas dharm ke liye chhod ke aayen hain wahan se sab. Apne hee dharm ke baare mein bachchon ko pata nahin chalta, parhaya nahin jata, darr hai. Yahan Sanatan hai (the challenge is to dharma, we have left everything for it, our kids would never get to know of their own dharma had we not escaped. There was fear, Bharat has Sanatan)" he says.
On the night of December 10, when other Hindu refugees living at the Majnu ka Tila camp were breaking into emotion and prayers - watching the historic tabling and the passing of the Citizenship Amendment Bill 2019 in Lok Sabha, Sunheri soiled her hands in mud - in the dark.
Her eyes were set on the hardships their fellow refugees are facing at the camp.
Sunheri breaks her silence. "Mujhe yahan ki boli nahin aati hai. Hamari boli aati hai. Idhar bahut khush hain. Apne desh mein aa gaye hain. Bharat jo hai wo Hinduon ka desh hai (I know Sindhi, but I am very happy in my country Bharat - the land of Hindus)."
On 11 December, when this author visited the Majnu ka Tila camp, Sunheri was separating stones and mud with her hands on a mound of loose mud. Assisting her in this grueling assignment Mangal Das was working up furious blows of the spade on the hard end of the ground.
In Sunheri, the joy of smearing her hands in the mitti of Bharat, was marked by a sense of victory of having over come their past.
The smell of burning wood in chulhas rises from every kutcha dwelling, every hut, at the camp. It is that time of the day when most women here light up the chulhas to prepare the first meal.
Sunheri does not have even that basic. She doesn't have a chulha to cook for her children, leave alone a having a roof to brave the winter chill.
Having left everything she had built so far, in Pakistan, without even having the chance to sell any of that to the Muslim locals there - for the fear of "being stopped from leaving", she seems to have accepted the new idea of home. She calls this homecoming.
Mangal Das, just as most Hindu refugees staying at this camp have stated earlier, says that he did not have the option to sell his property to support his travel, or support the beginning of the process of lives here. "Bechenge to wo rokenge (if we sell, we will be stopped by them)."
He says that they left their home in the night. "Chup chaap aanaa padta hai. Usko daya to hoti nahin hai. (we have to escape stealthily in the dark, they don’t have compassion), " he adds.
For years, every day, Sunheri and Mangal Das would be told by their relatives - mostly Hindu refugees from Pakistan living in India, that it was time for them, too, to leave, escape, for the sake of their dharma, their children, and their children's dharma.
Her salwar kameez are beginning to take the hue of mud and labour. Sweat trickles down her brows mixing with the kohl from her eyes and grime. Her hands are tired and turning rough with mud, but she continues with the task.
The memory of broken rice and the reality of broken homes are two aspects sharing home with Parvati and Sayani.
Living as Hindu labourers who worked on the fields for Muslim landowners in Sindh, according to Sayani, was about facing discrimination. "The meager pay would be delayed, and worse, would be inadequate."
Sayani is helping her Hindu refugees relatives rebuild lives. Her brother in law's kids play with the rice left for drying in the sun. Looking at the rice, she says, "living there wasn't safe for us and for our children. I stepped out to buy this rice drying here from shops outside the camp. It was unimaginable there. My daughter has gone to school. Unimaginable there. More importantly, we are getting to eat decently."
Parvati and Sayani belong to two different families. Rice builds a common grain of memory for both.
Parvati cannot seem to erase from her memory how they had to make do with kanki - broken rice - for their cooking back in their village in the Sindh province.
Broken rice is all they would get to gather for their hard work on the fields.
Parvati echoes a sentence which has now become a recurring voice: "Tum neech log ho". "Neech log", she tries to explain, arose as their identity from within their persecution.
Parvati repeats it several times when she recalls her life in Pakistan. "This is what we would be told when we managed to step out of our houses. Forget girls, even boys would remain bound indoors for the fear of hearing taunts attacking our dharma. Tum log neech ho, aise ho, waise ho."
Parvati arrived, along with her husband and family in a jattha (a group of many families). Her sister in law Dharma says that they ran away fearing for religious and emotional security of their children. "It was impossible to continue living there because our kids would be first told about the other religion if at all they went to study. We are facing hardships, but we have no fear."
Sunheri, Parvati and Sayani use public toilets, which are installed at the entrance of the camp. The camp still awaits electricity connection as per them. The camp awaits many Hindus who are still struggling to escape persecution there and talk about it to Parvati and Sayani over the phone.
There are other strenuous hardships brought by the denial of citizenship and hence, related challenges, such as lack of proper amenities, no work opportunities, lack of trust among locals for the refugees, lack of adequate medical care.
"Aurat ke liye sabse achcha hai wahan se aana (it is the best for women to escape from Pakistan)," Sayani declares. Indian citizenship and CAB, these proud Hindu women say, are their last thread of hope for better lives.