Why Pakistani Hindu Refugees Go Back, And What Can We Do About It?
The Hindu refugees are still hopeful that the Indian administration will take prompt and appropriate action to ensure citizenship is granted to every one of them.
Imagine living under an oppressive government that facilitates the abduction of minor Hindu girls, uses rape as a weapon against Hindu women, and indulgences in the unimaginable acts of human rights violations with the single purpose of forcibly converting its minority Hindu population to Islam.
Now imagine you are able to escape this trauma, just to be forced to regularly pay the oppressive government for the privilege of fleeing these atrocities; precisely this is what is happening to Hindu refugees who are able to escape Pakistan.
I had the opportunity to meet with many Pakistani Hindu refugees in Jaisalmer to understand their journey to India and why some from among them eventually decided to return to Pakistan.
When a Hindu migrant family decides to move to India, it is a very traumatic experience. Due to the high cost of migrating to India, the family has to choose who will be the first one in the family to move to India; this results in the breaking of the family. You will find sons who have not seen their parents for years, brothers who have not been able to see their sisters, and even parents who had to leave one of their children behind.
"By the time we arrive in India, the only thing left is cloth on our body; we have spent every paisa coming to India," said one of the migrants.
Once they arrive, no matter their qualifications in Pakistan, they have to start working on menial jobs to survive for the first few years. They stay in homes with no electricity, water, or sewage, and shades that they call home. They endure all of these hardships because they have hope of one day becoming Indian citizens and then bettering their life.
But to their surprise, they are required to renew their passports from the Pakistani embassy every two years. This renewal process is approximately Rs 8,000 per person, and due to an average migrant family size of six individuals, the cost comes out to be [close to] Rs 50,000.
For the renewal process, every family member must travel to Delhi, where they have to sleep on the footpath with their kids. One elderly migrant aptly said, "We do not understand why we have to pay the Pakistani embassy cores of rupees; this results in all our savings drying up."
The Indian government is aware of this exploitation. It has taken some steps to address this issue. For example, migrants who arrived in India before 31 December 2009 are exempted from renewal of their passport, but this leaves thousands of migrants who came to India after 31 December 2009, vulnerable to this rule. Local administrations constantly harass even the migrants who came before the set dates once they find out the expiration of their Pakistani passports.
After Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, there was great hope amongst Hindu refugees. They were hoping for an administration sympathetic to their struggle; one that would take prompt and appropriate actions to ensure citizenship is granted to Hindu refugees.
Unfortunately, they are disappointed but still hopeful, especially after the passing of the Citizen Amendment Act of 2019. As we wait for the implementation of the Citizen Amendment Act, Prime Minister Modi's government can take some simple steps to lessen the burden of Hindu refugees:
1. According to the current rules, individuals who have migrated to India for more than seven years (in some cases 12 years) are qualified to become Indian citizens, so make them Indian citizens.
2. Put a stop to the requirement of renewal of passports for Hindu refugees even if they arrived in India after 31 December 2009.
3. Work with grassroots organisations like the Ishwar Sewa Foundation and Universal Just Action Society (UJAS) to create greater ease in getting official government documents to ensure each Hindu migrant has appropriate documentation to ensure speedy Indian citizenship.
Furthermore, beyond ease of getting Indian citizenship, we need to ensure refugees under CAA are provided grants for homeownership, education, reskilling opportunities, and women entrepreneurship.
Every Hindu who returns to Pakistan is a great shame for India. These migrants' passports might say Pakistani citizen on their passport, but they are every bit Indian.
"When partition happened in 1947, our parents thought this would be temporary; how can one stop being an Indian overnight? In our hearts and mind, we always think of ourselves as Indians; we do not want to go back, but how long can we stay away from our families, for how long can we live without electricity and water and no hope for better education for our kids? When we get our visa to India, it is the single best day in our lives, so when we decide to go back, it is after we have exhausted every other option. We do not want to go back," said one of the Hindu refugees.
As Hindus, let us ensure we do everything possible to stop the unimaginable pain of a Hindu migrant giving his hard-earned savings to an Islamist administration across the border. Let us help them build a better life in Bharartvarsha.
Click here to listen to the plights of these Hindu migrants from Pakistan.
Jiger Patel tweets at @jigerPatel
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