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Pakistani Hindus Flee to India, Seeking Refugee Status

Hindus who migrated from Pakistan to Jammu in 1947 participate in a protest demanding citizenship rights in Jammu, India, Sept. 8, 2012.
Hindus who migrated from Pakistan to Jammu in 1947 participate in a protest demanding citizenship rights in Jammu, India, Sept. 8, 2012.
A new group of Pakistani Hindus has arrived in India, seeking refugee statusciting religious persecution. A steady stream of Pakistani Hindus has come into India since last month and want to remain in the country.

Crossing the border

The group of about 170 Hindus came by train to Jodhpur city, close to India’s western border with Pakistan. Most of them were agricultural laborers in Pakistan.

Hindu Singh Sodha heads (Seemant Lok Sanghathan) a Jodhpur-based organization working for the rehabilitation of Hindu migrants from Pakistan. He says the arrival of Pakistani Hindus in India is not new, but that this is the largest group to have crossed the border in recent years. He says they want to stay on in India.

“[There is] only one reason, that is persecution and discrimination on religious basis. Persecution is the core reason,” said Sodha.

Since August, an estimated 400 Pakistani Hindus have arrived with valid pilgrimage visas, in India’s Punjab and Rajasthan states. They share a border Pakistan. The Pakistanis have told local media they do not want to return. They say the climate for religious minorities is worsening, with many Hindus in Pakistan facing alleged harassment, forced conversion, extortion and forced marriages.

Fleeing persecution

Pakistani officials deny such reports and have repeatedly said that its minority-Hindu community is safe. A committee appointed by Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari last month found no mass migration of Hindus from Pakistan's Sindh province. Roughly two - and - half million Hindus live in the Muslim-majority nation.

Ravi Nair at the South Asia Documentation Center in New Delhi says most of the migrants are poor landless laborers and could be seeking better opportunities in India. But he says growing religious intolerance also plays a role.

“While I think the main reason is the kind of economic exploitation . . . however with the new fundamentalist Islamic upsurge in many parts of Pakistan, there is quite certainly also a religious element to the persecution,” Nair stated.

The latest group of Hindu migrants taking refuge in Jodhpur is led by Chetan Ram. He has come with his three children - two girls and a boy. He says the family's predicament had gotten worse in Pakistan.

He says he cannot have self respect in Pakistan. He says, when his father died recently, he could not find a place to perform his last rites. He says he is often not paid the promised wages after a hard days work on the fields.

India keeping low profile

So far, the Indian government has maintained a low profile on the issue.

Sushil Kumar Shinde is India’s home minister. “Usually we do not want that they should stay here when they have their property and all this over there," he stated.

Ravi Nair says, although Indian officials will not press the migrants to return, they also do not want to bring too much attention to the issue.

“It does not want to make a big noise about it because it feels blanket permission to stay in India would mean an exodus of Hindu migrants from Pakistan," Nair explained. "It does not want to invite that kind of influx from the Hindu community in Pakistan.”

India says, in the last three years, some 3,000 Pakistani Hindus have remained in India after crossing the border. Requests for visa extensions have also increased in recent years.