|Crossing over. Pic; India Today|
What has made 250 Pakistani Hindus want to seek asylum in India? The obvious answer is that the community is persecuted. Hindu girls are kidnapped, raped, forced to convert to Islam and marry Muslims. This is true, as true as Muslim girls being kidnapped, raped, and forced to marry men they do not wish to be with. The only difference is that there is no conversion. Criminal law for all citizens of Pakistan is the same, and it falls short in execution where women’s issues are concerned.
The law does not protect minorities. The Blasphemy Law is ridiculous, for it assumes that non-Muslims will run down the Prophet or the Quran, although it must be understood that Muslims too have been arrested for the same.
However, I’d like to know why it is only Hindus who are looking to move to India, and why now? Christians are treated no better; Ahmadis suffer; Shias are killed. Only a small fraction of extremists is involved in such persecution and holding the country to ransom. We do hear Pakistani leaders talk about minority rights, and either they do nothing about it or have to suffer the consequences.
The Hindus who arrived here got visas for pilgrimage. Did they plan not to return, or was it an idea that germinated in their minds later? Do all of them belong to a group? Mass asylum – although this really isn’t all that large a number – is sought with some pre-meditation. Did the Indian government know about the plans?
The opinions are contradictory. Some say they are seeking refuge here because they are afraid. Others are emphatic they will return. Yet, voluntary organisations have rushed to help them the moment they crossed the border. Were they intimated about it?
India Today states:
NGOs, lawyers, professors and artists have stepped in to bring relief to the 113 Pakistanis, living in a refugee camp in the national capital. They have arranged for food, sanitation and even education for them.
Human Rights Defence secretary general Rajesh Gohna said, "We have moved the application for extension of visa for them and now we are going to meet the chief visa officer on the first (December 1). Our group could go there along with their representatives. We will request the government of India that their visas should be extended and long-term visa should be granted to them and subsequently citizenship should also be granted to them."
Are those who are here the persecuted cases? If they are being helped on the basis of actual experience, then the human rights organisations must file specific cases.
I am afraid that do-gooders these days also have political agendas. In their enthusiasm, they might take away from these Pakistani Hindus their homes and livelihood only to make a point.
|At the camp. Pic The Hindu|
Art of Living guru Sri Sri Shankar too met these Pakistanis at the camp. He runs a franchise operating in Pakistan. Has commercial gain superseded his concern for all these years? He visited the country a while ago. Did he listen to the woes of the Hindus? Did he approach the Indian government for assistance?
A PTI report of August 11 gives another picture:
"It would be wrong to say that Hindus or Hindu families who have crossed over to India were no more willing to go back to Pakistan," group leader Rajesh Singh said. The Hindus from Pakistan have come to India to pay obeisance in the Hindu historic temples located in Amritsar, Indore, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Delhi but not for asylum," he said, while dismissing as "rumours" reports of exodus of Hindus. "In fact, none of the Pakistan-based Hindu families could afford to live in India while leaving their ancestral houses and set up behind in Pakistan," he said.
250 of 4.3 million Hindus do not constitute an exodus. So, are there only practical considerations? Certainly that is the major reason. Since most are based in Sindh, it is rather obvious that it was a factor in their not moving to India during the Partition or later. It has been 65 years. How many tried to return to India? Were they denied licences to run their businesses in Pakistan? Don’t they hold jobs? I am speaking purely at the practical level. Indeed, there are fewer temples than there were in 1947. It is not the Islamists who have targeted those. They were mainly demolished as illegal constructions. There is rarely any mention of the celebration of Hindu festivals, including Ganapati visarjan.
A minority in a religion-based majority state is at a disadvantage by default. In principle and practice there are some things they have to accept and have done so. Therefore, Justice Bhagwan Das had taken the oath of office in the name of Allah. It seems absurd that the momins would want those they consider ‘kafirs’ to utter the name of Allah at all.
Returning to those who have arrived in Indian, an anonymous voice has been quoted:
"If Indian government throws open the doors for Pakistan based Hindus, they would flock to India," he said, adding that they felt life would be much easier here especially when they have to marry their children.
Again, it is a practical consideration.
India as refugee haven is a bit of a delusion. If these Hindus who have crossed over are provided for, despite being illegal immigrants (should that happen), and they are granted quick citizenship, it will raise questions about several Bangladeshis who have been living here for decades and should have become naturalised citizens and are not.
Would political parties be as enthusiastic had Muslim refugees decided to land up here and seek asylum? There are many more Muslim families who are separated. If persecution is the yardstick, then Pakistani Muslims are right up there.
The reason I bring this up is simple: It is not merely a humanitarian story. It is politically charged.
The global censure for its failure to protect minorities appears to be pinching the Pakistani regime. The 250 Hindus who recently arrived in India were briefly detained at the border by Pakistani authorities. They were allowed to enter India after signing a commitment to return, and told not to criticize Pakistan while in India.
Why did the Pakistan ask them to sign documents stating that they would return? Would the government not wish them to go away? Or do they fear a diplomatic impasse? That is unlikely. The Pakistani establishment has never expressed concern about such niceties. Is it really afraid of international repercussions when the concern is diplomacy and little else? Is Pakistan looking for lamb to feed the fundamentalists? Going by figures, and the different kinds of communities and sects targeted, this is unlikely.
Pakistan is a helpless spectator. If you have visited Hindu homes and met Hindus, or for that matter other minority groups there, they are not Islamised. I was at a friend’s home and her help wore a Gujarati style saree and a bindi. Shopkeepers run their businesses, their identities rather obvious. Sikhs, of course, stand out because of their turbans. If anything, it is the poor Christians who due to the menial tasks they are relegated to perform are disparaged. People don’t like comparisons, but think about how we treat “bhangis”.
Is the Indian government going to capitalise on this or play safe? Minister of State for Home, Mullappally Ramachandran, had said:
"All such Pakistani nationals who have come to India on group pilgrimage visa will have to return to Pakistan... within the visa validity period or the short extended period allowed in specific cases."
Since then, there are attempts to approach the authorities, mainly by making it into a TV show. The Hindutva parties will benefit the most. This should be pause for thought. Just as Indian Muslims, or even most Muslims in Pakistan, are urged not to fall into the rightwing trap, the same applies to Hindus, in Pakistan or in India. The ruling party should not bite the saffron bait and act in a hurry. It is dangerous, for Pakistan might want to swoop down on just such an opportunity and offer asylum to Indian Muslim victims of riots only to score points.
I understand that people are concerned, but let us look beyond the concern. How many of the Hindus were asked to “Go back to India” by the general Pakistani population? If it is fundamentalists we are talking about, then this is not what they want. This is what they do to draw attention to their shaky ideology.
I would not want to leave home. Think about those people too, the ones who are not part of this group of 250. In fact, think of mass exodus of Christians, Sikhs, Shias, Ahmadis. This will not be a reversal of Partition, but one more.
If we paid heed to the larger picture we’d not be feeding off a group of pilgrims.
(c) Farzana Versey