Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 41, Dated October 17, 2009
and constant fear for
their lives are making
Pakistani Hindus leave
their homes for an
uncertain life as
refugees in Rajasthan.
NISHA SUSAN reports.
THE REFUGEES DON’T call
them the Taliban but
they say the tablighis
used to visit their homes
every month. “They give
you false promises of
wealth, of their daughters in marriage.
They tell us that we will go to hell if we
don’t convert,” says Ajmal Ram, a 23-yearold
Pakistani refugee, one of the 1,000-
odd who arrive in India every year.
Every month a couple of Hindu families
(of the 2.44 lakh Hindus in Pakistan)
leave the land where they and their
parents had been born, to seek refuge, in
India. Each one talks of feeling watched,
being pushed further into their homes.
They celebrate their festivals as quietly as
possible or not at all. They pray behind
closed doors and many have considered
giving their children Muslim first names,
except that even that might attract
violence. Riding in public transportation
is a fraught event because someone might
decide that Hindus should sit with them.
Every refugee has a story of forced
conversion they witnessed. Women and
young children have disappeared only to
reappear as ‘converts’. The parents attempting
to get their children back are thwarted by a society that sees them as
non-Muslims first. “We stopped sending
our children to school. If they were
spotted doing well we would lose them
to the Tablighis,” is a constant refrain.
‘In Pakistan even inside
our homes we feared for
our lives. Here we sleep
soundly at night’
PRITAM AND PYAARI, Fled over a year ago
PRITAM ONCE WORKED in a gynaecologist’s
clinic in Pakistan’s Punjab province
acting as the doctor’s general factotum.
Their fears of living in the land they were
born in came from rumours of attacks
against Hindus. They were afraid to buy
more than what was absolutely necessary
at the grocery store because they didn’t
want to attract the attention of those who
looted and killed Hindus. Then a Muslim
accused Pritam of having an affair with his
wife and publicly threatened to shoot him.
It was the last straw. They spent their
savings in getting a visa to India.
‘It’s difficult here but we
can’t think of going back to
Pakistan. We could never
keep our children safe’
AJMAL RAM,Arrived this year
WITHIN YEARS OF each other two young children in Ajmal’s family disappeared.
When they reappeared as ‘willing converts’ to Islam the parents were not
allowed to take them home. Ajmal’s family did not even dare to speak to the
police. They moved to India in the hope of a freer life. Four months ago Ajmal
was suddenly rendered the only breadwinner for the large clan. His brother and
father had broken visa regulations by going to Bikaner to visit relatives. They
have been in jail since then.
‘Hindus are not
considered human beings
in Pakistan. They have
no respect for us’
RAJURAM, Arrived this month
THERE IS NO future for Hindus in Pakistan,” says 25-year-old Rajuram. His younger
brother Munna does not speak much but nods in agreement. In Pakistan, the
brothers were agricultural labourers who had to move as often as six times a year in
search of better landlords. “In Pakistan, there is no point in Hindus going to school or
trying for government jobs,” says Munna. “Hindus are afraid of sending their children
to school because we didn’t want our children to be spotted by the Muslims. If our
children are seen doing well they would make them disappear,” says Rajuram.
‘They took my son away
before he could think,
before he knew better. I
waited for him for years’
JEEOBHAI, Arrived last year
JEEOBHAI’S SON WAS 13 when he disappeared.
After frantic days she found him
in a neighbour’s home. Her son was Muslim
now, she was told. The police ignored
her complaints and the protests her community
organised. She did not see her
son until he came home as an adult. The
family moved to India hoping that living
among Hindus would ‘cure’ her son but
he returned to Pakistan within months.
‘We lived with hate
everyday. We left
everything for a chance to
live without fear ’
KABIR RAM AND RANI, Arrived in October
WE WANT TO be able to celebrate our
festivals openly,” says Kabir Ram. He is
too old to work, his wife is deaf and he is
not sure how many years it will take his
children to get visas to come to India.
But he has no regrets about the move.
“Every last Hindu family in my village is
trying to get visas to move to India”.
They have lived with public contempt
for being ‘bhoot-worshippers’. (There is
some irony in this because the refugees
are almost entirely Bhils and Meghwals
whose deity is Baba Ramdev, the 14th
century saint. Baba Ramdev or Ramshah
Pir is venerated by Muslims on both
sides of the border.) They have lived for
decades wearing their faith as invisibly as
possible. But now it seems like they
cannot be invisible enough.
|‘If our children were
spotted doing well we
would lose them to the
Tablighis,’ is the refrain
The persecution deepened the
poverty the families have suffered over generations. Work as agricultural labour
was plentiful in their fertile villages but
the Bhils rarely had an assured future.
The Meghwals, most of whom have
family trades such as shoe-making, told
themselves that success would make
them noticed and hence vulnerable.
The refugees usually spend years trying
to get a short-term Indian visa, trekking
from their distant villages (usually in
Rahim Yar Khan district in Pakistan’s Punjab
province) to Islamabad. Each family
has stories of living in the Krishna temple
in Islamabad, of pleading to the Indian
High Commission staff (Aren’t you
Hindus too?) When they finally board the
Thar Express that takes them from
Pakistan to Rajasthan, they carry little
more than their clothes.
|Pakistani Hindus have
lived for decades
wearing their faith as
invisibly as possible
The Indian relatives they have never
seen (but have been corresponding with)
have already told them it will take them
years of hardships to become a citizen.
Until then the Indian government will
give them nothing but will insist that they
stay put in one town — usually Bikaner or
Jodhpur. But nothing stems the growing
exodus. Each family talks of the dozens
more in Pakistan struggling to escape.
“Our fathers may have lived as slaves in
Pakistan but we can’t,” said Rawat Ram, a
23-year-old who was a promising college
student but is now a tailor in Jodhpur.
Others chafe at the current restrictions on
their lives. Even decade-old settlements
have no water or electricity The government
is open to granting them citizenship
and concurrent benefits if they wait out
the decade required. The refugees have no
intention of returning to Pakistan. Meanwhile
staying alive, is still a challenge.