This article was initially published in View Point Online magazine
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In terms of granting Indian citizenship Gujarat has the worst record, where Pakistani Hindus who migrated as far back as 1982, are yet to receive their Indian citizenship
Six decades and three generations have passed since Indo-Pak partition, yet the migration of Sindhi Hindus from across the border hardly shows any change. Religious persecution in almost every sphere of Pakistani Hindu lives ensures that this pattern of migration, never really stops. Migration to India is still an attractive option for Hindus irrespective of their caste, which makes it a lucrative business for the visa agents in Sindh. To make matters worse the Indian visa regime’s cumbersomeness adds to the woes of the Pakistani Hindus.
However, their woes do not end there, for once they cross the visa hurdle, the immigrant Pakistani Hindus face yet another difficulty to get their Indian citizenship, which of course is tied up with complicated procedures. Any Hindu from Pakistan needs to apply for Long Term Visa (LTV) extensible by each year. This continues till the migrant completes seven years stay in India to become eligible for Indian citizenship. As per guidelines applicant gets citizenship provided he/she was born before 1947 or else the migrant must stay in India for 12 years in order to apply for the Indian citizenship. Their biological children however get automatic citizenship with them. Another problem is the expiration of the Pakistan passport, which is set at five years, so the migrant has to deal with the conditions put in by the Pakistani authorities as well.
Once the migrants receive the LTV, they are faced with more problems, including permission from the Foreigner Registration Office (FRO) to merely venture out of 20 Km radius of the city/town which takes a minimum of 15 days to process. Sindhi Hindu living in northern and western India are the worse hit. For even to get their daughters married to a man in another state (a norm among Sindhis in India) or to meet anyone, they have to bribe government officials, since no such provisions have been made in the law governing such travel.
Dr Raj, who migrated from Karachi is an obvious example of government apathy of the guidelines which does more harm than good. Dr Raj was a practicing dermatologist in Karachi before migrating due to religious prosecution. He immigrated around three years ago and remains technically jobless, since the Medical Council of India (MIC) allows Pakistani immigrant doctors to only work for charitable hospitals. His residence, mobile number, and utility bills are all in his married sister’s name, who is an Indian citizen; because as an immigrant he is not yet allowed to own personal property. From a flourishing medical practice to a dependent on his sons pay, Dr Raj Kumar’s life has taken a turn for the worse. Despite repeated applications, MCI refused to change its stand, although medical practitioners could well be used in rural areas where Indian citizens tend to avoid.
In Ahmadabad city, migrant Hindus speak of private jobs being denied simply because of the word “Pakistan” being attached to their names. People tend to avoid anybody with a Pakistani tag despite being fully aware of the fact that they left Pakistan due to religious prosecution. In reality, Ahmadabad the epicentre of so-called Hindutava hardliners is the worse in the country when it comes to treating immigrant Hindus. Harassment of Pakistani Hindu immigrants by the police has been higher compared to Rajasthan or MP/Chattisgrah. The silence of major political parties including Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) only worsens the matter. In terms of granting Indian citizenship Gujarat has the worst record, where Pakistani Hindus who migrated as far back as 1982, are yet to receive their Indian citizenship.
There has been a growing trend among the upper caste Sindhi Hindus to help at least their own family members to migrate to India. Nonetheless, the situation for lower caste, or scheduled class Hindus like Bheels, Meghwars, Kohlis et el being poorest of the poor, has not been much fortunate. Dumped by upper caste Hindus in Sindh as well as in India these groups have been the worse sufferers of religious prosecution. Victims of rape have not only been denied justice, but even humane treatment. They are frequently terrorised, illegally imprisoned by feudal lords as well as physically attacked for asking for their pay. Denied even the basic rights by the Government in Pakistan, these people face the most difficulty in resettling themselves in India, even though they share their caste with Rajasthan and Gujarat – the two states where they tend to migrate. The year 1971 saw a massive migration of Hindus, around 90,000 from the Tharparkar district of Sindh, who despite stiff opposition from the Indian government, were able to get their citizenship. But ever since then the Government of India (GOI) has denied citizenship.
Unfortunately it is the migration of lower caste Hindus which has never been under focus be it India or Pakistan. Uneducated and unaware of the procedures for Indian citizenship, these scheduled caste Hindus continue to suffer in India as well. The latest case has been of a group of 213 Meghwars who remained without citizenship despite 20 years of residence in Haryana. They suffered a setback when the rights of awarding citizenship were moved from District Collector to Central Government as per Assam Accord. Although this did help Assamese Hindus on demography it further marginalized the Pakistani immigrant Hindus.
Had it not been for Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS) led by 1971 Migrant Hindu Singh Sodha, the conditions of immigrants from Pakistan might have been even worse. The organization supports the immigrants from their arrival till they get their citizenship. The prevalence of low literacy rate does not help them much in improving their situation and they need active government as well as social support, which currently is evasive at the moment.
It is debated whether the Pakistani Hindus should be allowed to settle or should be deported. As Sindh province in Pakistan that houses 95% of the Pakistani Hindus, did not witness massive rioting in 1947 evenly. However since, the data that comes up from time to time clearly points out to religious prosecution, which as per the GOI LTV guidelines, makes the Hindus from Sindh eligible for immigration. So the question remains, what prevents GOI to take up the matter with Pakistan? And what prevents us to stand up for immigrant Hindus?
Rakesh Lakhani, IT professional from Gandhidham who works with Seemant Lok Sangathan and blogs about problems faced by Pakistani Hindus in India. On twitter @rakesh_lakhani