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The nowhere people

The nowhere people
People, who are aware of Modi’s style of governance, would not be amazed on his alacrity with which he has acted upon his promises but why are no questions raised when actions are taken selectively? What about promises that were made during the run up to General Elections 2014 about the immigrants from Pakistan?

The issue raises serious doubts over ‘misplaced’ priorities of this new dispensation. Why has this serious issue been put on backburner? What is the priority list that this government is working on? Is Pakistan’s persecuted minority issue less significant than the Indo-Americans?

Moti Bheel (name changed), 65, came to India a year ago from Sanghar, Sindh, Pakistan. He came here with eight other family members including his wife, a married younger son with his wife and three kids and two grown up children of his elder son.

Moti’s elder son and his wife were not granted visa by the Indian embassy. They were repeatedly denied visa and in this entire process they lost all their cash that they had collected in Pakistan all this while.

“Nearly a year has elapsed since we applied for the visa. After putting so much effort, we finally decided to send our children back to Pakistan but again getting a return visa for them was also a complicated task. All our efforts, during this period, seemed to be in vain as our family is now completely divided,” explained Moti.

“We have continuously been facing religious persecution in Pakistan. I witnessed incidents where young girls of our relatives were abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married by Muslim men. There were no other ways to escape the unfortunate fate that was staring at us than to migrate to India,” Moti recalled.

“Unfortunately, our pain has not ended even after coming to India. Our mobility is restricted to Jodhpur only. We can’t go outside to work on any agriculture land, the only skill with which we can earn our livelihood. Shelter and other basic facilities are not easily met with. We don’t know what to do in order to survive in India and how to meet the basic needs of our family. It is a tough situation as we know no one and there is no government scheme to help us either.” Moti added.

Moti’s story is only the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of people alike who have left Pakistan out of fear of religious persecution and are now staying in different parts of Rajasthan. People started migrating from Pakistan back in 1965 when border was not fenced and the process continues till date.

Western Rajasthan lends a ray of hope to these migrants and accommodates more than 1,35,000 people from across the border. Out of these, 20,000 people stay in refugee settlements at various districts in Rajasthan like Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Barmer and Sri Ganganagar. And almost 10,000, despite being eligible for Indian citizenship, still wander from pillar to post to get Indian citizenship,” says Hindu Singh Sodha, President of Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS) & Universal Just Action Society (UJAS).

UJAS advocates for Pakistani immigrants in India who are fleeing religious persecution. Despite escaping dangers in Pakistan, they are still denied basic human rights in India. Among these are the rights to citizenship, rehabilitation, livelihood, and education. The founder of UJAS, Hindu Singh Sodha, has been at the forefront of this issue for decades.

G Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner of India to Pakistan, feels very strongly about the issue, “It is very shameful that government of India is doing nothing for those who have come to India and for those who are being persecuted in Pakistan. I believe that the government should take immediate steps and move a proposal in the Parliament under which we could give due protection to these people.”

“Our country has always adopted different approaches when it comes to dealing with people from countries like the US, Britain, other European countries and from our neighbour countries, but we should not be reading too much into this as NRIs make some contribution to our economy. However, on purely humanitarian ground, government should go ahead and extend its support to persecuted Pakistan’s minorities as well. Fanaticism has reached to its precipice in Pakistan. People who belong to Hindu and Christian communities are simply not allowed to practice their religion and their girls are being raped and married against their family will. All this is happening under the nose of Pakistan government,” Parthasarathy explained.

It sometimes’ exposes the level of insensitivity and understanding when dealing with burning issues like granting visas to migrants from neighbouring countries and acknowledging them as refugees with, if I may say, ho jayega kind of attitude. It seems there is no sense of urgency to deal with such sensitive issues. Modi, the then prime ministerial candidate for the BJP, while addressing a campaign rally for General Elections 2014 in Assam assured, “India is the land for Hindus across the globe and they are welcome to stay here. We have a responsibility toward Hindus, who are harassed and suffer in other countries. Where will they go? India is the only place for them. Our government cannot continue to harass them. We will have to accommodate them here.”

Situation in Pakistan has become bad to worse over the period of last few years. Fanaticism has taken centre-stage; Pakistan’s minorities have become vulnerable to these fanatics. People, who are leaving Pakistan, have become victims of religious bigotry and it is not a new phenomenon it has been happening for over last four decades now. But now a new trend has emerged all this while. Young girls are being abducted and forcefully converted in to different religions. Anyone who resists gets raped.

“People from across the border have been coming to India to save their dignity, to save their children, to get a new life in which they could practice their religion and faith without any fear. It is India’s moral responsibility to accommodate these people and give them hope. Indian governments want to be politically correct which is why they are delaying this issue and moving slow,” says Anand Kumar, professor, Jawahar Lal Nehru University.

“I can think of one another reason behind the slow action of the government. It has this imaginative fear of mass influx from Pakistan as there are millions of other minorities like Christians living in Pakistan who are feeling very insecure. They all would love to be in India if they get easy access,” he added.

“Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju on 22 July 2014 submitted a written reply on floor of the house on citizenship to Pakistani migrants. Only 3,753 Pakistani nationals have been granted Long Term Visa (LTV) whereas numbers are somewhere close to 20,000 in Rajasthan alone. India has granted its citizenship to only 1,054 people in last four years. Government has set up a Task Force to expedite the process of granting LTV but nothing has moved thereafter,” Sodha added.

“Centre on 15 December 2014 took a notable step to grant five years visa instead of one year to the members of the minority communities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to address grievances in accord citizenship in future. However, according to the new policy, every citizen will have to go through an enquiry process that will be held annually. That could again be a harassing situation for these poor and uneducated people as it might also create a situation of corruption,” says Sodha.

“We have a history of providing refuge to millions of persecuted and displaced people coming from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Tibet. Bilateral agreement should be looked at; however, when people of any country fear that they could lose their lives in their respected countries under some terrible circumstances it is the job of neighbouring countries to make sure their lives are saved,” says Shashank, Former Foreign Secretary of India.

Life is priceless. It’s not about people from minority or majority group, it is all about a dignified life that we all expect from our rulers. Every individual must be respected. His or her rights must be protected as per constitution. Violation of any human rights defeats the purpose of democracy altogether. Therefore, government needs to come forward and take appropriate steps to serve the most hapless people on our soil regardless of their religion or origin.
Saurabh Sharma

Saurabh Sharma

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