Sitting underneath a handmade bamboo roof, Nehru Lal (45) doesn’t seem to acknowledge that someone is standing at his doorstep. Going through his android phone, he is watching ‘atrocities against Hindus in Pakistan’ on YouTube. Sensing my presence, he finally whispers to his family members, ‘There comes another reporter’.
I quietly sat next to Nehru who burst out finally, ‘Why have you come here?, Many journalists have come, written, shot videos but our lives haven’t changed.' Around 650 Pakistani-origin Hindus are living in a camp right behind Majlis Park metro station in Delhi. All of them say, it’s been six years now and we don’t have electricity or water supply.
That vital escape — To get one passport made, each Hindu had to pay Rs 25,000 to Pakistani agents. (Photo: Author)
The escape from Pakistan — Rs 25,000 per passport
It was in 2013 that a group of 480 Pakistani Hindus got their passports made. Kajal (52), who makes a living today by selling mobile covers, said, “We decided to trick the Pakistani authorities — it was in 2013 that all of us decided to get our passports, as that was the only way we could have come to India. At the passport office, the agent was speculative but we told him that all of us are pilgrims and want to go to the Kumbh mela.”
Not understanding their motives, Pakistani agents promised to give them passports for Rs 25,000 each. In March 2013, all of them travelled from Khokhrapar check post in Pakistan to board a train and reach Munabao railway station located in Barmer district in Rajasthan. They were hoping for a better life in India.
It is certainly a challenging experience. All of them complain that every year, each one of them has to pay Rs 1000 to get their visas renewed as they are still struggling to get the dreamt-of Indian citizenship.
Life is not adarsh in Delhi's Adarsh Colony. But it is an escape for the Hindus who faced torture in Pakistan. (Photo: Author)
'We underwent daily torture'
But the Pakistani Hindus who thus escaped have powerful reasons to stay put.
In 1951, Hindus formed 22% of the Pakistani population — today, they have been reduced to less than 1.6% (Pakistan Census 2017). Either they are forced to convert, or live like third-grade citizens, or even apparently push their women into the flesh trade.
Here, Balram (22) greets his friends, saying, ‘Jai Shri Ram’. He tells me, 'In Sindh, we couldn’t openly say these three words. All festivals, from Diwali to Holi, were celebrated indoors. Every second day, police would pick us up, lock us up and start beating us up without any reason.”
The group says forced conversion is nothing new in that country. “We escaped the conversion part, but I know of many Hindus being converted in the name of a having a better life in Pakistan. What has come out in the news now is that two minor girls were abducted and forced to convert — the reality is that around 25 girls were abducted and no one talks about it. If it comes out in the open, Pakistan will not leave that reporter alive,” said Geeta Devi. “The fear of Hindu girls being abducted in Pakistan is so much that we never stepped out alone in that country,” added Devi.
Tensions erupted, according to these refugees, when the Babri Masjid was demolished in 1992. Now, with the Balakot air-strikes, many Hindu families in Pakistan must have been tortured, they claim. Similarly, the refugees fear, if a decision favourable to the Hindu community in India on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir were to come out, Hindus would be targetted in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Yes, there are small moments of relief too in the Hindu Pakistani refugee community. (Photo: Author)
No proper schooling, jobs or social equality
Life was apparently beyond bleak in Pakistan; the Pakistani Hindu refugees say they didn’t send their kids to school there as Islamic teaching was forced on them. Jamna (44) said, 'How could we send our kids to school knowing that Islamic teaching is being given to them? There were no jobs for our kids — the first thing that anyone asked us was, what’s your religion? The moment they came to know we are Hindus, they would turn their backs on us. So, we survived on farm produce. We led lives worse than a dog in Pakistan.”
Praying for deliverance was also hard. There are only a handful of temples remaining in Pakistan. Ram Chander (60), who runs a grocery store inside the refugee camp today, says, 'There is one Kali temple in Hyderabad and one Shiv temple in Karachi. The rest,' he claims, 'have been destroyed by them.'
Looking ahead: With their children finally getting a proper education in India, the refugees can dream of tomorrow. (Photo: Author)
'Imran nothing before Modi'
Imran Khan has done nothing new to change this situation in his 'Naya Pakistan' — the Pakistani Hindu refugees dismiss Khan's leadership entirely. 'What is Imran Khan? He doesn’t have the calibre to even stand in front of Modi, ' says Lal, animatedly now. 'Modi had the guts to inaugurate a temple in Saudi Arabia — can Imran Khan open a mosque in India? Khan is bankrupt and doesn’t have the knowledge or stature to compete with Narendra Modi,” Lal adds.
Saying Namaste. With pride. (Photo: Author)
Houses of mud
The life of the refugees has been uniformly hard though.
After crossing over to India, they stayed on the outskirts of Bijwasan, New Delhi. Garib Das (55) said: 'When we came to Adarsh Nagar, the government had dumped us here, with no facilities. We have literally picked up stuff lying on the road and made our house. When the Delhi Metro was being made (Pink Line), we used to take cement and floor tiles. No one helped us — so we had to take this extreme step.”
Candidly, he invited me inside his house and said, see, the sofa, bed and everything inside the one room tenement has been given by someone. The houses are made of mud, which is not resistant to rain. Every day, young girls of this small neighbourhood have the task to pick up wood from nearby areas, so that they can use it to cook food. A few houses have bought batteries and that’s how they charge their mobile phones. Living in the refugee camp for more than six years now, all of them say that no one looks at them.
“There are mosquitoes breeding everywhere. A Delhi Jal Board tanker comes once in two days to supply water, politicians come, they promise electricity — and they go back,” said Chandu (35). A few months ago, the government built tin sheds as toilets for the community. There are around 130 shanties where, in one room, five people stay.
The area is surrounded by trash dumped by MCD vehicles.
Yet, the community has built one Kali temple and a tuition centre for kids, which is run by an NGO. Even though they don't have electricity, yet they are happy that all their kids are studying in government schools and getting an education.
Not at all an easy ride: Many Hindu Pakistani refugees sell mobile covers for a living. (Photo: Author)
Making ends meet
Many of the refugees make their living by selling mobile covers. Jairam Das (23) picks up his cart and stands outside the Adarsh Nagar metro station. 'I earn around Rs 500-1000 a day and that’s how we survive. Since this is not a tough job, every household in the locality survives on selling mobile covers,' said Das.
Despite all their immense hardships though, the refugees know this fact. Their religion will not be a reason for them to feel terrorised any more.