Pakistani Hindus, who have arrived in the Indian capital in recent months, tell BBC Hindi’s Zubair Ahmed that they fled their homes to escape discrimination and religious persecution.
Mala Das can just about write her name. At 16, this has been her greatest achievement. “When I came here I was completely unlettered. Today I can write my name,” she says.
But Mala is still unsure about numbers – when asked about the year she came to India, she draws a blank.
Her family and neighbours say they arrived in 2011 from the Pakistani city of Hyderabad in Sindh province to escape “religious and cultural persecution and government apathy”.
About 1,200 people, who have migrated from Pakistan in the past five years, are housed in three camps in Delhi and many say one of the biggest problems they faced back home was that they were unable to educate their children.
Bhagwan Das, who was among a group of 71 people who reached Delhi three weeks ago, has two growing children with no formal education. He says they were treated like “second-class citizens” in Pakistan.
“Our children don’t feel welcome in schools there. Muslims taunt us for being Hindu. Our girls are also sexually harassed,” Mr Das says.
There is a primary school in the migrant camp where children are taught how to read and write.
Rajwanti, 13, and other children in the camp allege that Hindu boys and girls are made to read the Quran (Muslim holy book) in Pakistani schools and that Muslim students laugh at their religious practices.
Mala says she is happy to see that Hindus in India can practice their religion openly. “Here Hindus pray without fear in temples and organise religious festivals outdoor. In Pakistan we prayed at home. If we went to temples, we avoided the gaze of our neighbours.”
Ishwar Lal, 18, who came to Delhi five months ago, says he feels liberated in India. “We have full religious freedom here. We are free.”
Moreover, he says, in India “everyone is respectful of each other’s faith”.
Pakistan was created in 1947 after being carved out of India’s mainly Muslim areas. A huge exchange of population took place during the partition which was often bloody.
Today, Muslims constitute 14% of India’s population, while in Pakistan, Hindus are said to be just over 2%.
There is no official estimate of the number of Pakistani Hindus living in India, but over the years, small groups have been crossing the border to reach Delhi or other northern states, such as Rajasthan and Haryana. Once in India, they apply for asylum and, eventually, citizenship.
Islamabad has repeatedly said its Hindu community is safe and reports of their leaving are exaggerated.
In a written reply to a BBC query, the Indian government has revealed that more than 1,400 Pakistanis have been given citizenship since 2011 and that an overwhelming majority of them are Hindus.
Those living in the Delhi camps, however, say they are yet to get Indian citizenship.
“We applied in 2011 but nothing has happened. The BJP government which claims to have sympathy for us is no different from other governments. We feel frustrated,” says Arjun Das, who is regarded as the leader of Pakistani Hindus in Delhi camps.
Pahlaj, who arrived three weeks ago, says he is disappointed that “no Hindu leader or neighbour has visited us yet”.
But most say they are happy to be in India where they feel “at home” and Pahlaj says most Pakistani Hindus want to leave their country.
“A small number has come to India. Millions of Pakistani Hindus are waiting for an opportunity to do the same.”
Powered by Facebook Comments