The Pakistani Hindu Migrants in India – A journey in quest of a better life
Forced migration resulting from persecution has become a large concern for the world in general. Over the last few decades the incidents of violence related to religion have grown in numbers and many countries across the world have become a victim to this violence. There have been bloody conflicts in Algeria, Bosnia, East-Timor, Kashmir, Nigeria and Palestine. In other countries, various combined factors like ongoing war, persecution of people belonging to a particular faith or sect as well as sexual preferences have created situations whereby people have migrated to other safer countries as and when they get the opportunity. According to one definition, forced migrants are those have to leave their houses and relocate to safer territories as they fear for their lives as well as their capacity to indulge in self considered life choices. 
In the case of Pakistan, as per the words of Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik
“the country has gone through radical demographic changes over the few decades of its existence; their ramifications have fed into already highly competitive and volatile inter-community relationships”
The first Constitution of Pakistan was signed in 1956, and in this document, Pakistan was declared an ‘Islamic Republic’. The third constitution of Pakistan which was declared by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973, is the one being followed in Pakistan to date. This constitution gave more authority and authenticity to Muslims as the first class citizens of Pakistan and further reinforced the divide between Muslims and ‘others.’ Constitutional oppression and othering of the minorities continued in the era of General Zia ul Haq, who introduced 3 anti blasphemy clauses in 1982, further constricting the space and freedom of speech available to all minorities. 
There has been a constant stream of migration by Christians, Hindus and Sikhs as well as Shia and Ahmedi minority communities. A sizeable Goan Catholic community of Karachi has dwindled to a smaller number as people have moved on to other countries, mostly for economic reasons. As for the Hindus, the reasons for immigrating are slightly different. According to the last census conducted in Pakistan, which was in 1998, the Hindu population stands at 1.6%, whereas at the time of partition, this figure stood at 15%. The majority of Hindus in Sindh are settled in District Tharparkar, Mithi and Tando Adam area. Dadu, Sukkur and Badin are also home to a large number of Hindus.
For the purpose of this research paper, a cluster of 120 families living near the Gurdwara at Majnu ka Tila, New Delhi, was visited. 5 women (A, B, C, D, and E) and one man (F) were interviewed. The settlement is about 3-4 km away from the Tibetan Colony, but unlike the former, is much less organized as well as much newer. Brief conversations were held with 6 different individuals at this location. These people have been living in this settlement for the last 2 to 6 years. All of these families hailed from Sindh and most of them belonged to the Rajput clan. These people are fair in complexion and many of the women have green coloured eyes, which is considered a sign of beauty in the South Asian context. This is important to mention as was discovered later on in the interviews. These people were conversant in 3 languages; their mother tongue was Marwadhi, of which I have some working knowledge. Sindhi was their second language and they were also conversant in Hindi / Urdu. The average family size was 6 to 8 people per household. The families who were spoken too were all young, at max in their early 40s. One lady (A) mentioned that her father in law is also here, but overall no women in their 50s or 60s were visible in the houses visited. There were two kinds of accommodation visible in the settlement; some houses were made out of bricks while some families were living in tents provided by the Delhi government. All brick houses had Satellite dishes installed and the two houses I went inside also had flat screen TVs. Mobile toilets and washing area was installed in the settlement, and there was a large water tank also erected with a connection from the mains. The settlement is right next to the main road and has easy access to public transport.
Additionally, a brief, over-the-phone interview was conducted with Mr. Akhtar Baloch, Pakistan’s established writer and historian who specializes on Sindh as an area. The purpose of talking to him was to get some historical perspective on the Sindhi Hindus of Pakistan as well as to hear him speak about the trials they face, as a neutral and well read observer. On the matter of forced conversions of girls and to get an insider’s point of view, a brief online conversation was held with a Hindu social activist from Tharparkar, Sindh (name withheld) who is very vociferous for the rights of minorities as well as for the protection of the environment in Sindh.
Mr. Akhtar Baloch talked about the first person to be forcefully sent into exile from Pakistan in 1948, who then spent his remaining life in India. This person was a recognized philosopher, linguist and a prolific thinker of Sindh called Hashmat Tehelram Keval Ramani, about which Mr. Baloch has written in his book, currently unavailable in English. Sri Ramani was sent into exile due to his political views. Mr. Baloch who has vast knowledge on various Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Arya and Jain temples in Sindh, also shared that the exodus of Hindu Sindhis from Pakistan has continued for the last many years. He stated that for the Hindus belonging to the middle and lower middle classes and living in urban areas, one of the main reasons used to be stoppage on observation of their religious customs and rituals in their own temple. He narrated an example of a mandir situated in old city area of Karachi, which used to cover an area of 285 sq km, and has now shrunk to 50 sq km. He shared that this Mandir called Mari Mata Mandir, which also has a history of observing Ashura during Muharram. However, the caretakers of the Mandir were coming under the pressure of the locals and Hindus were stopped from observing rituals here. He observed that this issue was brought to the notice of local authorities in 2014, and now the mandir is a disputed area.
During the interview with the inhabitants at the settlement near Majnu ka Teela, this same issue was raised by 4 of the 6 respondents. They observed separately, how difficult it was now becoming to observe their religious practices, and also to teach their children what their religion is about. In the Hyderabad and Tando Muhammad Khan area where these people hailed from, there are no Hindu schools. Out of the 5 women who were spoken to, only one was literate, 2 could write their name in Urdu and 2 were completely illiterate. Their disappointment in Pakistan had been that their children, who were to be 3rd generation Hindus in Pakistan since partition, were going to grow up knowing even less about their religious and ideological roots. A more rudimentary issue for them was merely sending children to school in Pakistan which they considered as not desirable due to lack of means as well as social restrictions.
In the current years there has been an ongoing and organized persecution of minorities in Pakistan. Ironically it was in the era of a known secular outfit Pakistan People’s Party, that the Hindu and Christian minorities faced the threat of forced conversions. The PPP won the elections of 2008 and ruled the country for the next 5 years. During this period, a PPP Member of Parliament Pir Abdul Haq, commonly known as Mian Mithoo was involved in a number of cases of forced conversion of Hindu girls to Islam. According to the Hindu Pakistani activist from Tharparkar area, most of these conversions went unreported as the local police was also under the influence of Mian Mithu, who belongs to an influential family, and also holds the title of Pir of Bharchoondi Sharif. A famous case that did come in the media was that of Rinkle Kumari, a 12 year old girl who was kidnapped and later after a few weeks was presented in court accompanied with a Muslim husband and converted to Islam. Other cases which have been mentioned in the media also are those of Luck Bhel and Sapna Rani. As a result Meghwar stated, a large number of Hindus from Sindh and Balochistan area took place in the period between 2008 and 2013. He said that according to unconfirmed figures between10 to 15,000 Hindus migrated to India. Mian Mithu lost the party ticket in the elections held in 2013. In the aftermath of the PPP government, the PML N government also did not make matters any better, as throughout its tenure radical elements have been given a lot of space to settle down in Sind. A huge number of Deobandi madrasas have sprung up. The Sindh Home Ministry carried out a survey in 2013 according to which there were more than 12000 madrasas which had opened up in Sindh in the aftermath of 9/11, and out of these 67% were owned by people who did not have a Sindh domicile. 
Out of the 5 women interviewed, 4 had children while the 5th interviewee (E) was herself 16 years of age. The older ladies fell in the age group of mid 30s to mid 40s (an educated guess). They stated that as females, they had to be extra careful to ensure their honour remains intact. One of them (A) stated that she used to cover her face when she went out in order to avoid undue attention. Two ladies (B&C) hailed from Hyderabad, Sindh, where they used to work on the farm. Lady (B) mentioned that they had arrived in India 1 years ago and had first come to a settlement in Faridabad before moving to this one. They related that there were some incidents of harassment of ladies in her family, and that is why they and their husbands decided to leave as they themselves had girl children. (B) said that she was not able to study and one of the biggest positives in coming to India was that she was able to send all of her children to school. This sentiment was expressed by all of those who were interviewed, as they stated jubilance at the freedom of being able to send their children to school. When questioned if the kids went to school in Pakistan, they generally stated that schooling there is not affordable for them so they had great difficulty in this. Lady C stated that the education system in Pakistan was ‘different’ so they couldn’t send their children. Here she was referring to the madrasa system. Lady C said in India they saw all communities getting similar treatment and respect, something that they felt lacked in Pakistan for their community. She also mentioned that at social gathering their utensils were kept separate and their children were not allowed to have water in the same glass as those used by Muslims.
Minorities generally have a much lower literary rate than the average in Pakistan. According to the NCJP’s report for 2001, the average literacy rate among Christians in Punjab, is 34 per cent, compared to the national average of 46.56 per cent. Among minority women, the rate is abysmally low. The average literacy rate among the Jati (upper caste) Hindus, scheduled castes (Dalits) and others (including Parsis, Buddhists, Sikhs and nomads) is 34 per cent, 19 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively.
When asked what their source of income in India is, it was found that the husbands of 3 of the women (A, B & C) were working in the vegetable market.
One lady (D) and her husband (F) were running a small corner shop outside their settlement. The 16-year-old girl (E) was running a kiosk which sold mobile phone accessories, also outside the settlement. When I approached her she was busy writing in Hindi on a register. She told me that she went to school until class 4th in Pakistan and after that she did not continue. But she wanted to get a proper education, and so she taught herself how to read and write Hindi through mobile phone tutorial videos. She told me that her father was one of the elders of this settlement and he was involved in sorting out paperwork of the settlers and dealing with their paperwork. She said her father was educated until 12th level and that all of her extended family is also going to be in India very soon. She said that she could not wait until her uncles and cousins joined her here.
The gentleman (F) interviewed shared that he had come to India in 2011, with 150 other people, and before coming here they had already decided that they will not go back. He mentioned that in Pakistan he had worked as a farm hand and then a supervisor on land that he rented out from the local landlord. But as a supervisor he was not able to make his farm hands work according to the requirement as they were all Muslims and they did not want to work under a Hindu. He stated that he had been trying to get out of Pakistan for many years as he felt options were getting scarcer. He said that he was subjected to coercion through threats as well as financial bribes. He also mentioned that when he was younger, there was more harmony in the community, but after the Madrasa came about and held regular congregations inviting men to go on 3-day and 7-day gatherings, the women in his family were not welcome in some of the neighbouring houses. He mentioned that being a man and having the responsibility to earn a living for the family was getting more and more complicated. He said there was no lack of work in Pakistan but being Hindus they could not do any work openly and could not display that they were doing well. He mentioned he used two different names and always introduced himself with the Muslim name when out in a new community. He also shared that there was one small temple set up in the house of one of his relatives where the women used to go to pray regularly, as they didn’t want to commute to the temple which was at some distance from them. He said that he is very happy that he is now in India, where he does not face harassment from the police as he has now acquired a paper from the court allowing him to live as a refugee. He also expressed contentment at becoming financially a little more stable as compared to when he had arrived in India in 2011.
The wife of (F) stated that she would never have been able to work in Pakistan, as the unsafe environment would not have given her a chance to step out of the house and work in the open. She was very happy to be financially capable of earning a living.
Continuing with the conversation with the Pakistani Hindu social activist, he shared that among the urban or semi urban non-Muslim youth, there was a high precedence of psychological pressure resulting from being treated as a third rate citizen of the country where they are born, He stated that there were many educated and well to do Hindus located in Hyderabad, Thatta, Mirpurkhas and other cities, whose children went to good schools and colleges. But he narrated that dues to the sudden rise in religious extremism at schools and colleges, these children are also suffering. He mentioned some cases of attempted suicide in Mithi, and the same is shared in a report by HRCP in 2000. Among young people committing suicide from the minority communities, 158 were Karachi and 49 were women. In Sindh there were 1,167 attempted suicides resulting in 810 in death. 
The plight of minorities in Pakistan is not hidden from the world view. The government of the country has lately adapted a bill which stops forced conversions. Another monumental milestone has been the Hindu Marriage Act which has finally come in place after 69 years of the country’s inception. However, the worsening state of law and order and growing radicalization may not let the seemingly positive steps taken by the government in the shape of these laws. These migrants to India spend considerable years of their lives in temporary abode and work at slowly are building their lives. But they are still much more happy and content after finally getting of an environment of hatred, suppression and intolerance.
 “We consider a forced migrant to be one who, owing to a fear of persecution, has abandoned her or his dwelling in favor of relocating elsewhere, either within or beyond the borders of her or his country of residence. This definition builds on those for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) as codified in international law. The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention uses the “fear of persecution” clause to identify those who seek refuge abroad as people for whom state parties to the convention are legally bound to provide refuge”. Fear of Persecution: Forced Migration, 1952-1995, Will H. Moore and Stephen M. Shellman
 P7, Religious Minorities of Pakistan, Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik
 “Article 2 of the Constitution states: ‘Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan …’, and Article 2-A stipulates :‘wherein the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice, as enunciated by Islam, shall be fully observed’.” p18,Religious Minorities of Pakistan, Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik
 ‘Whoever willfully defiles, damages or desecrates a copy of the Holy Qur’an or any extract thereof or uses it in any derogatory manner or for any unlawful purpose shall be punishable with imprisonment for life.’ 295 B. Ibid.
 Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo,
or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to a fine.’295 C Ibid
 Karanchiwala – Akhtar Baloch (Available in Urdu)
 “According to a 2013 Sindh home ministry survey, the province has over 12,500 madrasas, with between 120,000 to 150,000 students. Over 2,100 madrasas were deemed “dangerous”. P18, Revisiting Counter Terrorism Strategies in Pakistan, Opportunities and Pitfalls, Asia Report N°271 | 22 July 2015
 P25, Religious Minorities in Pakistan, Dr. Iftikhar H.Malik
 “the HRCP’s report for 2000 recorded many young people having committed suicide in Pakistan, including 158 people in Karachi, 49 of them women. In rural Sindh, 1,167 attempts were made, of which 810 ended in death – a toll of 521 men and 289 women.53 Further, the NCJP identified 25 cases of suicide by Christians in Punjab and Hindus in Sindh in 2000, mostly due to poverty and domestic violence” P25, Religious Minorities in Pakistan, Dr. Iftikhar H.Malik
- P7, P25 A Report on Religious Minorities of Pakistan, Dr. Iftikhar H. Malik, Minority Rights Group International
- P18, Revisiting Counter Terrorism Strategies in Pakistan, Opportunities and Pitfalls, Asia Report N°271 | 22 July 2015
- Fear of Persecution: Forced Migration, 1952-1995, Will H. Moore and Stephen M. Shellman, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 48, No. 5 (Oct., 2004), pp. 723-745, Sage Publications
- 6 Interviews conducted at Pakistan Hindu Migrant settlement, near Gurdwara Majnu ka Tila Shaab
- 1 interview conducted of Akhtar Baloch, author
- 1 interview conducted of a Pakistani Hindu Social Worker
Featured Image: Indiatimes