Pakistan’s Hindu refugees queue to become Indians

No permanent address: Only a few houses are pucca or have toilets or electricity supply at the refugee camp in Delhi’s Majnu ka Tilla area   –  IMAGES: TINA EDWIN

Crossing the border from Pakistan, thousands of Hindu refugees hope to soon reach a destination called Indian citizenship. Along the way, they endure several years of hardship at transit camps.They are in India on a long-term visa and hope to become Indian citizens when they become eligible to apply for citizenship after completing seven years in the country. There is no official data on the number of Pakistani Hindu refugees in India. Most are residing in Delhi, or in cities in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Haryana. Home minister Amit Shah said at a recent meeting that Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Christian refugees would “not be forced to leave India by the Centre”. The Citizenship Amendment Bill would ensure that they got Indian citizenship, he said.
It’s a little after 2 pm. This is when most women in the Bhatti Mines Sanjay Colony settlement, on the fringes of the Delhi-Haryana border, like to put their weary feet up after they are done with the various morning chores and lunch. But there is no rest for Sahiba and Rabeli: Water starts to trickle out of their PVC hose pipes in the afternoons, and they have fill to up as many drums as possible before the supply stops — usually in 10 or 15 minutes.But Sahiba and Rabeli seldom complain. They are just happy to be in India. The two, with their husbands and children, crossed over to India from Karachi in 2013. Some of their relatives had arrived in the National Capital Region a few years earlier. “Life was tough for women and girls in Pakistan. Grown-up girls and young women would get picked up, sexually assaulted or be forced to convert to Islam, and we could do nothing about it. We lived in fear and therefore decided to move to India,” Sahiba says.
Most of the refugee homes have asbestos roofing, making the rooms unbearably hot in summer
The refugees are waiting. They point out that their living conditions are abysmal, and that they have no steady income, but citizenship, they stress, will give them an identity.
An overwhelming number belongs to the Odh community, people who traditionally worked as earth diggers. Many of the older residents came from Bahawalpur in Punjab. The settlement is also home to Kumhars, Rajputs and a few Brahmins, some of whom migrated from Pakistan as pilgrims, with the intention to stay permanently in India.

The refugees urge the government to expedite their citizenship and help rehabilitate them. Some hope that the Indian government will allot them a piece of land to build a home. It is to be seen if the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2019, currently in Parliament, will speed up the process to converting the refugees to Indian citizens.