Facing religious persecution across the border, thousands of Hindu Pakistanis are migrating to India in the hope of a better life. But in India they are leading a hand-to-mouth existence and are finding it hard to make their ends meet.
“We were leading our lives in Pakistan as animals. Religious minorities have no place in that country. Torture, rape, killing and forced conversions are normal practice there,” said Dr Kishan Mal, who migrated to India on a pilgrimage visa in 2013 with 100 other people. All of them are now residents of a makeshift camp in Majnu ka Tila in north Delhi.
In 2015 alone, around 70 families have arrived in Delhi, which has three camps, seeking refuge. Tarol and her family of five arrived at Majnu ka Tila in October and do not want to return. She recounts the horror of how her father-in-law was killed in broad daylight because he refused to part with his daily earnings. “Being a Hindu in Pakistan is like a curse. They come and rob us; we are not allowed to send our children to good schools. We are forced to pay money to the local goons because we are Hindus. Why should we stay there? This is our country, we will not go back from here,” she said.
A young boy named Rahul, 21, who has arrived recently, has his own story to tell: “When Pakistan would lose a cricket match against India, our houses would be attacked. They blamed us for the loss. I was once beaten up in school because Pakistan could not win against India.” But he complains that he is not getting a job here as he is a Pakistani. “I am an undergraduate. I was in my final year of college when I came here. But now no one gives me a job because I am a Pakistani. So I sell vegetables in the neighbourhood to make ends meet. I came here with a lot of hope, but that is shattered,” he said with moist eyes.
Sona Das, the pradhan of this makeshift camp, claims he has been elected by the people there to serve them and since then he has been fighting for their rights. He lives in a dilapidated mud house with his wife and four children. He was getting ready for his daily evening bhajans along with the other members of the camp when we asked him about his flight to India. “We came here in 2011 on pilgrimage visas. Since then we have been staying in this camp. We are not entitled to any government jobs there; even in private jobs we are discriminated against. Pakistan is an intolerant country. Hindus do not have any place there. Our temples are destroyed; our children are given only Islamic education. We did not celebrate any Hindu festival until the time we came here. In fact, we were not allowed to celebrate festivals,” he said.
The Majnu ka Tila camp, which houses around 120 Hindu families that migrated from Pakistan, stands next to a landfill, which belongs to the Delhi Development Authority. The settlements on the landfill started from 2011. Since then many have built mud houses here, while others still sleep on the ground braving the chilly weather. Many children here go to the nearby government school, but many others are yet to find an admission. Dr Kishan Mal serves as their teacher. The Delhi government provides them with water, with a tanker coming twice a day; and a generator that runs for a few hours mostly at night. There are not enough toilets and thus the men go to relieve themselves on the banks of the river Yamuna.
Das has written to the Delhi government as well as the Ministry of Home Affairs seeking help, but he says all his prayers have remained unanswered. “Many families here do not have food to eat. They are surviving on just one square meal a day. We have repeatedly asked the government to at least provide food to the children, but in vain. We do not have any political agenda. Our request is just to give us what we had been denied there. Recently, AAP MLA Alka Lamba visited us, but she refused to do anything for us.”
The nearby gurudwara provides the children with lunch and dinner on Sundays, when they go there after playing in the nearby park.
Delhi has two other such camps, one at Adarsh Nagar and another at Rohini Sector 11, together housing around 200 families who have fled to India. Many of these people’s visas have expired. Some of them who have been staying here for over five years are fighting to get Indian citizenship as they believe India is where they belong.