As many as 4,508 Pakistanis visiting India on tourist visas since 2007 have not returned to Pakistan and have disappeared. In what increases security concerns, at least 103 Pakistanis, who were suspected to be Pakistani intelligence agents or radical extremists and were put on the Bureau of Immigration (BOI) watch list, are among those missing. Authorities admit to the security threat posed by these disappearances, but explain that the majority of these missing people are Pakistani Hindus and Sikhs who come to India in search of a safe home and start staying as refugees or with their distant relatives in places like Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab. The BOI data shows that out of the 4,508 missing Pakistanis, 1,865 went missing from Rajasthan, 1,247 from Punjab, 911 from Gujarat and 485 from Delhi.
When any Pakistani national enters India, that person must inform the immigration official at the entry point about his place of stay and travel plans. They are then required to report to the nearest Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO), or the nearest police station within 24 hours of reaching there. They then have to make weekly appearances to the concerned office so that the government can track any potential security threat.
According to the FRRO in Delhi, the number of Hindus and Sikhs coming from Pakistan has been rising steadily. “Until 2010, no more than 10 families would visit India in a month. But since 2011, at least 400 families have been visiting India every year. They are settling down all over India, in Rajasthan, Punjab and Gujarat,” said P.K. Bhardwaj, FRRO Delhi.
“They come to India on special tourist visas for Pakistanis. Most of them, after coming here, apply for asylum or disappear. Some who have been staying for several years apply for citizenship. But law forbids treating Pakistani tourists as refugees. So they disappear. The most number of cases are seen in Rajasthan and Punjab. It is a security concern that is why they are only allowed to travel to the destination mentioned in the visa,” he added. Special tourist visas for Pakistanis do not allow them to travel anywhere else except for the places mentioned in the visa.
There is a big security threat from these incidents as well, as a large number of people who have gone missing are suspected to be Pakistani agents or radicals.
“Since 2007, out of the over 46,000 Pakistanis who visited India, 551 were suspected to be agents or terrorists. These people were profiled and after a risk-assessment were put on the BOI watch list. Out of these 551, 103 did not return to Pakistan. This can be a big security threat. Cross-border infiltration is no longer the only way of entering India. Some of the terror elements walk straight through the front door,” Manjit Singh, FRRO, Amritsar, told this newspaper.
“But many of these people who disappear are actually those who face torture in Pakistan or have to live their lives in isolation from society. Not everyone wants to become a refugee, but desperate times call for desperate measures. It is a headache for us, but it is natural human behaviour. Why would they go back to a place where they do not feel safe?” Singh said.
“Hindus and Sikhs, who used to account for over 15% of the Pakistani population in 1947 after the partition, now constitute less than 2% of their 17 crore population. Many of these people migrate to India in search of a safe haven. Many are killed in Pakistan. Most of them are forced to convert in return for their lives. In a lot of cases, people say that their dead were not even allowed a proper cremation. So you have to consider the human side as well,” he said.
“The law does not treat them as refugees. So, they just choose not to report to the authorities about their whereabouts, and start living with their families. Many of them have families who chose to stay behind during Partition, others just bring their families along with them,” he added.
Most of these people disappear from Rajasthan and Punjab, as per the FRRO. A sizeable number live in refugee camps in the capital as well. There are camps of Pakistani refugees in Majnu ka Tila, Jahangirpuri, Rohini Sector 11 and Adarsh Nagar.
Meher Chand, 61, came to Delhi in 2011 with some Pakistani Hindus aboard the Samjhauta Expess and did not go back. They brought 135 plastic jars containing the ashes of their relatives, who died in Pakistan, to be scattered in the Ganga. “The people in my camp are majorly from Sindh, Karachi and Hyderabad. Some of the people have been here since the 1990s. Even they have not got citizenship or ration cards, gas connection; even permission to travel officially to another part of the country is not allowed to people who come from Pakistan.
So it is difficult, but we do not want to go back. For people like us, hunger in India is much better than death in Pakistan,” Chand told this newspaper.