On Gurudwara lane in Majnu ka Tila, Delhi, two carts stand far apart; symbolic of the lives it supports. One cart has chips for sale, the other mobile covers. They are the only signposts to a teeming community of Pakistani refugees who have been living here since eight months. The owner of the first cart is worriedly talking to her young daughter. Business is forgotten in the woes of life. Hushed conversation ensues as a sad sight unfolds in the mudplastered aangan that stands in the center of make-shift homes made of bamboo.
A woman wails loudly as friends gather around to console her. Their attempts prove futile. The morning has bought devastating news from her home back in Pakistan; the death of her mother. Bound by law to stay in India, she is inconsolable. Death is unbearable, more for those separated by a border.
“Separation is what we will have to live with,” says 40-year-old Dharam Das, who has left Pakistan and voluntarily opted for citizenship in India. When they left Pakistan, almost 110 families had to bid a hasty farewell to their relatives, friends and a lifetime of memories. “Our elders gathered us together and encouraged us to come to India for a better future,” says Dayal Das, who left Pakistan in 2013 and now residing in Majnu ka Tila. “The intention was also to escape the persecution we had to face as a religious minority,” he adds. The Hindu community residing in Sindh region of Pakistan has had to face severe persecutions for their faith. “There we do not step out even after seven,” explains Kanwar Rao, the owner of the mobile cart. “It was difficult to survive,” he adds.
AGAINST THE ODDS
Before the pain of separation was the struggle to get a visa to India. “It took two years for me to get a visa, that too on the pretext of visiting the Kumbh mela,” says Dayal. Most of the refugees have come to India on tourist visas. This compounds their problems as they have to present themselves before the authorities before the expiry of their visas. To avoid hassle, many opted to take citizenship of India. This meant foregoing their rights to go back to Pakistan. “When we opted for Indian citizenship, we gave in writing that we would not go back to Pakistan,” recollects Dayal. On account of being one of the first to arrive in Delhi, he is familiar with government officials, so helps other members of the community. Other refugees have made settlements in Adarsh Nagar and Rohini with 40 and 11 families each. They too have a pradhan like Dayal who helps them wade through the tide of legal complications to reside in India.
The biggest settlement of Pakistani refugees in India however, is in Jodhpur, Rajasthan where over 10,000 families have taken shelter. “The migration to Rajasthan started way back in 1965 when a group of 10,000 families came down, the community has now grown to five lakh members,” says Hindu Singh Sodha who initiated a community intervention for them under the name of Seemant Lok Sanghatan. Most refugees come from Sindh and Punjab regions of Pakistan; areas that shares border with India. The migration is hardly surprising as the community traces its ancestry to Rajasthan. For those residing in Majnu ka Tila, ancestral home was Chittorgarh in Rajasthan. “We are Rajputs who happened to be left on the other side of the border ater the partition,” says Sona Das, a refugee. The community takes great pride in its roots and is even planning to build a memorial to their forefathers. “It is our dream to build a temple in Haridwar and we have already identified a plot for it,” discloses Arjun, who is the pradhan of Adarsh Nagar refugee camp.
Living in India has come with its own share of problems. With the country not having a policy for refugees, providing them rehabilitation becomes a challenge. “India is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which provides a legal framework to deal with refugees. However, it is committed to the basic principles of the convention,” a source in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr) tells Tehelka. “Since there are no domestic laws for refugees, they are clubbed under laws for foreigners, this works against them as it overlooks their special conditions.”