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Friday, 14 June 2024

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HomeNewsPakistani Hindus who finally feel at home

Pakistani Hindus who finally feel at home

These Pakistani Hindus, for whom the CAA was enacted, have been living in ramshackle huts in a neighbourhood dotted and lined with dirt paths, small temples, cattle and unkempt children

Until mid-May 2024, two migrant camps in north Delhi, Adarsh Nagar and Majnu Ka Tila, were home to Pakistani Hindus living as stateless individuals. However, following the implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 14 refugees from these camps were granted Indian citizenship.

This move brought immense joy to the residents who had been living without a sense of belonging for over a decade. The first batch of citizenship certificates was distributed on 15 May and more were handed out the following day.

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One of the better-off refugee camps for Pakistani Hindus

The atmospherics of the camp for Pakistani Hindus resemble a poor rural setting, with brick houses, thatched or asbestos roofs, dirt paths, painted courtyards, small temples, cows and children playing in the dusty streets. The residents share a close bond, united by their shared experiences of displacement and persecution.

On the charpoy, Radha, a beneficiary of the CAA
On the charpoy, Radha, a beneficiary of the CAA; next to her is Bawana

Some of the Pakistani Hindus who benefited from CAA

Among the Pakistani Hindus who received citizenship were Madhav, Chandar Kala, Bawana and Lachhmi from the Adarsh Nagar camp. Others who have applied for citizenship are eagerly awaiting their papers, while those who have not yet applied are seeking guidance from them.

Bawana expressed a sense of liberation upon receiving her citizenship papers. She shared her aspirations of travelling across India, visiting temples, pursuing higher education and even applying for government jobs. Bawana also expressed her desire to teach in the same school where she received her education, stressing the value of citizenship to the younger generation.

Bawana (right), one of the Pakistani Hindus who have been granted Indian citizenship under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)

The 18-year-old teenager held citizenship papers, stating that she entered India through the Wagah border at the age of eight on 22 March 2014. She has faint memories of her birthplace, Tando Allahyar village in the Islamic country. Despite this, she recalls attending school with her older sister while wearing a burqa and being refused water from the school’s handpump due to her Hindu faith.

Bawana, one of the youngest individuals to receive citizenship, recently passed the Class X CBSE Board exams at Govt Girls’ Senior Secondary School, Majlis Park, with a 70% aggregate score. She mentions that, unlike her experiences in Pakistan, she did not face discrimination at her school in Delhi. Expressing her desire for her cousins in Pakistan to have the same educational opportunities as her, she stated, ‘Our parents made the right decision to move to India.’

Sita Ram, a 35-year-old migrant who arrived in India in 2013 with his family, including a 6-month-old daughter, expressed his sentiments about leaving his birthplace. He mentioned that they did not return to Pakistan after immersing his father’s ashes in Hardwar due to the prevailing misery and insecurity there. Ram is hopeful about obtaining Indian citizenship soon and looks forward to officially becoming an Indian national.

The recently naturalised Indian citizens also include Yashoda, a 29-year-old woman, and her younger brother Bharat Kumar. They reside in a similar jhuggi colony of Pakistani Hindus located in Majnu ka Tila, a neighbourhood in north Delhi near the north campus of the University of Delhi. This moment is filled with joy for them as they have patiently awaited recognition as Indian citizens for several years.

Yashoda expressed her happiness, stating, “Now, with this certificate, I am officially an Indian citizen. I never had the opportunity to attend school and pursue my dreams. However, my children, especially my daughters, will have the chance to build a better life. They will be able to freely access education, enrol in college and apply for jobs.”

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Yashoda sits at her house in Majnu Ka Tila with her new citizenship certificate | Courtesy: Bismee Taskin of ThePrint

Lachhmi, 25, shared her family’s story of fleeing Mirpur Khas in Pakistan in 2013 to ensure the safety of her daughters and avoid forced conversion. After arriving in India, they found temporary shelter in Gujarat before settling in the Adarsh Nagar camp in Delhi with the help of local leaders. Lachhmi, who was married off to a fellow Pakistani migrant, expressed joy over her daughter’s future in India, highlighting the opportunities for education and government benefits that were not available to her when she first arrived in the country as a young teenager.

Jhule Ram, one of the Pakistani Hindus who have been granted Indian citizenship under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)

Jhule Ram, now 28 years old, vividly recalls the turbulent times that led his family to leave their home in Hyderabad, Sindh. Seeking refuge from religious tensions in 2009-10, they settled in a small village, hoping for peace. However, their hopes were shattered as the unrest followed them. Faced with no other choice, Ram’s family made the difficult decision to flee Pakistan.

In 2013, at the age of 17, Ram crossed the border into India, embarking on a new chapter of his life. Determined to make the most of his newfound freedom, he quickly adapted to the ways of the world. Today, he earns a living by selling mobile phone accessories and cold drinks near Majnu Ka Tila. The joy of being granted Indian citizenship, along with his brother and uncle, fills Ram with a sense of liberation. He compares it to sprouting new wings, enabling him to explore endless opportunities.

Ram’s excitement stems from the prospects that citizenship brings. He dreams of leaving the camp behind and settling in the city, where better educational and business opportunities await. While he celebrates his success, Ram eagerly awaits the day when other family members can also experience this transformative change in their lives.

Dayal Das, a 49-year-old sharecropper, had a vision for his son’s future when he named him Bharat 23 years ago. Today, Dayal, his wife and their children, Yashoda and Bharat, are all proud Indian citizens. Their journey to India began in 2013, initially on a pilgrimage visa from Hyderabad in Sindh. However, they decided to stay, extending their visa repeatedly.

Dayal Das (right), one of the Pakistani Hindus who have been granted Indian citizenship under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA)

When asked about their reasons for leaving Pakistan, Dayal chuckles, implying that it is a well-known fact. Unspoken but understood is the religious disadvantage they faced in their home country. Their lives were plagued by uncertainty, hindering their children’s education. However, Dayal remains hopeful that his grandchildren will lead lives filled with dignity and opportunity.

Driven by empathy and a desire to assist others, Dayal is committed to helping fellow Pakistani Hindus navigate the bureaucratic process of claiming Indian citizenship. He understands the importance of paperwork and hopes to alleviate the struggles faced by those seeking a better life in India.

Bram Das, a 25-year-old individual, is currently not recognised as an Indian citizen. However, he expressed his admiration for his fellow camp neighbours who successfully obtained their citizenship papers. In 2013, Das’s family migrated from the Matiari district in Sindh and settled in the Majnu Ka Tila camp along with 60 other migrants. With optimism, he mentioned that he has completed all the necessary paperwork and eagerly awaits his citizenship letter.

According to Das, those who acquire Indian citizenship are fortunate as they and their future generations will have the privilege of living in a country that values respect and provides ample opportunities. He encourages people to inquire about the experiences of those who are denied economic and social rights, emphasising the significance of citizenship.

Despite his anticipation to take the oath as an Indian citizen, Das expresses concern for his numerous relatives who remain in Matiari and other areas in Sindh. He reveals that distressing news of persecution frequently reaches them, further highlighting the importance of citizenship and the challenges faced by those left behind.

All uncaptioned photos by Anindya Chattopadhyay of The Times of India

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