In the past four years, some 5,000 Hindus may have crossed over from Pakistan, never to return. It has not been easy abandoning their homes, sometimes even their families, but they say they had no choice: they had to flee the Taliban.
It started as a trickle in 2006, the year the Thar Express was flagged off. The weekly train starts from Karachi, enters India at Munabao, a border town in Barmer, and runs up to Jodhpur. In the first year, 392 Hindus crossed over.
This grew to 880 in 2007. The next year, the number was 1,240, and this year, till August, over 1,000 have crossed over. They just keep extending their visas and hope to become Indian citizens.
Incidentally, these are official figures. Sources say there are many more who cross over and melt in the local milieu. And officials have a soft corner for these people, most of whom have harrowing stories to tell.
Ranaram, who used to live in the Rahimyar district of Pakistan's Punjab, says he fell prey to the Taliban. His wife was kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted to Islam. His two daughters were also forcibly converted. Ranaram, too, had to accept Islam for fear of his life. He thought it best to flee with his two daughters; his wife was untraceable.
Dungaram, another migrant, says atrocities against Hindus in Pakistan have increased in the past two years after the ouster of Musharraf. "We won't get permanent jobs unless we convert to Islam."
Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangathan, a group working for the refugees in Barmer and Jaisalmer, says there's unfortunately no proper refugee policy in India even though people from Pakistan reach here in large numbers.
He said in 2004-05, over 135 families were given Indian citizenship but the rest are still living illegally in the country and are often tortured by police because they don't have proper citizenship certificates. "In December 2008, over 200 Hindus were converted to Islam in Mirpur Khas town of Pakistan. But there are several others who want to stick to their religion but there's no safety for them in Pakistan."
Immigration officer at Munabao railway station, Hetudan Charan, says the arrival of Hindu migrants had suddenly increased as over 15 to 16 families were reaching India every week. "None of them admit they are to settle here but seeing their baggage, we easily understand," he said.
Ravi Kumar, who was Barmer collector till his transfer two days back, said the government in 2007 had given permanent citizenship to a few Pakistani immigrants.
Source: The Times of India