Still The Outsider

Hindu Singh


[ Over 1,00,000 Hindu oustees from Sindh in Pakistan, who were forced to migrate to Rajasthan, still have to cope with being branded ‘Pakistani’ ]


The first major influx of refugees from Pakistan happened in 1971 during and just after the Indo-Pak war. That is when I also came. Some refugees had moved in earlier, just after the 1965 war. But it was in 1971, that a large chunk of Hindus from Pakistan came over to the Indian side while the Indian army retained capture of a 50 kilometres area in Sindh, Pakistan. This was a Hindu-dominated area of Sindh from where people migrated to India.


According to the Simla agreement of 1972, India had agreed to send them back, hence the government policy until 1978 remained ambivalent.


With the coming of the Janata regime in 1978, especially under the stewardship of the then external affairs minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee who extended support to the refugees and their cause, by staging a symbolic protest on the border, things gradually changed.


Refugees kept coming in waves for the next eight years. Until 1978 or so, there were as many as 25-30 camps for Pak oustees in Barmer district alone.


Soon, however, these camps had to move away from the border areas as Hindu or not, these videshis carried the Pakistani label and it was felt that it was unsafe letting them reside in the border districts of Barmer, Bikaner and Jaisalmer. Today most of them are settled in Jodhpur and Jalore in Rajasthan, caught between two warring neighbours, still the outsider.


Most of the refugees from Pakistan, over 1,00,000 of us totally face our fair share of problems here. Pehle to Pakistani hone ka thappa (firstly it is the branding of being a Pakistani), that makes it difficult to function or even relate to people.


Secondly, it is the denial of basic human rights that are part of the UN charter to people who have no nationality. India has simply failed to tackle the question of rehabilitation seriously. It is not as if money has not been earmarked; large sums of money have been budgeted from state funds, from central funds from the World Food Organisation, they just do not percolate down to the legitimate recipients


Thirdly is the crucial question of caste. Most of the migrants belong to the scheduled tribes, the Bhil tribe, who have been working as bonded labour in the Sindh region enjoying no protection from the law; they are poor and illiterate.


Out of a total of 1,00,000 Pak ousters residing in India today, as many as 8,000 have no citizenship. Many of those who have been denied citizenship due to bureaucratic


insensitivity are second or third generation migrants, some even minors.


The PVS is the only organisation formed by the ousters, fighting for nationality through mobilization, lobbying and advocacy. We are at present, through the PVS, contemplating filing a PIL (public interest litigation ) in Indian courts to demand citizenship for third generation migrants who have been denied their nationality.


Apart from the obvious rehabilitation provisions that do not percolate down to the migrants is the real question of zameen, cultivable land. Some of those allotted land do not either have proper ownership or are condemned to hold poor land. Nearly all of them are in debt to local banks.


Ironically, in 'Muslim' Pakistan the procedure is much simpler. I am talking about Hindu girls who marry into Hindu families and have gone across to Pakistan; within one year to eighteen months their application for a Pakistani visa receives clearance! Here in India, however it can take decades!


Since 1971, the maximum displacement is out of the Thar Parker region in Sindh (Pakistan), a region that ironically experienced no communal tension in 1947. The major reason for the displacement is the impact, down the line of the ideology of the Pakistan state that Pakistan is a ‘Muslim’ state, the feeling among the refugees who flow in to Rajasthan is, ‘‘Hamara mulk ab hamne rakhne kabil nahin raha’’ (Our country is not capable/fit to keep us any more).

Initially we received maximum support from the BJP as a political party.


After the initial interest taken by th BJP leadership, however, the Pak oustees are today caught in a no-win situation. Today the BJP takes for granted that those who have got Indian nationality are ‘natural BJP voter’ because they harbour anti-Muslim sentiments and the rest of the 8,000 are not voters, so who cares!


It was the present home minister, in 1998, L.K. Advani, who took a keen interest in the problems of Pak oustees and had even taken steps to grant nationality to 19 pending cases who had been living in India isnce 1965. The request for nationality has to travel from the district level via an application made by the DM to the state home ministry, then to the Union home ministry before it is finally ‘cleared’.


The Congress has never taken an interest in the issue of Pak oustees, believing that these are BJP supporters anyway!! As far as we are concerned, each one us, today living in India, the feeling of having fled from our watan, our zameen never leaves us.


Yeh mulk ki paribhasha to pachas saal ki hai (the discourse of nationhood and country’s 50-odd years old). It is partition that has uprooted us, if partition had not happened, our displacement would not have taken place.

[Courtesy : Communalism Combat]