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Thursday, August 30, 2012

India needs a formal refugee policy

India needs a formal refugee policy

By Sandhya Jain on August 25, 2012

The steady trickle of Pakistani Hindus coming to India for pilgrimage and refusing to return has shattered the secular pretensions of our political elite, bringing out the truth that India is the civilisational homeland and legitimate refuge of Hindus of the undivided sub-continent. Hence it is imperative that New Delhi enact a national refugee law that recognises the default claims of Hindus fleeing persecution to citizenship in this land.

Hindus railing against religious persecution, forced conversion, financial extortion, abduction and forced marriages of minor girls have exposed Mohammed Ali Jinnah's failure to integrate them as full citizens of his 'secular' Muslim-majority nation. This establishes the failure of the Liaquat-Nehru Pact of 8 April 1950, to protect the rights of their respective minorities, something India has achieved with distinction due to the inclusive spirit of the Hindu people.

Indian leaders knew Hindus would always be second-class citizens in Pakistan, but problems of nationhood and partition forced them to curb the refugee influx to the extent possible. Hence the charade of the pact which offered minorities "complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion…" The reality is that Hindus comprised 22 per cent of Pakistani population (including East Pakistan) in 1951; today they are 1.7 per cent in Pakistan (and 9.2 per cent in Bangladesh).

The veil of feigned ignorance was torn on 8 September 2011, when a group of 114 persons landed at Dera Dhunni Das Ji at Majnu ka Tila, Delhi, and demanded refugee status. Advocates Bhim Singh and Gaurav Bansal moved the Delhi High Court and got them a stay against eviction. They argued that Articles 21 and 14 of the Constitution provided any person resident in India the right to life, equality, and justice.

Finally, on 25 April 2012, nudged by the bench headed by Acting Chief Justice Rajiv S Endlaw, Additional Solicitor-General AS Chandhiok promised that the Government would not deport the refugees. These refugees are now working in the informal sector, releasing guardian Nahar Singh of the burden of maintaining them indefinitely.

Realising the courts would protect incoming Hindu refugees, the Government quickly declared that the new lot of 250-odd pilgrim-refugees from Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab Provinces could apply for permanent asylum. What we need, however, is a specific policy for Hindu refugees to replace the case-by-case system.

Their plight is underscored by the fact that Pakistani authorities made them sign documents promising not to defame Pakistan and to return before they were allowed to cross Wagah border. This moved the BJP, Biju Janata Dal, Punjab Congress and Samajwadi Party to speak up for them, even as more refugees trickled in with harrowing tales of harassment, violence and death at the hands of fanatics.

The plight of minorities in Pakistan has captured international attention. In July, three Hindu traders of one family were abducted in Kalat district, Baluchistan. Mercifully, the women of the family were left unharmed in their abandoned vehicle. This time, enraged Hindus blocked the Quetta-Karachi highway, disrupting NATO supply vehicles. Earlier, a priest of the historic Kali Mandir was kidnapped from the same area and released on payment of a ransom of Rs 80 lakh. Those who refuse to pay are simply murdered.

Some of the families that arrived on 9 August said they decided to leave after their shops were looted, homes raided, and women forcefully converted. News reports said these families were forced to sell their houses at half the market value, similar to the experience of many Kashmiri Pandits two decades ago (until the community decided to abandon their homes without making legal sales).

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari has conceded that forced marriages of women and security issues are major concerns of Pakistani Hindus – the very issues the Liaquat-Nehru Pact was to address. He has now set up a body headed by Maula Bux Chandio. But as recently as 10 August, a 14-year-old Hindu girl was abducted in Jacobabad city, Sindh. Hindus from Sindh are now reported to be planning an exodus. India must welcome and rehabilitate them.

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