Government

In India’s Capital, Pakistani Refugees Find a Place They Can Call Home

A few Hindu families from Pakistan began to settle at Majnu ka Tila in 2011 and the process has continued. But how welcoming has their new home been?

Roopchandra sells sugar cane juice to earn his living. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

Roopchandra sells sugar cane juice to earn his living. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

New Delhi: The innumerable multicolored flags fluttering on terraces at Majnu ka Tila and the Tibetan colony in New Delhi near Kashmiri Gate signify the cultural and physical presence of a mini-Tibet. This colony, since long has been a home to Tibetan refugees who fled their homeland back in the 1960s and sought refuge here in New Delhi. While the rich culture of Tibetan food and garb dominate this colony, at a distance of not more than half a km reside Pakistani Hindu refugees in their shanties.

Hindu refugees

On an April afternoon, the sun is at its peak and the colony en route to Kashmiri Gate bus stand appears deserted. A Delhi Development Authority (DDA) board avows that the land belongs to the DDA and any kind of encroachment is prohibited. Spread over an area of few acres, this DDA land hosts close to one hundred shanties which accommodate hundred and twenty Hindu families from Pakistan.

Roopchandra, who recently acquired a new sugar cane machine seems absorbed in it and directs toward Mahadev Advani. On the way to Advani’s veranda, two giggling women talk as their buckets and utensils rest right beside them. The scorching afternoon wind strikes and you try to dodge it. Mahadev asks for a glass of water – a middle-aged, chubby woman brings water and sits at a distance, though without any veil and occasionally participates in the conversation.

In 2013, Advani and several others migrated from Pakistan citing a sacred visit to the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad as a reason to visit India and never returned to the land of their ancestors. “Our children were not learning anything about Hindu culture and tradition there. The medium of education was either Sindhi or Punjabi and that made us apprehensive all the more,” says Advani. We thought we might go extinct in the times to come, he adds.

Minority in Pakistan

Pakistan has a number of woes of its own. The Tehreek-e-Taliban, a terror group dominant in the northwestern part of Pakistan, has wrecked havoc on its own people and created a sense of trepidation in the entire country. Religious minorities, including the Ahmadiyas who were stripped of their Muslim identity by the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime and Hazaras have longed to be at peace but with little respite.

Farhanaz Ispahani, media advisor to the president of Pakistan from 2008-2012 in her book, Purifying the Land of the Pure: Pakistan’s Religious Minorities alludes to the longstanding miseries of minorities in Pakistan. She blames the successive regimes in Pakistan for having aggravated the problem. She refers to the dwindling population of minorities as “drip-drip genocide”.

However, the refugees at Majnu ka Tila do not mention this as one of the major reasons for leaving Pakistan. A few of them claim that such a situation never arose during their stay in Pakistan, while some others did mention hostility at the hands of extremists. “We were never forced to renounce our religion to convert to Islam. There are a few areas where this must have been practiced, but nobody forced us. They would just preach Islam,” says Laxman, pradhan (chief) of the colony at Majnu Ka Tila.

Baba (left) fled Pakistan in 2013 to evade persecution at the hands of extremists. He spends most of his time at home. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

Baba (left) fled Pakistan in 2013 to evade persecution at the hands of extremists. He spends most of his time at home. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

The year 2011 was a witness to the arrival of the first few Hindu families from Pakistan, which settled here at Majnu ka Tila and the process has continued since then. While the pradhan denied any instance of persecution at the hands Pakistanis, a frail Baba, who must be in his seventies, recounted his anguish vividly. “Sometimes they would just barge into our houses and molest our girls. They would beat us badly and run away with our possessions. The government had also turned a blind eye toward us. Nobody used to listen to us,” he laments.

Government promises

In 2015, the Kejriwal government had taken notice of the lack of basic necessities at this colony that continues to grow. The government arranged for drinking water and toilet facilities. An extra electricity generator has also been stationed to light this colony at night. Laxman, in his recent meet with Kejriwal had communicated the issues his colony faced on a daily basis. “Mosquitoes don’t let us sleep because Yamuna is around the corner. We had applied for a ration card long back. Almost eight months have passed, but we still have no idea, where it is and when it would be issued,” says Laxman.

Bollywood stars and gods placed beside each other on one of the walls at Majnu Ka Teela Hindu colony. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

Bollywood stars and gods placed beside each other on one of the walls at Majnu Ka Teela Hindu colony. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

Moving deeper into the colony manifests the profoundly rooted affection it has not only for god, but also the tri-color. At one of the far ends of this colony exits a temple that is well endowed with the idols of Hanuman and other goddesses. An Indian and a saffron flag, one beneath the other, flap in the breeze to greet the visitors before they join their hands to pray before Hanuman. “We always had our temples within the precincts of our houses in Pakistan, but here we have everything in the open,” says Nanakram.

Indian and saffron flag flutter one beneath the other. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

Indian and saffron flag flutter one beneath the other. Credit: Mirza Arif Beg

The refugees who left their property, houses and some of them even their families in a quest for better living in India have faced prejudice here as well. The police, on repeated occasions, have assaulted them and at times even seized their carts. “The police have beaten us in the past and still do so. I just want to earn enough money to serve basic necessities to my family, but it’s becoming difficult day by day,” says Tarachand Dilsagar. Sometimes I feel I was better off there in Pakistan, he adds.

During the 2014 Lok Sabha elections the BJP manifesto very categorically mentioned that India shall remain a natural home to persecuted Hindus and these persecuted Hindus will be welcomed to seek refuge here. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, back in February 2014 while speaking at a rally in Assam, had also talked about accommodating Hindus from Bangladesh. The refugees at Majnu ka Tila have high expectations from the Modi-led government at the Centre. “We expect a lot from the Modi government and it’s because of this government that we all have stayed back, all of us here,” says Laxman.

India is home

While the stay of Pakistani Hindu refugees hitherto may have been full of hardships, the Modi government is all set to roll out a number of concessions for them. The government seems determined to allow the minorities from Pakistan to purchase property in India and to open bank accounts as well. Not only that, the minorities will also be permitted to take citizenship of India without any impediments.

The sun has started giving some reprieve as the shadows get enlarged in the evening. The men and children have started returning from their workplace and schools respectively. Their arrival dissipates the silence and instills life into the colony. Roopchandra is busy serving sugarcane juice to his customers and throws aside the waste every now and then. “It feels like home here. Pakistan has always been a country that looked alien to us, but India feels home,” he says.