When Partition occurred, many Muslims left India for
Pakistan and many Hindus left Pakistan for India. Some, though, stayed back in the land
of their birth, determined that a political decision would not dictate
their path in life.
Yet, 53 years later, the old wounds refuse to heal. Instead, painful new ones have been inflicted.
Roving Editor Ramesh Menon visited Rohtak in Haryana where some Pakistani Hindus, who came to India
on a 30 day tourist visa, swear they will never return home. Ever.
Every day seems like a year. Almost. As Time painfully drags on for the 42
Pakistani Hindus living by the minute in a small, dusty village called
Kahnaur in Rohtak, Haryana. It has been quite a while since their
visas expired. But none of them are packing their bags to go home. They
do not want to return to the hell they have escaped from.
India has been like a breath of fresh air. There is something here that makes them comfortable. Something called
Freedom. Respect. Safety. For almost all of them have the same horror stories. They recount how numerous Pakistani Hindus have converted to Islam; they say it is the only way they could survive. It is the only way they could get Respect.
Acceptance. The only way to enter the mainstream in an Islamic nation. The oldest among the refugees is
Sidhu Ram. Over 70 years old, he crouches on a coir charpoy outside his makeshift dwelling in Kahnaur. "We do not want to go back," he says simply. "Do whatever you can to help us. Our daughters are growing up. We came
here to protect their dignity. We cannot go there now. We would rather die than go back."
The conversation is weighed down with long pauses of silence. As Sidhu Ram quietly looks into the distance.
The morning breeze gently plays with the ring in his left ear lobe. It has taken a lot of persuasion to
make him talk. But the fear does not leave his eyes, not even for a second. His family members stand around him, unnerved by my presence and my questions.
Whenever a stranger approaches their makeshift mud and red brick hut --constructed for them by the
sympathetic villagers -- these illegal residents find their hearts racing. They wonder
if the strangers are plainclothes policemen or officials from the
district administration. They dread the moment when they will be asked to
pack up and leave.
It feels terrible living on borrowed time. To reflect on how times change. When India was partitioned 53 years
ago, communal riots rocked both the countries. Thousands of Muslims fled India, even as thousands of Hindus wrapped up their lives in Pakistan. There was blood on the streets. There were dead bodies everywhere. Sidhu Ram and his family were told by kind Muslim neighbours that they would always be protected, always be cared for. Stay, they had said.
His mind drifts back to the time when all his neighbours and friends had assured him safety. Caring. Love. He
re-enacts how his Muslim neighbours had affectionately put their arms around his children. How they said, "They are like our children. No harm will ever come to you."
They were true to their word. Until the Babri Masjid fell in India. Everything changed after. The Hindus
no longer felt comfortable in Pakistan. Now, even the dead are denied a cremation. "We have to bury our dead like the Muslims do," says Sidhu Ram. "There is discrimination at every step. That is why we are here." Many of them have Muslim names. "It makes us feel safe," says another Pakistani Hindu. Many have have attached suffixes like Mohammed or Allah to their original names.
Like Ranguram, 18, a labourer in Layya district of Pakistani Punjab. Now, he spells out his name for me with
pride. In Pakistan, he had called himself Rang Ali. Not anymore, though. Now that he is in India, he has reverted back to his original name. As have the others.
But it may not be forever. "They will have to go back their Muslim names if they are deported," laughs a Kahnaur
None of the Pakistani Hindus smile. The tragedy, for them, is real. Almost four months ago, Sidhu Ram
asked his extended family of 35 members -- all Pakistani Hindus -- to apply for tourist visas to visit their relatives in India. All of them belonged to Layya and were either agricultural or semi-skilled workers.
They had lived in Pakistan all their lives; but when they were granted the visa to visit India, their hearts
fluttered with joy. They packed their meagre belongings and boarded the Samjhauta Express. Among the luggage was a clandestine article -- the idol of a Hindu deity called Pabu. They feared they would be caught, but the idol was easily smuggled across.
Once they were with their relatives in the safety of Kahnaur village, they decided never to go back. Soon after,
seven more Pakistani Hindus arrived. They too pleaded with the locals and the district administration to allow them to stay.
It had not hurt to leave Pakistan. None of them had any property. Or any form of wealth. Or memories they
wanted to cling to. A few days on Indian soil and their mind was made up. They valued the religious freedom they received in India. The idol was installed in a makeshift temple. Built with mud and brick and
a temporary hay roof, the temple could easily blow away in a storm. Yet, it makes them feel good.
Back in Pakistan, some temples were destroyed in retaliation for the Babri Masjid demolition. Those that
survived retribution are neither being repaired or renovated. As a result, most temples across the border are in a dilapidated state.
Sidhu Ram and his family have numerous relatives in Kahnaur village. Distant ones. But it does not matter.
At last, they feel wanted. Life, though, is far from comfortable. Home is two tiny rooms made of mud
plaster and red brick. The matted hay roof just about keeps the sun out. If it rains outside, it will rain inside too.
But that is the least of their concerns. Instead, they worry about whether they will still be here when the
This article was forwarded to me by one of my friends.