By Mark Kinra
The migration of the oppressed Pakistani Hindus to India is an arduous process. India Narrative speaks to Cheidam Sharma in an online interview about the hurdles involved, especially the bureaucratic red tape, that is discouraging Pakistani Hindus to seek refuge in India. Cheidam Sharma, got his Indian Citizenship in October 2021
Q: Please tell us something about your personal background?
CS: We are from Tharparkar but used to live in Karachi due to my father's job. My father retired from a senior management cadre position in 2003. I studied till 10th in Karachi and did 12th in Hyderabad, which is around 100 km from Karachi. After that, I did a B.E. in Textile Engineering. For 5 years I couldn't find any job as the industry is dominated by Muslim Punjabis and being a Hindu and that too a Sindhi, I had little chance. Meanwhile, I did my MBA in Marketing and joined the BFSI sector in Pakistan in 2007 and was working there until June 2013 before moving to India.
Q: What were the circumstances which led you to leave Pakistan and migrate to India?
CS: We were a well-settled upper-middle-class family living in comfort in Pakistan but being a Hindu there existed a strong sense of fear and insecurity. Compelling Islamic culture caused circumstances which make all Hindus no-class citizens of the Islamic Republic. Strict observance of the Islamic way of life, compulsory Islamic studies from primary level in all schools for all students including Hindus and other minorities. Then there is the problem of forced conversions of Hindu Girls of minor and major ages including mass conversions. Loot and arson attacks on Hindus and their temples have put seeds of resentment and this has only grown with time. Finally, we concluded that if we continue to live in Pakistan our next generation will lose its Hindu Identity.
Discrimination exists at all levels with Hindus from all walks of life. The term Kafir/Baniya echoes in normal talk but is mainly addressed in speeches on all national days and events. Personally, my brother was dismayed when despite topping the list of the selection committee he was denied a job that was given to a person who did not meet the requisites of the post and that too on a false pretext. This was a turning point when we made a joint decision to move to India.
We could have lived our lives in comfort but it would have been at the cost of our future generations. So, to save our future generations we decided to embark on the journey to India from 2009 onwards. In 2009, my brother landed in India, followed by his family in 2010, our sister came in 2011 and lastly, I landed with my family members in 2013. We opined it as a welcome journey being a Hindu but it has turned out to be otherwise; full of hardships but our commitment to our future generations provided the will & strength to bear it all. Two generations will sacrifice not just for a shining future but also to live as proud Sanatani Hindus.
Q: How many members of your family have received Indian Citizenship? How difficult was the process?
CS: Only my brother, sister and I have received citizenship, the rest are waiting. Coming to India isn't a bed of roses. When one comes to India, one hopes for security and a better life. A better life can also be there if the bureaucratic process in India doesn't take away your precious years. India has hardened its bureaucratic process and every person gets entangled in the web of paperwork and it isn't that paperwork is the same for each family.
Every person is dealt with under a different section. Under the Indian Citizenship Act,1955 my spouse will get citizenship under Sec. 5(1)(c), while my minor children under Sec 5(1)(d) and major children under 5(1)(e) plus India have categorized people who have come under various timelines. People like my brother who arrived before 31 December 2009, faced the least issue as an expired passport is not a hindrance in getting Indian citizenship. For people who have arrived between 1 January 2010 and 31 December 2014, their Long-Term Visa (LTV) can be increased for a stay in India without a valid passport but they will not get citizenship until their passport deposition for renunciation receipt issued by the Pakistan Embassy is submitted to the Indian Collector with an affidavit.
I came to India in 2013; somehow, I was lucky that my passport didn't expire but my sister-in-law wasn't that lucky as her passport and CNIC (Pakistan national identity card) both got expired initially we thought with the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 (CAA) enforced process will be easy but with no sight for CAA we got dismayed and with no other alternative we had to struggle to get all her documents renewed. And those people, who have arrived on or after 1 January 2015, will face the worst possible scenario because they can't get even their LTV extended if their passports are expired. So, you can appreciate our agony in getting citizenship.
Q: You told us about the problems you are facing through the Indian bureaucratic system. How does the Pakistani Embassy treat you?
CS: At the Pakistani Embassy one comes across the most inhumane, insulting and derogatory treatment with hateful eyes staring at you. It is like going to Kaalapani jail. Every time a person has to renew their passport they have to go to the Pakistani Embassy which is not only an expensive but tedious and humiliating process.
Further, a new condition is added for renunciation of citizenship, where a person needs to have a digitized passport and this can only be made in Pakistan. And for passport renewal, you need to have a valid CNIC, for which you have to visit Pakistan on NORI (No Obligation to Return to India) visa, which is again expensive. It takes about Rs 3500 per passport renewal and the deposition of passport fee is Rs 8500 along with travel, accommodation and food costs. In case one has to visit Pakistan then it will cost much more, all in all, it will cost about Rs 50000-100000 per person for this whole process.
On a personal note, because of this process, our family was compelled to visit Pakistan and have spent Rs.200000 till now. All these conditions make it difficult to even surrender our citizenship, it seems neither Pakistan wants us nor they can see us living our lives peacefully in India. I will tell you the example of minor children who have entered India with their parents. Their process of citizenship hasn't even started and don't know when it will finish. Only after a child turns 18 years that he/she will get a CNIC without which you cannot surrender citizenship. And the Pakistan Embassy will not give a renunciation certificate until he/she is 21 years as per their rules. When Hindu refugees are coming here to get citizenship, why give benefits to Pakistan, India is helping fill up the Pakistani exchequer. India can tweak the rules and make it simple because for us every penny counts.
Q: That brings us to the question; you have been living in India for 9 years. How do you sustain yourself and your family?
CS: I need to put on record that we as a joint family are struggling for our survival not for the last 9 years but for the last 13 years as my elder brother came to India in 2009. I, despite being academically qualified did not get employment commensurate with my qualification and experience. Currently, I am working as an administrator and also associate of Nimittekam, an organization which helps Pakistani Hindu refugees in India by way of legal, economic and social aid.
Nimittekam helped me and now I am giving my best as an associate to the organization and helping my Pakistani Hindu brethren. But it would be wrong if I didn't give credit to our joint family as the source of survival led by my elder brother. My brother is a medical doctor by profession with masters from the USA and later completed his PhD from India. Joint system assets have helped the family to sustain itself.
Q: Do you have any message for the Government of India?
CS: Ever since the takeover of the present Government led by honourable PM Narendra Modi Ji there has been a change of mindset for Pakistani migrant Hindus; from hate to sympathy. Recent notifications have provided a lot of ease and facilities to Pakistani migrants which include migrants with LTV to seek private employment, issuance of driving license, purchase of a house, admission in schools, colleges and professional education.
I appeal to the honourable Prime Minister and honourable Home Minister Amit Shah Ji to implement the CAA which has inbuilt provisions of redressal of all wounds of Pakistani migrant Hindus yearning for Indian citizenship and who are giving their lives just to save their Hindu identity instead of easing them through conversion in Pakistan.
If there are any hurdles, then we would request that the 2009 notification should be brought in for all migrants without any caveats so that District Magistrate/Collector can provide us with the citizenship directly without many bureaucratic hurdles, these would include exemption from renunciation certificate for both expired and valid passport holders, exemption from Indian marriage certificates those who got married in Pakistan and shifted to India along with wards and simultaneous processing of online citizenship application of spouse and children.
Most refugees don't mind staying for 7 years or 12 years, only the process needs to be made easier, we are ready for all scrutiny by IB, CID or any other agency. It is a battle for survival, we are leaving everything in Pakistan and coming here, even if there is no support from the government, we are ready to work hard and toil ourselves for our family. I have lived more than half of my life but our children's life and future are at stake. Please ease our struggle; we don't wish to go back to Pakistan.
Q: What kind of support did you get from the people of India? Do you feel safe and secure in India vis-a-vis Pakistan?
CS: In the beginning, I found no support and my initial years from 2013 to 2016 were hard as my educational degrees were not verified so I couldn't find the right job per my capability, which makes you disheartened. Secondly, because of my Pakistani nationality, everybody got afraid and nobody wants to take a chance on me.
But on the positive side, in comparison to living in Pakistan, India is safe. In Pakistan, whenever your sisters or daughters venture out, there is always a fear of harassment or abduction or kidnappings with ill motives of conversions. I have never felt these issues in India; women of the house venture out, come and go with ease. (SJ/IANS)