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Partition not Over Yet: Pakistani Hindus still Struggling to Find their Way Back to India

Jogdas, Pakistani Hindu lives in the camp on the outskirts of Jodhpur

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India Pakistan Protest
An elderly Pakistani Hindu woman makes an appeal during a protest against alleged human rights violations in Pakistan, outside the United Nation office in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. A group of Hindus from Sindh province in Pakistan are living in India after leaving their home country a year ago for fear of being persecuted, according to news reports. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
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  • No job, no house, no money, no food
  • Pakistan’s largest religious minority are Hindus
  • There was not even a single day when we could live in peace

New Delhi, August 15, 2017: After India got Independence from British Rule, India and Pakistan were created, Pakistan became a separate nation on 14 August 1947 and India, a separate nation on 15 August 1947.

Still, for some Hindus, Partition is not over yet as they are still struggling to come back to India and even when they reach, they are unable to live a life of dignity as an Indian Citizen. For decades, Jogdas (a Hindu who lived in Pakistan) wanted to move to India to escape the hostility he suffered as a Hindu in Muslim dominated Pakistan. But the reality of life they (all Pakistani Hindus living in camps) are living over the border is starkly different from what they wanted. It has been 71 years since the partition, the largest migration of people in the human history ever. Pakistani Hindus are still moving from Pakistan to India, where thousands are living in deteriorating conditions in makeshift camps near the border area with no legal right to work.

Many have no choice but to move illegally around the places near which they live because their movements are strictly controlled by the authorities who sees anyone who move from across the border with suspicious eyes. It is not the kind of welcome most of them expected in Hindu-majority India in-spite of being Hindus.

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Jogdas, 81, said” No job, no house, no money, no food. There, we were working in the fields, we were farmers. But here people like us are forced to break rocks to earn a living,” mentioned  AFP report. It’s a tough life for them.”For us, the partition is still not over. Pakistani Hindus are still trying to come back to their country and when they come here, they have nothing.” He lives in a camp on the outskirts of  Jodhpur.

Due to partition many people were uprooted, the estimate suggests 15 million and it triggered months of tragic violence and chaos all around, a million people were killed due to their religion. Amid all the chaos and bloodshed, Hindus and Sikhs came to India and Muslims moved to Pakistan.

Despite the mass departure of people from both sides, Pakistan’s largest religious minority are Hindus. They are believed to be around 1.6 % in 200 million Pakistanis with Muslim religion.

ALSO READ: ‘Blood Stained Hands’ Plan to Take Over Pakistan’s Political Reigns as Terrorist Organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) Prepares to Enter Politics

Many say they have to face discrimination, risk getting kidnapped, raped and also forced marriage. Jogdas said that the harassment started very soon after partition. His family had only moved to  Pakistan only a few months before partition in order to escape a devastating drought. He said, “There was not even a single day when we could live in peace. I wanted to come back to live with my Hindu brothers.We are alone,” mentioned AFP report.

Pakistan’s Sindh province is the place from where many migrants came to India. They took a 4 hour long train journey, going through Thar Desert to Jodhpur in Rajasthan. They share the culture, food, and language of Rajasthan should  have made it easier for them to adjust in their adopted homeland. But the reality is totally different as they live far from local communities and local people in isolated camps, and are treated with suspicion by authorities on a frequent basis.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government have said that it wants to make it easier for persecuted Pakistani Hindus to find refuge in India. Last year the rules were changed and it allowed immigrants to apply for citizenship in the state where they currently live, instead of going to the central government for this.

Hindus from Pakistan are qualified for a fast track to citizenship after living seven years in the country. But because of bureaucratic delays, the process of citizenship  takes much longer to complete.

Khanaramji, 64, in 2005 became an Indian citizen but the irony is that he  fled Pakistan in 1997. He said that there were many others with him but they gave up their hopes and returned to Pakistan, disappointed by life in India where they couldn’t live a life they thought was possible here. According to AFP report, he said, “There is no assistance from the government. We are just like cattle with no owners. We are just surviving on our own. Life becomes hell.”  What is worse than the poverty for them is the suspicion from authorities.”Those who do not have citizenship are harassed by (intelligence) agencies. They are always treated like suspects and agents of Pakistan,” said Khanaramji.

Hindu Singh Sodha said, “They spend most of what they earn on going to police stations and agency offices,” mentioned AFP report. He runs a charity in Jodhpur for Pakistani Hindus seeking to settle in India, said that they had high hopes from Modi when he came to office in 2014, but had to taste only disappointment.

The migrants are the ones who still have to face inspection whenever tensions come up between India and Pakistan; this is become a frequent occurrence under the Modi government. Their life becomes a living hell. “Because everything is affected, their shelter, healthcare, access to education, their livelihood,” said Sodha. But sad truth is that some tolerate this also.

Two years ago, Horoji fled to India with his two adult sons  after receiving death threats from their Muslim neighbors in Pakistan. “To save our lives, we had to run to India,” said 65-year-old Horoji. His grandparents were originally from India but they found themselves on the wrong side of the border at the time of partition. “My grandfather had gone to the other side for work. But he told us to move to India at the right time as he sensed that times would not be safe for Hindus in future.”


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Pakistan Fears Economic Turmoil, Re-thinks ‘Silk Road’ Project With China

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns.

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Pakistan
A man passes through a railing while others board a train as they make their way home at the Cantonment railway station in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

After lengthy delays, an $8.2 billion revamp of a colonial-era rail line snaking from the Arabian Sea to the foothills of the Hindu Kush has become a test of Pakistan ’s ability to rethink signature Chinese “Silk Road” projects because of debt concerns.

The rail megaproject linking the coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is China’s biggest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Pakistan, but Islamabad has balked at the cost and financing terms.

Resistance has stiffened under the new government of populist Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has voiced alarm about rising debt levels and says the country must wean itself off foreign loans.

“We are seeing how to develop a model so the government of Pakistan wouldn’t have all the risk,” Khusro Bakhtyar, minister in Pakistan’s planning ministry, told reporters recently.

Pakistan
Visitors read instruction material about land that was reclaimed from the Indian Ocean for the Colombo Port City project, on the Galle Face sea promenade in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Jan. 2, 2018. The Port City project was initiated as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. VOA

Unease elsewhere

The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors.

Pakistan’s new government had wanted to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China.

But to Islamabad’s frustration, Beijing is only willing to review projects that have not yet begun, three senior government officials have told Reuters.

China’s Foreign Ministry said, in a statement in response to questions faxed by Reuters, that both sides were committed to pressing forward with BRI projects, “to ensure those projects that are already built operate as normal, and those which are being built proceed smoothly.”

Pakistani officials say they remain committed to Chinese investment but want to push harder on price and affordability, while re-orientating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for which Beijing has pledged about $60 billion in infrastructure funds, to focus on projects that deliver social development in line with Khan’s election platform.

Pakistan
China’s ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, Islamabad. VOA

‘Mutual consultation’

China’s Ambassador to Pakistan, Yao Jing, told Reuters that Beijing was open to changes proposed by the new government and “we will definitely follow their agenda” to work out a roadmap for BRI projects based on “mutual consultation.”

“It constitutes a process of discussion with each other about this kind of model, about this kind of roadmap for the future,” Yao said.

Beijing would only proceed with projects that Pakistan wanted, he added.

“This is Pakistan’s economy, this is their society,” Yao said.

IMF bailout likely

Islamabad’s efforts to recalibrate CPEC are made trickier by its dependence on Chinese loans to prop up its vulnerable economy.

Growing fissures in relations with the United States, Pakistan’s historic ally, have also weakened the country’s negotiating hand, as has a current account crisis likely to lead to a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, which may demand spending cuts.

“We have reservations, but no other country is investing in Pakistan. What can we do?” one Pakistani minister told Reuters.

Pakistan
Laborers dig the ground before replacing concrete sleepers along railway tracks in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Crumbling railways

The ML-1 rail line is the spine of country’s dilapidated rail network, which has in recent years been edging toward collapse as passenger numbers plunge, train lines close and the vital freight business nosedives.

Khan’s government has vowed to make the 1,872 km (1,163 mile) line a priority CPEC project, saying it will help the poor travel across the vast South Asian nation.

But Islamabad is exploring funding options for CPEC projects that depart from the traditional BRI lending model, whereby host nations take on Chinese debt to finance construction of infrastructure, and has invited Saudi Arabia and other countries to invest.

One option for ML-1, according to Pakistani officials, is the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model, which would see investors or companies finance and build the project and recoup their investment from cash flows generated mainly by the rail freight business, before returning it to Pakistan in a few decades time.

Yao, the Chinese envoy, said Beijing was open to BOT and would “encourage” its companies to invest.

Pakistan
A man waits to cross a portion of track once shared with the Karachi Circular Railway line in Karachi, Pakistan. VOA

Large rail projects, problems

Rail mega-projects under China’s BRI umbrella have run into problems elsewhere in Asia. A line linking Thailand and Laos has been beset by delays over financing, while Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad outright canceled the Chinese-funded $20 billion East Coast Rail Link (ECRL).

Beijing is happy to offer loans, but reticent to invest in the Pakistan venture as such projects are seldom profitable, according to Andrew Small, author of a book on China-Pakistan relations.

“The problem is that the Chinese don’t think they can make money on this project and are not keen on BOT,” Small said.

Off-books debt

During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan in 2015, the ML-1 line was placed among a list of “early harvest” CPEC projects that would be prioritized, along with power plants urgently needed to end crippling electricity shortages.

But while many other projects from that list have now been completed, the rail scheme has been stuck.

Pakistan
. The difference between the two validate the investments made on the road, and give a hopeful image for the future.

Pakistani officials say they became wary of how early BRI contracts were awarded to Chinese firms, and are pushing for a public tender for ML-1.

Partly to help with price discovery, Pakistan asked the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to finance a chunk of the rail project through tendering. The ADB began discussions on a $1.5-$2 billion loan, but China insisted the project was “too strategic,” and Islamabad kicked out the ADB under pressure from Beijing in early 2017, according to Pakistani and ADB officials.

“If it’s such a strategic project then it should be a viable project for them to finance on very concessional terms or invest in?” said one senior Pakistani official familiar with the project, referring to the BOT model.

China’s foreign ministry said Beijing was engaged in “friendly consultations” with Pakistan on the rail project.

Chinese companies participated in BRI projects in an open and transparent way, “pooling benefits and sharing risks,” it said.

Pakistan
In this file photo taken Oct. 10, 2015, a bus moves past by solar power and wind power farms in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui region.

Chinese debt or no project

Analysts say Pakistan will struggle to attract non-Chinese investors into the project, which may force it to choose between piling on Chinese debt or walking away from the project.

In 2017, Pakistan turned down Chinese funding for a $14 billion mega-dam project in the Himalayas because of cost concerns and worries Beijing could end up owning a vital national asset if Pakistan could not repay loans, as occurred with a Sri Lankan port.

Khan’s government chafes at several Chinese intercity mass transport projects in Punjab, the voter heartland of the previous government, which now need hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies every year.

Also Read: Creating a New Silk Road: China’s Billion Dollar Investments to Expand Its Transportation Network

They also fume about the risk of accumulating off-books sovereign debt through power contracts, where annual profits of above 20 percent, in dollar terms, were guaranteed by the previous administration.

With the ML-1 line, there are also those who harbor doubts closer to home, including the previous government’s finance minister, Miftah Ismail, who said his ministry had always had concerns about its viability.

“When people say it’s a project of national importance, that usually means it makes no sense financially,” he said. (VOA)