Septuagenarian Lakshmi sits on a torn blanket inside a tent. She is finishing the last morsel of her lunch and says a small prayer thanking god that her roti has not come through hands that killed a cow.
In between bites, she says she wants her last rites performed according to Hindu rituals and that is what gave her the strength to leave the house where she had lived all her life.
Lakshmi is one of the 145 people who came to India on a tourist visa from Pakistan three months ago and have, since then, refused to return. She is among the Hindus living in Sindh Province of Pakistan. The group has pitched tents at an ashram and appealed to the Prime Minister for permanent shelter in India.
Hindus from Pakistan have left behind their houses, fields and shops hoping for a life free from fear. “We Hindus have been living a miserable life in the Muslim country. There are no jobs for us. We are not even given complete wage when we work in the fields. There is no future for me and my sons in Pakistan,” said Ganga Ram, who owns a pucca house and a grocery shop in Matiari district.
Ram is a graduate. However, his sons refused to go to high school, considering the degree in vain since they anyway would not get jobs. Ravi Prakash, alias Prince, has studied till fifth grade and worked as a labourer in Pakistan. He has now assembled a cart on his own and is selling mobile phone accessories.
“Since I don’t have permission to live here any more, I cannot go to far-off places. However, I manage to earn Rs 250-300 each day,” he says. Ram’s son dreams of a house in India and wants his two younger sisters to go to school.
Sagar Rai, who worked as a motor mechanic in Pakistan, says the life is unsafe there. “Our daughters are picked up from homes. The Muslims of Sindh province are forcing us to adopt Islam. They enter our houses and threaten us. We had no choice but to escape,” he explains.
Another refugee, Raj Kumari, asserts, “Here, we have the freedom to go to the temple. We don’t see men slaughtering cows. Here, even if we have to live under the open sky for the rest of our lives, we will.”
At the dera of Baba Rajkumar Ji at Majnu Ka Tila, women do daily chores like cooking and cleaning while the men have picked up odd jobs in the neighborhood. Small children — about 30 of them — study in a room.
“We have been trying to get a visa to India for about five years now. Each year, we would apply for a visit visa but it was rejected. This time, we applied for a tourist visa and got it for two months,” says Shoba Ram.
The visitors went to the Golden Temple in Amritsar and Har Ki Pauri at Haridwar. It has been a month now that their visas have expired. “We are hard working people and will be able to earn our own bread,” says Rukmani.
Dera devotee Basant Ramdhari adds, “They are all followers of Babaji and the doors of this ashram are open for anybody in need. They can live here till whenever they want.”