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Asia

Hindus leave Pakistan for India amid claims of persecution

Hundreds of members of the Hindu community have left Pakistan for India, citing mistreatment, discrimination and persecution. Despite efforts by the Pakistani government, the wave of migration seems to be continuing.

On Pakistan's Independence Day, a fresh batch of Pakistani Hindus arrived in India on board the Samjhauta Express, the "peace train" between both countries, and many of them vowed that they would not return given the atmosphere of fear prevalent where they came from.

Hindus cross over

Over the past week, batches of pilgrims, mostly based in Sindh province have been steadily streaming in through the Attari land border to offer prayers at Indian temples and gurdwaras (Sikh houses of worship) in the cities of Haridwar, Rishikes, Amritsar, Delhi and Indore.

"Our situation in Pakistan is difficult. We have decided that we will not return at all. We will request asylum here. We have been forced to give up our established business there," Pradeep Kumar of Pakistan's upper Sindh province told DW.

"Hindu families are not safe in Pakistan. The kidnapping of young Hindu girls and brides by religious extremists at gunpoint have become a routine affair," another harried Pakistani Hindu, who lives in Baluchistan, told DW. He did not wish to be identified.

Some pilgrims cited the instance of a 14-year-old Hindu girl who was kidnapped from Jacobabad city in Pakistan's southern Sindh province recently and forced to convert to Islam and also marry a Muslim man.

The statements from India obviously evoked strong reactions from the Pakistani government and about 118 pilgrims were briefly stopped on the Pakistani side of the border for about seven hours on Friday.

Hindu women devotees offer prayers, besides a poster of cricketer Sachin Tendulkar, on the banks of the Rivers Ganges

Religious minorities claim to be persecuted in Pakistan

Some pilgrims told DW on conditions of anonymity they were allowed to visit India after they submitted a written undertaking that they would not seek asylum in India and would return to Pakistan within 30 days.

Panel to allay grievances

Just last week, taking serious note of reports of the sense of insecurity among Hindus in Sindh, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari set up a three-member committee of parliamentarians to visit different parts of the province to reassure the minority community of their security.

A peaceful demonstration called "Stop Persecution of Religious Minorities in Pakistan" took place at the Lahore Press Club in connection with Minority Day on August 11, to express citizens' concern over growing religious discrimination, hatred and violence.

"At this time the Pakistan government must give back minorities their space and even provide (them) hope for a better future. Giving citizenship is not the answer. This has to be sorted out by both governments. That is the only solution," Happymon Jacob, an academic who has been involved in Track II diplomacy with Pakistan, told DW.

According to one estimate, the Hindus of Pakistan constitute about 5.5 percent of the population of 170 million. They live primarily in the urban areas of the province of Sindh in the lower Indus valley and over half are concentrated in the southeast district of Tharparkar which borders India.

Many of the Hindu families who are now in India are contemplating staying on and extending their visas.
The foremost thought on August 14 is that they do not want to continue living in fear. And unless the Pakistani government comes up with bold assurances of their safety and well-being, the doubts will remain.

Author Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning

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