About 1,200 people who have migrated from Pakistan in the past five years are housed in three camps in New Delhi
Over the past five years, about 1,200 Pakistani Hindus have traveled from Pakistan to India in order to escape discrimination and religious persecution.
Many of those who fled Pakistan, are housed in three camps in New Delhi and many say one of the biggest problems they faced back home was that they were unable to educate their children.
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At 16, Mala Das can just about write her name which has so far been her greatest achievement. “When I came here I was completely unlettered. Today I can write my name,” she said.
When questioned about which year she arrived to India, Mala remains unsure. Her family and neighbours say they arrived in India in 2011 from Pakistan’s Hyderabad to escape “religious and cultural persecution and government apathy.”
However, in India, she says she is happy to see that Hindus in India can practice their religion openly. “Here Hindus pray without fear in temples and organise religious festivals outdoor. In Pakistan we prayed at home. If we went to temples, we avoided the gaze of our neighbours.”
Just three weeks ago, Bhagwan Das arrived in Delhi and was among 71 people who were treated like “second-class citizens” in Pakistan. He has two growing children with no formal education.
“Our children don’t feel welcome in schools there. Muslims taunt us for being Hindu. Our girls are also sexually harassed,” Das told BBC. There is now a primary school in the migrant camp where children are taught how to read and write.
Rajwanti, 13, and other children in the camp recall how Hindu boys and girls were made to read the Holy Quran in Pakistani schools and Muslim students allegedly laughed at their religious practices.
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“We have full religious freedom here. We are free,” says Ishwar Lal, 18, who went to Delhi five months ago, adding that in India, “everyone is respectful of each other’s faith”.
Today, Muslims constitute 14% of India’s population, while in Pakistan, Hindus are said to be just over 2%.
Although there is no official estimate of the number of Pakistani Hindus living in India, over the years, small groups have been crossing the border to reach Delhi or other northern states, including Rajasthan and Haryana. Once in India, they apply for asylum and, eventually, citizenship.
The Indian government revealed to BBC that more than 1,400 Pakistanis have been given citizenship since 2011, of which an overwhelming majority are Hindus. Those living in Delhi camps, however, say they are yet to get Indian citizenship.
On the contrary, Arjun Das, who is regarded as the leader of Pakistani Hindus in Delhi camps, said that they feel frustrated. “We applied in 2011 but nothing has happened. The BJP government which claims to have sympathy for us is no different from other governments,” he said.
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Pahlaj, who arrived three weeks ago, said he is disappointed that “no Hindu leader or neighbour has visited us yet”. But most say they are happy to be in India where they feel “at home” and Pahlaj says most Pakistani Hindus want to leave the country.
“A small number has come to India. Millions of Pakistani Hindus are waiting for an opportunity to do the same,” he concludes.
This article originally appeared on BBC.