They are seeking refugee status from the Rajasthan Chief Minister

Representatives of Hindu migrants from Pakistan, who arrived by the Thar Express on Sunday, met Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday in Jodhpur and sought refugee status for them. The group of 171, comprising 35 women and around 70 children and youth, appeared determined as they told Mr. Gehlot that they did not want to go back.

The migrants were led by Hindu Singh Sodha, Jodhpur-based social activist. He has been working for the rehabilitation and citizenship of the “displaced” Hindus from Pakistan. Mr. Gehlot promised “all possible” help and instructed the District Collector to provide all help to the migrants. In the meantime, he would talk to the Centre on the issue, Mr. Gehlot told Mr. Sodha at the Jodhpur airport where they had the meeting.

This has been the biggest ever group to migrate to west Rajasthan from the adjoining districts on the other side of the border in Pakistan and it appears to be only the beginning if the border watchers are to be believed. Having crossed the border by train, they escaped near-bonded situations from the districts of Sanghar, Hyderababad and the newly formed district of Matiari in Sindh province. The migrants have come on religious visa for 30 days.

Prior to this, the largest number of Hindus seeking asylum or refugee status in India arrived in 1965 after the India-Pakistan war. There is an estimated 1.20 lakh persons from Pakistan living in India as migrants.

“They carry tales of deprivation and oppression. The fact that they are tribals aggravated their condition in Pakistan. After hearing them, I have this feeling that this is only a beginning,” Mr. Sodha told The Hindu.

At present Mr. Sodha’s organisation, Seemant Lok Sangathan, has provided shelter to the migrants near the Bali Dhai temple in the outskirts of Jodhpur.

“At any given time, small groups of Hindus used to come to western Rajasthan districts and they would refuse to go back. However, this is unprecedented as the number is very high. Every possible kind of subjugation — be it religious persecution, kidnapping of girls and even forced labour-is there. The firmness with which each of them is insisting on staying back only indicates the conditions back home,” noted senior journalist Narain Bareth, who specialises on border issues.

“In Sindh, 90 per cent of the Hindu population are either Dalits or tribes. This group, mostly of landless labourers, has come leaving behind their kin. In fact, the others would have also come but they cannot have afforded the cost of travel, Mr. Bareth said. “As such Sindh is known for its fine traditions of Sufism and the Peer Padharo religious group there is sympathetic to the Hindu population. But the hardliners among the majority community and the landlords make the lives of poor Hindus and Christians miserable,” he said.

Chetan Bheel, leader of the group, said he had come without even completing the 13th day rituals” after his father’s death.