India may not be the safe haven it wants to be for Pakistani Hindus

In search of refuge.
In search of refuge.
Image: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
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India has reportedly been unable to provide a safe haven to a significant number of Hindu refugees from Pakistan.

About 800 Pakistani Hindus returned to their home country in 2021 due to the absence of any progress on their citizenship applications, The Hindu newspaper has reported. The data are based on the claims of Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), an advocacy group.

Several of these asylum seekers were living in the western Indian state of Rajasthan.

Following the end of the British rule in 1947, the Indian subcontinent was partitioned between the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and a constitutionally secular India that had an overwhelmingly Hindu majority.

Over the past many decades, Hindu right-wing groups have always countered accusations of persecution of Muslims in India with the alleged plight of Hindus in Pakistan. For instance, the vandalisation of Hindu temples there is often brought up as a foil to violence against mosques in India. The Hindu nationalists’ claims are particularly sharp in international forums.

India’s Citizenship Amendment Act

This return of Pakistani Hindus in frustration is also particularly intriguing in the context of India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). This controversial law, passed by parliament in 2019, was meant to specifically help such people.

The CAA, along with the launch of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), had spurred months-long nationwide protests. The Act was supposedly meant to fast-track citizenship applications of persecuted Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Christians, and Buddhists of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh.

The non-inclusion of Muslim asylum seekers in this list was thorny. Along with the alleged biases in the implementation of NRC, it fueled concerns over the possible targeted harassment of this religious minority of India.

However, the rules under CAA have not been notified yet, leaving the law in a state of dormancy. In April, prime minister Narendra Modi’s government sought six more months to formulate the rules.

The home ministry said that over 10,000 citizenship applications—nearly 75% from Pakistan—were pending as of December 2021.

Applicants under CAA were eligible for citizenship within five years instead of 11, if they entered India before December 2014 on grounds of religious persecution. Yet, many such Pakistani Hindus have lived in India for much longer than five years, according to The Hindu.