After a weary stay of four hours at the Wagah border, over 200 Hindu pilgrims from Jacobabad, allegedly migrating to India, were cleared by the interior ministry to cross over into the neighbouring country.
According to reports, immigration authorities had stopped 242 pilgrims from crossing the Wagah border into the Indian territory Friday morning.
At that point, only two families were allowed to cross the border as they were given permits by the interior ministry.
Immigration authorities said they were waiting for the interior ministry to give a security clearance, allowing the 60 families to travel to India.
The pilgrims were stopped in the wake of a rumour that they were migrating to India due to fears for their life and property in Pakistan. Even though, they were issued a 40-day pilgrim travel permit to attend the annual Yatra, speculations were rife that they would not return to Pakistan.
Immigration authorities had initially informed the pilgrims that the interior ministry’s decision would be given in the next 48 hours. However, after a four-hour long peaceful protest, the Hindu pilgrims were allowed to cross borders.
One of the pilgrims complained it was illegal for authorities to not let them cross the border since visas were issued to them.
“If we are not allowed to go to India, why were we given visas?” he said.
Dispelling rumours of migration, he said that many Hindus go to India every year to perform Yatra and they return to Pakistan as it is their country.
Earlier, Interior Minister Rehman Malik had termed the migration of families belonging to Hindu community from Jacobabad a ‘conspiracy’ against Pakistan.
Forced migration must be checked: HRCP
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) expressed concerns on reports of the alleged “forced migration” of religious minority communities from Sindh and Balochistan.
In a statement issued on Friday, the commission said some minorities in Sindh and Balochistan claimed that certain groups are threatening them to leave Pakistan.
“Religious minorities’ continued migration from Sindh and Balochistan is a reflection of the state’s failure to save these citizens from violence, discrimination and disgusting excesses such as forced conversion of young women,” the report noted.
In addition, the live telecast of a recent conversion of a young Hindu man on television is a particularly reprehensible and indefensible manifestation of the attitude towards non-Muslims, the HRCP said in its statement.
MNA, minority leaders deny reports
Mir Aijaz Hussain Jakhrani, a Pakistan Peoples Party MNA from Jacobabad, rejected reports that the Hindu community in Sindh was migrating out of Pakistan due to security issues. He called it as “mere propaganda”.
Addressing a press conference here on Friday, Jakhrani said his government has always protected the rights of minorities, while calling the Hindu community the “beauty of Sindh”.
He was flanked by Sindh Minister for Excise and Taxation Mukesh Kumar Chawla, Sindh Minister for Minority Affairs Mohan Mal Kohistani, the Hindu Panchait President for Jacobabad Babo Mahesh Kumar, and other minority leaders from the district at the press conference.
“The total population of Hindus in Sindh is about 4.5 million and hundreds of them go to India each year for religious rituals. This year, 247 got visit visas from different parts of the province and only 20 of them are from Jacobabad,” he clarified.
“Hindus love Sindh and consider it their motherland. There are certain families who stay in India after the expiry of their visas or don’t want to come back but it is propaganda against our government,” he said.
“We love Sindh and are Pakistani. We are considered as Pakistanis in India not as Hindus,” said Hindu Panchait President for Jacobabad Kumar.
With additional reporting by Sameer Mandhro in Karachi and additional input from ONLINE
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2012.