JAIPUR: A group of 170 Hindus from Pakistan who travelled to India on pilgrim visas have said they will not return home due to alleged persecution in the Islamic republic.
Officials in the western Indian state of Rajasthan have reported an increase in Hindu refugees, but Pakistani authorities say the numbers are exaggerated and those who leave are economic migrants seeking better jobs.
The latest group from Pakistan's Sindh province arrived in the desert city of Jodhpur at the weekend, and have appealed for help from the Indian government.
"Hindus are suffering social and religious persecution in Pakistan," Chetan Ram, 39, the group's leader, told AFP on Tuesday.
"My wife, mother and family are with me and we will not return to Pakistan whatever the living conditions are in India."
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot met with some of the group and promised to seek assistance from national authorities.
"The chief minister will extend all possible help to Pakistani members who have arrived here and will take the matter up with the government for their rehabilitation," Gehlot's spokesman said.
"I worked as a labourer but could not feed my family because the employer did not pay us regularly," said Dharma, 27, who uses only one name. "We were starving without enough food."
Dharma said he had crossed from Pakistan by train with 23 other family members.
"It was painful decision to leave Pakistan because my sister could not come with us as she is married there but we will not go back."
When British colonial rule ended in 1947, the subcontinent was divided into India, a majority Hindu nation, and Pakistan, a homeland for Muslims.
Hindus make up 2.5 percent of the 174 million people living in Pakistan, where some Hindu community groups say more have left over the last year due to kidnappings, killings and even forced conversions of girls to Islam.
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