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Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

After fleeing religious persecution in Pakistan, life in India brings its own challenges.

By Shreyasee Raj for
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Young children in Pakistani Hindu refugee camps play despite the filth surrounding them. While most of them have big dreams, they lead a life deprived of basic necessities. In the absence of electricity, clean drinking water, and hygiene and in their struggle to earn a livelihood, they are forced to abandon their ambitions early in life.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

This open waste dumping site is a few yards from the settlement where over 600 Pakistani Hindu immigrants have been living since 2013.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

The slum houses more than 120 families.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

A newly-arrived immigrant family unpacks their minimal belongings.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

A newly arrived immigrant couple works to set up their hut. The huts, made of dried leaves, are not enough to keep out the bitter Delhi winters.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Thakur Maadhu (far left), who arrived in India five years ago, helps the newcomers with document verification and submissions to police.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Children are playing on a Sunday afternoon. There are more than 150 children in the settlement. While most of them are enrolled in classes 1 to 3, they are likely to drop out by Class 5 to earn a living. Rajesh, who couldn’t continue with his studies since he arrived in India, said, “I love studying but I can’t go to school anymore. I have to earn money for my family.”

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Community women gather around handpumps to bathe and wash clothes and utensils. Water from these handpumps is not drinkable, so they have to rely on other sources.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Most of the immigrants are ill-equipped to face Delhi’s extreme weather, be it searing heat and thunderstorms or bitter cold.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Sona Das, 70, poses inside the temple he built over 6 months after he arrived five years ago. The refugees had fled Pakistan to save their religion and they say it is their religion that gives them a purpose in life and binds them together.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

The immigrants eat a free meal organized by the nonprofit group Sai Trust. They provide lunch and dinner to help the immigrants save a little money.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

Women sit beside a fire at dusk. All activities come to a halt at nightfall in the absence of electricity.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj
Safe But Betrayed: Pakistani Hindu Refugees in India

An Indian flag flutters atop a hut. Numerous such flags dotting the settlement profess these migrants’ love for India and its practice of secularism.

Credit: Shreyasee Raj

Over 600 Pakistani Hindu immigrants in Delhi’s Adarsh Nagar area have to constantly battle poverty, filth, and a lack of electricity and clean drinking water. Surrounded by garbage and open sewers, their pleas for better facilities have fallen on deaf ears even as they await acceptance, which they were denied in Pakistan, too.

Having entered India on the pretext of pilgrimage, the immigrants are now living on extended visas with no intention of returning to Pakistan. While most of them cite religious persecution as the reason for their migration, some say they were worried about the safety of their girls, who faced abduction, rape, and conversion to Islam.

While they live in slums, a Bangladeshi refugee colony at some distance has air conditioners installed.

A Union minister, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, and a Delhi lawmaker, Kapil Mishra, recently visited the camps of Pakistani immigrants, but the situation hasn’t improved a bit. Rama Bai, a woman in her 40s, recently died of heat stroke. During rains, the residents have to fight mosquitoes and diseases. Come winter and they are left at the mercy of Mother Nature in their makeshift huts made of wood, dry leaves, and tarpaulin.

Most of them sell mobile phone covers at Delhi Metro stations. Children have gradually taken to schooling but they tend to end their studies early to earn a living. When they arrive in India, they can only speak the Gujarati or Sindhi language, and have to learn the local language. Most of them dream of becoming an officer or a doctor, but the gap between their aspirations and reality seems unbridgeable.

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However, despite being looked down upon as Pakistanis, they are happy to be in a country they can call their home and that allows them to practice their religion.