Jodhpur: Gamu Ram (40) and his family, who migrated here for a better life from Pakistan a decade ago, face daily struggles while waiting for citizenship and rehabilitation as the ruling Congress’ promise to resolve these issues remains unfulfilled and Rajasthan heads to polls again.
Ram lives with his family at a temporary settlement in Bheel Basti, nearly 10 kilometres from Jodhpur city, on Gangana Road. They are among thousands of Pakistani Hindu migrants living in the city holding onto hopes of a better life. Jodhpur has the state's largest population of migrants from Pakistan.
Not being Indian citizens, they don't have a vote but have high expectations from political parties. "I came to India from Pakistan nearly 10 years ago. There were no issues in Pakistan but we had come here for a better life. We do not have Indian citizenship and no permanent land for a house," Ram, who has a dozen family members living with him, said.
Before the last assembly election in the desert state in 2018, both the BJP, the ruling party at the time, and the Congress promised to resolve issues related to citizenship and rehabilitation faced by the community. Five years on, the state heads to polls one more time but not much has changed for migrants like Ram who struggle daily for basic amenities.
"We are not dying to get Indian citizenship but we want land to live. We are living in temporary settlements. In 10 years, our condition has worsened," Gomu Ram’s distant relative Teerth Ram said.
"We are not asking for free land but if the government provides us with a permanent house, we are ready to pay for it in instalments," he added.
Bhera Ram, who works as a labourer in agricultural fields, said his Pakistani passport has expired and the visa will expire in a month for which he will have to visit the High Commission in New Delhi.
"We have 11 members in the family. We came about five years ago. We had our passports made the same year. So, our Pakistani passports have expired. The visa will expire in a month's time for which we have to visit Delhi. Renewal of 11 passports and visas is costly. If the government helps us in citizenship and rehabilitation, it will be great..," he said.
In its 2018 'Jan Ghoshna Patra', the Congress had promised to provide a solution to their problems related to citizenship and rehabilitation. The party’s manifesto mentioned a separate body would be formed for the holistic development of migrants. It had promised to take positive steps towards their education, health and employment.
In January 2020, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah met with Pakistani migrants in Jodhpur, they expressed gratitude to the government for bringing the new Citizenship Amendment Act.
At a public rally later, the BJP leader reiterated his party's firm stand on the Citizenship Amendment Act and asserted that it would not move even an inch on the issue.
"Both the BJP and the Congress had promised to resolve the issues of Pakistani migrants. The BJP had promised in one line whereas the Congress promised a bit more," said Hindu Singh Sodha, president of the Seemant Lok Sangathan (SLS), an organisation working for the welfare of families of Hindu migrants displaced from Pakistan.
Since 2019, 75 per cent of citizenship applications in Rajasthan are pending, he added.
Sodha said the BJP government during the fag end of its tenure in 2018 launched special housing for Pakistani Hindu migrants. To date, the only development is that it has been named 'Vinoba Bhave Nagar' and nothing more, he added.
Sodha said there are 18,000 people living in Jodhpur alone who are yet to get Indian citizenship. They have settled in three-four localities in the district, mostly in Soorsagar, along the Gangana-Jhanwar road, and Mandore.
In Rajasthan, 30,000 such people are living in different parts, including Chohtan, Barmer, Sheo, Jaisalmer, Kolayat, Khajuwala and Sriganganagar, he said.
Sodha said Hindu migrants from Pakistan living in Jaisalmer set up a settlement on a 40-bigha land parcel provided by the district administration in May this year to accommodate 250 families, both with and without Indian citizenship.
This development happened after a forced eviction of the families from government land in Jaisalmer and an uproar by the opposition BJP, he said.
A similar incident happened in Jodhpur, where 70 structures set up by migrants allegedly on government land were razed in April this year but it failed to draw similar sympathy from the state government, Sodha added.