Scene of the refugee colony
Scene of the refugee colonyAyanabha/The Mooknayak

Behind the Smiles and System-Sponsored Joy: The Plight and Aspirations of Pakistani Hindu Refugees of Majnu ka Tila

As of 2022, India had about 405,000 refugees, including 213,578 officially recognized migrants, 31,313 with long-term visas and an estimated 160,085 unregistered refugees.

New Delhi: When one hears ‘Majnu ka Tila’, the fluttering multi-coloured flags atop the terraces of various cafes and markets in Tibetan colony near Kashmiri Gate comes to mind. Based in the city, the colony tells a story of cultural resilience and hope.

For decades, these flags have symbolized the enduring spirit of Tibetan refugees who sought sanctuary here after fleeing their homeland in the 1960s. Amidst this, another tale of survival comes to life. Just a kilometre away, Pakistani Hindu refugees seek out an existence in makeshift shelters.

A tiny passageway just beside the Gurudwara leads to a whole new world. Unfinished houses made with bricks, mud and clay adorn each side of the narrow lane, which leads up to the Yamuna river. The colony, which houses religious refugees from the Sindh province of Pakistan, is humble yet a lively one.

Pictures of Hindu deities pasted on the walls of the homes
Pictures of Hindu deities pasted on the walls of the homesAyanabha/The Mooknayak

In 2011, the first whispers of hope arrived for these Hindu families from Pakistan as they settled in Majnu ka Tila. Since then, their numbers have grown, with approximately 700 individuals from 170 families now calling this place their home. Yet, their reality is one of cramped huts along the Yamuna belt, where livelihoods are sustained by humble tea stalls, snack shops and cigarette stands lining the streets.

As one enters the lane, saffron flags become visible. A child waving a flag of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came running to greet this correspondent as he walked in. The smile on the child’s face, unbeknownst of the struggles faced by their parents, can easily light up the mood.

The fact that the population is composed of Hindus makes them a part of the politics, but it seldom translates on ground. The individuals still do not have citizenship but have been provided Aadhaar cards. Because of this, none has access to government schemes or help. The community is still grappling with helplessness.

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The controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), though brings relief to the community on paper, but in reality, people are still not able to trust the process. A teenager, who goes by the name Meghnath, said, “People are saying we will get citizenship now, but I still do not believe them.”

Voicing helplessness, he added, “I have passed my 12th board from a state school, but I know that it is hopeless for me to have ambitions after that. Without citizenship, I cannot go for higher education nor get a salaried job.”

Mangerao, who came to India 6 years back commented, “No one has done anything for us. We are earning and providing for our own stomachs. People come and go but we are yet to receive any help. I have gone from house to house in the neighbourhood to even local politicians, asking for support for the citizenship process but once they come to know that we are from Pakistan, they turn us down.”

“Despite the reputation of the Gurudwara in our vicinity for their community-focused mindset, they too declined to assist us.”

The young lad went on to talk about how the community has failed them. He said, “We left everything when we came here. We used to be told that people in Hindustan are our own and will understand our pain. Now when we look around, we are unable to find the help we were promised.”

“I was told there are Hindus here. Where are they? I do not see any Hindu!”

“Will a Hindu ever treat another human like the way they have been treating us?”

“People give us strange looks and question if we are from Pakistan. Now, I even feel uncomfortable when I see myself because of this ongoing treatment,” he said.

Electricity and water came to the colony just three years back. 

Krishna, who operates a phone-case stall just outside the neighborhood, expressed his frustration, stating that they had left behind their fields and farms in their hometown with the expectation of receiving assistance.

However, they feel marginalized here instead. Krishna desires to ask the government for land to farm or stable employment to support his family. Currently, they earn their livelihood by selling mobile cases in the intense heat.

For the past two years, electricity has been supplied to them by a private company. However, they often struggle to pay the bills, resulting in disconnections lasting 10-15 days at a time.

Saraswati, a homemaker said, “Modi gave us gas for cooking, but we can't afford to refill the cylinders. So, we're back to cooking with wood, which is tough in the heat and makes it hard to breathe because of the smoke.”

Abysmal condition of the toilets made by Delhi's Urban Shelter Improvement Board
Abysmal condition of the toilets made by Delhi's Urban Shelter Improvement BoardAyanabha/The Mooknayak

On being asked about sanitation facilities in the colony, Saraswati revealed that the state government’s Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board had made toilets. But there has been no maintenance from their side, owing to which they had to chip in and build washrooms at their own premises.

Ashwini Singh, a local activist working for the community expressed dissatisfaction with the condition of the refugees. He said that at times, taking care of the basic necessities becomes difficult for the community.

He talked about an incident that happened a few years back but did not grab much limelight. “Just a few years back, a family that was living near the Signature Bridge lost 2-3 of their family members during the summer heat as there was no provision for electricity and water in the community.”

Ashwini is a member of Humanitarian Aid International, a non-profit which works in the colony to provide the children necessary help with their education. The NGO has also established a center for skill training, where women are learning to create small items with commercial value.

Constant Fear of Demolition

While talking to Mangerao, he went inside his room and brought a notice from the Delhi Development Authority (DDA). The young man, who was devoid of a chance to study due to his circumstances, looked up hopefully for an answer.

He had brought in a demolition order which stated, “The public is notified that as per the orders of the Honorable National Green Tribunal in case number 06/2012 dated 13/01/2015, the Delhi Development Authority has been instructed to clear all encroachments from the flood-prone areas.”

“Accordingly, on 07/03/2024 and 08/03/2024, the Delhi Development Authority will be removing all encroachments situated on the western bank near Gurdwara Majnu Ka Tila in the southern part of the Yamuna flood area,” read the notice.

According to him, such notices are regularly handed to them and they are asked to leave within 1-2 days. He enquired about the reason that they are constantly asked to leave and if it is due to the fact that they are refugees.

As per a Delhi High Court order in case number 6779/2021, involving the Shakarpur Slum Union and the DDA, the affected families are eligible for temporary accommodation.

They can stay at designated night shelters managed by the Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board. Options include shelters in Gurudwara Geeta Colony, Sector 3, Phase 1 Dwarka, and Sector 1 Dwarka, with contacts provided for assistance. These shelters aim to support families affected by the court ruling.

According to Mangerao, the hardships they have endured to arrive here and rebuild their lives have been substantial. Transitioning from the homes they painstakingly built, often with their own sweat and sacrifice, to living in tents, especially within communities that offer little support, could prove overwhelming.

Fortunately, in this case, the High Court came to their defence that said the DDA cannot forcefully take any action against the Pakistani Hindu refugees living in Majnu Ka Tilla area until the next court date.

In the court’s order on March 12, Justice Mini Pushkarna mentioned that the government promised to help Hindu refugees from Pakistan back in 2013. So, the court decided that no harsh action should be taken against the refugees until the next hearing.

The court was responding to a plea from a refugee named Ravi Ranjan Singh. He asked the authorities not to disturb or tear down the refugee camp in Majnu Ka Tilla until they are given a different piece of land. This request was made especially considering the CAA, which aims to give citizenship to “persecuted” non-Muslim refugees who came to India on or before December 31, 2014 from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

But the constant fear of demolition and being forcefully put out looms in the mind of the community members.

Scene of the refugee colony
Scene of the refugee colonyAyanabha/The Mooknayak

Will the CAA Help the Refugees in the Colony?

One important thing to note is that the refugee colony in Majnu ka Tila is a heterogeneous society. There are multiple houses where the inhabitants barely survive above the poverty line.

According to the local activist Ashwini Singh, there are houses which still lack basic amenities while there is Pradhan Sudhan ji, who is the community leader living a comparatively comfortable life. His house is one of the few in the colony with a bright paint and a pooja ghar inside.

Refugees who have fled from their homeland would at times put their survival before anything else. Many community members have mentioned only having their Aadhar and Ration cards made, which might help in the process, but many do not have documentation to prove whether or not they came before 31st December 2014.

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To apply for the CAA, individuals must provide a set of documents as per the following list:

Firstly, applicants need to submit a copy of their passport issued by Afghanistan, Bangladesh or Pakistan. Additionally, they must include a Registration Certificate or Residential Permit issued by the Foreigners Regional Registration Officer (FRRO) or Foreigners Registration Officer (FRO) in India.

Secondly, applicants are required to provide a birth certificate issued by a government authority in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. This should be accompanied by a school certificate or educational certificate issued by relevant authorities in one of these countries.

Furthermore, applicants must furnish an identity document issued by the government of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan, or any other relevant government authority or agency. They should also include any license or certificate issued by a government authority in their country of origin.

Moreover, applicants need to submit land or tenancy records from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, or Pakistan. Additionally, any documents proving lineage to a citizen of one of these three countries (such as parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents) should be provided.

Lastly, applicants must present documents proving their entry into India on or before December 31, 2014. This includes a variety of records such as visa and immigration stamps, registration certificates or residential permits issued by Indian authorities, census enumerator’s slips, government-issued licenses or permits, official letters, birth certificates issued in India, land or tenancy records in India, PAN Card issuance documents, and various other official documents issued by central or state governments, public sector undertakings, financial institutions, etc.

A child playing in the colony
A child playing in the colonyAyanabha/The Mooknayak

What is the Population of Refugees in the Nation?

According to a report by the Economic Times, as of the end of 2022, India was home to approximately 405,000 refugees. Among them, 213,578 refugees were officially recognized and registered by the Government of India, residing in various camps. Additionally, there were about 31,313 refugees from minority communities in neighboring countries who had obtained long-term visas due to their claims of religious persecution. Moreover, an estimated 160,085 refugees were present in India without official registration.

The Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG) released the 'Status of Refugees 2022' report, which highlighted that over 10,000 individuals sought refuge in India during the year. Furthermore, the report noted that at least 203 asylum seekers were arrested, particularly in Mizoram, which emerged as a focal point for refugee influx.

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