Diwali 'solitary' but peaceful for Pakistani Hindu immigrants
Arjun Das Hirani (42) celebrated his second Diwali in India at Pali village of Faridabad district, Haryana. It was a joyous Diwali, even if rather frugal.
"Though there were few earthen lamps and only a handful of sweets and crackers, it was Diwali in India, which is where I belong. Nobody could say anything to me if my tent was illuminated with lamps," says Hirani, a Pakistani Hindu who crossed into India in September last year.
Hirani's family was among the 600-odd Pakistani Hindu families which fled Pakistan and crossed the Atari border in September 2011, taking refuge in India.
Of the 600 families, around 150 stayed at the capital's Majnu ka Tilla initially, but later moved to different places in the capital and other neighbouring states, spreading into Haryana and Rajasthan.
"In 2011, it was Diwali again after 40 years, for many of us had stopped celebrating the festival in Pakistan. Last year, many of us were at Majnu ka Tilla and celebrated the festival there; this time, it is a rather solitary affair," Hirani's wife Chandrama said.
The family fled Pakistan's Hyderabad, when they found that they could not continue observing their traditions there.
"We were pariahs in Pakistan. We could either covert to Islam or face wrath for just being Hindu. They don't see us as Pakistani, but Hindustanis (Indians)," Hirani told this visiting IANS correspondent.
Hirani, who worked as a contractor in Pakistan, has taken to being a seller of vegetables and fruit.
"We had a modest house and business there, but Pakistani Muslims used to extort money from us. Everything got destroyed," he said.
His 22-year-old uneducated son Mukesh works as a hawker of sweets.
"I did not go to school as Papa never sent me to school, as that would force Islam on us. Islamic study was a must there," Mukesh told IANS.
According to Hirani, other families that moved from Pakistan also live in villages adjoining Pali.
"Every day they kidnap some or the other Hindu girl and forcibly convert her to Islam. We are scared to go out," said Hirani's wife Chandrama.
Hirani says the government of Pakistan offers little support, and observes mutely the atrocities heaped on Hindus.
"Though they (administration) don't torture us, they do not protect us too. What is the use of the police then," asked Hirani.
The families had arrived in India on a pilgrimage visa, which has since expired. A provisional extension of the visa has allowed them to continue staying in India.
"Who would want to languish under a tent which cannot protect you from winter and rain? But at least, in this land, I can sleep peacefully and not worry about the protection of my family," Hirani says.