By Raafiya Ali Khan
The rise of Hindu nationalism in India has not failed to create headlines in the global community. Presently, the largest political proponent of Hindu nationalism is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP was founded in 1951 by a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a far-right Hindu supremacist organization. As the principal political wing of the RSS, the BJP acts in accordance with its principles, striving toward the RSS’s ultimate goal: the recreation of India as a strictly Hindu nation. With the BJP currently in power, the rise of Hindu nationalism has become a source of much contention between Hindus and other religious minorities in India. The BJP’s divisive rhetoric has led to increased Hindu nationalism in the country, which has sparked violence against the country’s minorities. Mob lynchings of minorities, particularly Muslims, for consuming or even transporting beef—sacred to Hindus—has skyrocketed since the BJP has gained power. Instead of quelling citizens’ fears and denouncing these horrendous acts, the BJP has welcomed these violent symbols of support, throwing celebrations and garlanding those committing these acts of terror. Bolstered by acts such as these, the BJP has continued its efforts to homogenize India, framing the country as a haven and homeland for Hinduism and its followers, strikingly similar to Israel’s self-proclamation as a Jewish homeland.
These efforts led to the 2014 Ghar Wapasi, or homecoming, campaign, which offered persecuted Hindus worldwide a refuge in India, with the promise of eventual Indian citizenship. In January 2019, the Indian government passed a bill to extend citizenship to Hindu, Jain, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh and Parsi immigrants without documents from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, excluding Muslim immigrants from the aforementioned countries. This act of exclusion blatantly displays the BJP’s barely concealed prejudice against Muslims, as evidenced further by BJP president Amit Shah’s tweet implying that Muslim migrants are “infiltrators.”. The Indian government’s exclusion of Muslims is not limited to migrants, rather affecting the entire Muslim population of India. In Assam, a state of India, the government published a National Register of Citizens, or NRC. If a person’s name is not on this list, the onus is now on him to provide proper documentation and prove himself as an Indian citizen. However, two million names did not appear on the NRC, a majority of them Muslim. As India questioned the citizenship of its Muslim population while opening its arms to migrants and refugees, those who took the most advantage of the Ghar Wapasi campaign came from a neighboring country with which India shares a complicated and as of now, extremely tense, relationship: Pakistan.
Although Muslims make up the largest religious minority in India, Hindus in Muslim-dominated Pakistan only make up a little more than two percent of the country’s population, as the Hindu population has been declining since the country’s independence. Pakistani Hindus are often discriminated against in the country, facing religious persecution, forced conversions, and continual mistreatment with little to no intervention by the government. Case in point, a Hindu temple in Pakistan was recently attacked by a far-right group shortly after a Hindu school principal was accused of blasphemy. Additionally, Hindu girls are often kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam. Although the Pakistani government has attempted to pass a bill criminalizing forced conversions, it failed to pass, and forced conversions still take place as perpetrators utilize the impunity provided to them by law. As a result of this prolonged persecution, many Pakistani Hindus decided to take advantage of India’s homecoming campaign, hoping they would be able to integrate into a society where they are part of the religious majority instead of the mistreated minority.
Unfortunately, their dreams have not immediately manifested into reality. Upon moving to India, Pakistani Hindus are not immediately granted Indian citizenship. Instead, they are given long-term visas which must be renewed approximately every five years. Yet, one would think five years would be a sufficient amount of time in which the migrants could obtain Indian citizenship, but this is not the case. The Pakistani Hindus wait endlessly for the notoriously sluggish wheels of bureaucracy to turn. During this period, their Pakistani passports expire, making them practically stateless and thus leaving them no choice but to remain in India regardless of their desire to seek greener pastures elsewhere.
As they wait, they attempt to assimilate into Indian society but face many hurdles. Instead of being accepted by their fellow Hindus, they are ostracized because of their caste since many Hindus who leave Pakistan are from lower castes in the caste system. Some are barred from temples and even physically assaulted by upper-caste Hindus. This ostracization has led the Pakistani Hindus to form their own housing colonies on the outskirts of cities, where they proudly display saffron pieces of cloth, sacred to Hindus, on their doors and name their children after Hindu gods and goddesses, hoping these outward displays of their faith will prove their loyalty to a country that externally accepts it and internally still questions it.
As of now, Pakistan and India share a contentious relationship, as well as a tendency of mistreatment of their respective countries’ religious minorities. Pakistan’s persecuted Hindu population found refuge and solace in India, as the government continues to propagate religious nationalism, but unfortunately not for long. Mired in uncertainty, the Pakistani Hindus continue to wait for their validation as Indian citizens, anticipating the fulfillment of promises that may not be kept.
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