Today I had the ‘opportunity’ to visit a Pakistani refugee community in Jodhpur, a city in eastern Rajasthan. The refugees’ situation is frustrating. Most refugees left Pakistan fleeing from religious persecution – the population of Pakistan is majority Muslim, yet a minority population of Hindus lives in Pakistan. When the current border between India and Pakistan was drawn, many Indian Hindu farmers were incorporated into Pakistan and their families have remained in Pakistan since. Recently, tension between Muslims and Hindus in Pakistan and India has increased, resulting in much persecution of the Hindu minority in Pakistan.
The refugees I spoke with explained that legal justice for Hindus was impossible in Pakistan – if there was a crime committed against a Hindu family, such as theft, the courts would always over rule the accusations. So, the people I spoke with decided to take on the long process of leaving Pakistan, which required acquiring a passport and visa for every member of their family. After getting passports and visas, usually for the formal purpose of pilgrimage, the families board a train and are brought to Jodhpur, one of the closest cities to the boarder. Once in India, applying for citizenship takes 7-12 years. That means that there are large numbers of displaced people who will remain displaced for a decade. Without citizenship, the refugees are unable to leave Jodhpur, unable to receive the rights of an Indian citizen to health care, education, or a bank account.
A translator facilitated a conversation between 5 refugee men – there were no women present – and myself/other students. Our conversation was rich and each shared their story and reason for moving to India, but the stories were short relative to the dominating aspect of conversation, which was the struggles of living in the community they did. The land was given to the refuge population by the government. There are absolutely no amenities – no electricity, running water, arable land, or waste facilities.
The men became frustrated with our conversation as they began to explain their living circumstances and asked “What are you going to do about this? Why am I telling you my story, what are you going to do to help?”
This was challenging to respond to. This program is not dedicated to studying the situation of refugees and this meeting was, in truth, a ‘side note’ to the main focus of this course – sustainable development. Honestly, I was not and am not in a place to help this community have a voice in India’s government. I was jolted out of my complacent student paradigm and re awoke to my ongoing struggle to understand my role in India is a cultural tourist.
People have migrated, up rooted their family trees and transplanted to new soils for various push and pull reasons throughout history. But only with the dawn of this globalized age have people begun to hop around for extended periods of time without their families, entering intimately into life styles of others’ in home stays and various situations by choice, as a privilege. The refugees were confused about how we could afford to be there – when the concept of traveling to a city 100 km away is beyond imagination due to expense and legal restrictions, the idea of voyaging to another land without a push or pull reason necessitating the movement is unimaginable.
What is my push/pull motivation to be in India? Am I comfortable with my current awareness of being a social justice tourist, hopping around like a bunny surveying different scenes without getting blood on my hands, extracting little snippets of life to add to a collage referred to as a “worldly perspective”?
Again, I am left questioning my purpose, my moral compass, and my role in globalization.