My column in today’s DNA
Rinkle Kumari was a typical teenager, growing up in Mirpur Mathelo in Sindh, Pakistan. Given the attacks against Hindus in the State, especially girls from the community, her parents were extra vigilant about their daughter. One day in late February, men broke into the house, kidnapped Rinkle converted her to Islam and then got her married off to a neighbour. Due to the tireless, thankless and courageous work of civil society & human rights activists in Pakistan the case did not die. It was revealed that there was an organised ring, led by a leading politician from the area, that was kidnapping and trafficking girls. The case went to court, but the politician and his mob filled the court and the neighbourhood. Rinkle’s family faced threats, and Rinkle did the only thing she could to keep her family safe – accepted that the kidnapping, and forcible conversion did not occur and her current state in life was of her own accord. The issue became a cause célèbre , not just in Pakistan but in India and resonated across the world. Rinkle Kumari was not the first girl to be kidnapped and put through this torture, nor will she be the last. Women and religious minorities are particularly vulnerable in Pakistan because the State is unable protect their rights. The State is failing, if not already failed, which makes it open season on everyone who is not strong enough to protect themselves.
The question is what can India do? In Rinkle Kumari’s( case – does India have locus standi in taking the issue of criminal acts that take place in Pakistan against its citizens? Not really. Rinkle Kumari is a Pakistani citizen, crime against her has been committed in Pakistan’s sovereign territory. India could invoke the Nehru Liaqat pact, but given the number of pacts and agreements that Pakistan has violated, it would be naïve to expect them to honour this. The maximum India can do is proactively offer asylum to her, her family and the remaining Hindus in Sindh. But why only Hindus, why not Sikhs, Christians, Ahmediyaas, Shias and the rest,? Civilisationally and culturally they all have links with India. Religion alone doesn’t define culture or civilisation, there are other factors like language, ethnicity, shared history. And why only Pakistan? Why not those in Bangladesh or in Sri Lanka? Also should you only look at people being discriminated on the basis of religion, or do you look at it in a larger perspective – people being discriminated for their beliefs and ideals? But to do that India needs a coherent Asylum Policy.
In 1951, most UN members signed the Refugee Convention. As per this convention a refugee was a person who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality.”. In more recent times civil war and targeted human right abuses have also formed the basis of declaring a person or a community as refugee. Neither India nor any of the South Asian nations are signatories to this convention or the 1967 protocol that abolished geographical barriers to seeking refuge. However, the Republic of India has traditionally provided asylum to those who cross her borders and ask for protection. In 1959, a large number of Tibetans crossed over to India and were granted refugee status. Many of them found jobs and settled here. Subsequent to that, India changed her policies. Refugees live in camps and have neither the right to free movement within India nor are they entitled to work. Most are in a state of suspended animation and have their lives at standstill. If Rinkle and her family escaped to India this is what they would face, and there is something terribly wrong and unjust about that.
From time immemorial, India has been a refuge for the persecuted. Kings granted asylum, people became citizens, and added to the diversity that is India. For the ancient Parsis, Jews, Siddhis from Africa, Iraqis, – India was a beacon for hope and freedom where people could make their homes, bring up their families and practise their beliefs without fear. For the modern Tamils, Tibetans, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis seeking refuge – home is a camp, where they have little or no citizenship rights. To be considered a world power, you don’t just need nuclear arsenal and growing prosperity. There needs also to be a measure of compassion, sharing and providing of refuge. India needs to start by offering asylum and citizenship to the persecuted minorities in its neighbourhood. There will be those who misuse this open policy – as they have in other countries. But the needs of the persecuted, the fate of one Rinkle far outweighs the misuse of an asylum policy.