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India to allow ‘asthi visarjan’ in Ganga for 426 Pakistani Hindus? Activists welcome ‘decision’

Modi govt will reportedly consider granting short visas to allow immersion of ashes of Pakistani Hindus in the Ganga. External Affairs Ministry has neither confirmed nor denied it.

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New Delhi: Hindu advocacy groups in Pakistan and experts have welcomed the Indian government’s reported decision to grant visas that will allow the ashes of 426 deceased Pakistani Hindus to be scattered in the Ganga.

According to a report in Pakistan’s Express Tribune, the Modi government has indicated that it will grant short 10-day visas to these families.  

The policy, if implemented, would mark a departure from the Indian government’s existing rule, which allows Pakistani Hindus to visit India for asthi visarjan (immersion of ashes) only if they had sponsorship either from a blood relative or an acquaintance in India, the report adds.

When asked, sources at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) neither confirmed nor denied this decision and told ThePrint that they decide on visas on a case-by-case basis. They did not share the specifics on the number of visas issued for asthi visarjan.

But Hindu advocacy groups and experts in Pakistan called this decision “significant”.

“All Hindu-Pakistanis welcome this decision,” Ravi Dawani, secretary-general of All Pakistan Hindu Panchayat, told ThePrint. “Now those, whose ashes have been waiting at Shamshan Ghats across Pakistan for years to be immersed in Ganga, will get shanti and mukti (peace and moksha).” 

Although there’s no official word yet from the Modi government, Pakistani journalist Mariana Baabar tweeted the Indian prime minister approved the new policy before his mother Hiraben died on 30 December.

Speaking to ThePrint, Baabar said the decision would help boost bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. 

“This is significant for the bilateral relationship as there is at least respect for the deceased,” Baabar told ThePrint. “These are the kind of soft openings the bilateral relationship needs. But there are no requests for dead Muslims to return [to Pakistan] to be buried yet.”

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‘People even resorted to burying ashes in the past’

According to the latest data from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) of Pakistan, over 22 lakh Hindus live in Pakistan — roughly 1.18 per cent of the population in Pakistan. Of this, the majority — 95 per cent — lives in Sindh.   

It follows, therefore, that most of the ashes awaiting immersion are from there, said Murtaza Solangi, a journalist based in Pakistan.

“The areas bordering Gujarat in India — the south-east tip of Sindh — still have a majority Hindu population in the Umerkot area. Most of the people here speak Dhatki — a variant of Marwari and Gujarati language,” Solangi told ThePrint.  

Even before the Pulwama attacks of 2019 severely affected the ties between India and Pakistan, getting visas for last rites was never an easy task for Pakistani Hindus, especially in light of the sponsorship requirement.

Indeed, the numbers are telling — from 2011 to 2016, the ashes of only 295 Pakistani Hindus were brought to India, reportedly through the Attari-Wagah Joint Check Post (JCP).

In 2019, Arab News reported that in one instance, a Hindu family, that had stored ashes of three generations, finally got visas in 2011 for asthi visarjan

Theirs wasn’t a unique case. According to Dawani, ashes of the dead can be found stored in Hindu crematoriums across Pakistan in the hope that they would be immersed in the Ganga someday. 

“People had even resorted to burials as they couldn’t get the visas for immersion in India,” he added. 

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

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