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900 Sodha Rajput Hindus from Pakistan blacklisted by the Indian govt miss weddings and funerals, can’t visit family in Rajasthan and Gujarat

The Sodha Rajputs have been visiting India for decades, particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan, mostly to visit family and look for marital alliances for their children because Hindu customs forbid marriage within the same Gotra.

The Narendra Modi government had brought a law for persecuted minorities from neighbouring Islamic nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan by passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, set to fast-track citizenship applications for such migrants.

However, its recent decision to blacklist almost 900 Sodha Rajputs from Pakistan has left the fate of these Hindu minorities in jeopardy. Blacklisting means that they will no longer be given a visa to come to India.

The majority of those on the blacklist are Sodha Rajputs from the Parmar Kshatriya clan, who live in Umarkot, Pakistan. Amarkot is the princely state of the Sodha Kshatriyas in Pakistan, commonly referred to as Umarkot. Most of these Kshatriya families have kinship ties in India, particularly in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Hindu tradition forbids Hindus from marrying inside their own gotra (ancestral lineage), which the Sodha Rajputs also follow. The Sodha Rajputs have been visiting India for decades, particularly Gujarat and Rajasthan, in search of marital alliances for their children. This is why nearly every member of this group has a marital linkage to Gujarat or Rajasthan.

The Kuldevi (ancestral deity in Hinduism) of the Sodha clan is Hinglaj Mata also known as Hinglaj Devi, Hingula Devi and Nani Mandir, a Hindu temple in Hinglaj, Pakistan. It is a Siddha Shaktipeeth of Hindus. After marriage, the Sodha Rajput’s children travel to Pakistan to worship their Kuldevi Hinglaj Mata. In the same way, married Hindus in Pakistan travel to Rajasthan to offer prayers to their Kuldevi.

More than 900 Sodha Rajputs blacklisted by the Indian government

The predicaments of the Sodha Rajputs in Pakistan have increased after the central government has stopped issuing visas to them in the last 4-5 years. The central government is of the opinion that these Pakistani Hindu nationals come to India and stay on even after their visa expires.

The Sodhas argue that the 30 or 40-day city-specific visa granted by India is insufficient for their needs. Marriage preparation takes time, as it entails many visits to the potential bride’s or bridegroom’s family, as well as lengthy wedding ceremonies. They also maintain that they do not stay in the country illegally and instead apply for visa extensions.

Due to this visa policy adopted by the Indian government for the last five years, several such Sodha Rajputs have not been able to attend marriages or funerals of their loved ones back in India.

There are many other such families being kept apart by the visa issue. Shakti Singh Sodha is one such person. He lives in Umerkot in Pakistan. He is the only brother to his four sisters, who are married in Rajasthan, India. For years, Shakti Singh Sodha has not been able to meet his sisters. He claims that he has been applying for a visa for many years, but every time the Indian embassy in Pakistan has been rejecting his application.

Actually, when Shakti Singh Sodha visited India in 2017, he got a visa extension through the local foreign resident registration office (FRRO). He now wants to go again but he is being refused a visa on grounds of overstaying last time.

Similarly, there are many such families who are missing out on family functions or even the last rites of their loved ones living in India. Visa issues are also keeping brides and grooms apart. 

Rana Hamir Singh, the last Hindu royal of Sindh speaks to OpIndia

Rana Hamir Singh Sodha, the erstwhile Kshatriya king of Amarkot (now Umarkot) in Sindh and a well-known Hindu leader in Pakistan, spoke to OpIndia about this issuing looming on the Sodha Rajputs

“For decades, our people have married people from other Kshatriya clans in Rajasthan and Gujarat,” Rana Hamir Singh remarked. After the partition, the Rajputs of Sindh in Pakistan must now travel to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India.

Rana Hamir Singh further said that the Sodhas of Pakistan’s Sindh state’s Tharparkar, Umerkot, and Sanghar districts, which border Rajasthan’s neighbouring districts, come to Rajasthan not only for marital alliances but also for their religious and cultural beliefs associated with their ancestors.

In fact, in 2007, the Congress government chose to extend the period of the Sodha Rajputs’ visas from 40 days to six months, in response to their issues. The then-Governor of Rajasthan, SK Singh, who was also the High Commissioner to Pakistan, had granted Sodha Rajputs a six-month visa extension.

“SK Singh had been Ambassador to Pakistan and was a very dear friend of my father Rana Chandra Singh ji,” says Rana Hamir Singh Sodha. I had suggested that they provide our workers with the option of extending their visas, keeping in mind their problems. As governor, SK Singh ji had granted his quick approval,” recalled the 26th generation Sodha royal, the erstwhile rulers of Umerkot.

The Hindus of Pakistan were granted a 10-year visa extension under the Congress regime, which was valid until 2017. They didn’t have to travel to Delhi to extend their visas during this time, and they could only receive them via the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO).

Pakistani MP has faith in PM Modi

In the year 2014, the BJP government was formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the centre. After the completion of the BJP government’s first term in the year 2017, the centre did not extend the visa rules. In fact, those Sodhas who had availed of a 6-month visa extension were barred for ‘overstaying’ during that tenure.

Pakistani MP Rana Hamir Singh Sodha further added, “The Modi government of India has done considerably more for Pakistani Hindus than other governments, and it is still doing so now. It should consider removing the names of these Hindus from the blacklist.”

“They have said that these Sodha Rajputs who were blacklisted had valid visa extension papers, then how could they have overstayed? The Indian Government should re-consider,” said Hamir Singh Sodha.

Heaping praises for the central government for providing a home to the persecuted minorities from neighbouring Islamic nations and showing immense confidence in Modi’s leadership, Hamir Singh continued, “BJP has done the commendable job of offering citizenship and other benefits to Hindus moving from Pakistan to India in five years. I don’t think any leader in India has raised this issue ever. If this issue comes to the notice of the government, it is sure to resolve it.”

The issues of Sodha Rajputs remain irrelevant to every political party

Rana Hamir Singh has rightly pointed out that as of now, no politician has brought this issue to the attention of the Centre. To check the authenticity of Singh’s remarks, OpIndia also spoke to a number of Rajasthan government secretaries about the issue, but the majority had no knowledge of it. They had no idea whether the Rajasthan state administration had taken any action or, for that matter, had even responded to the Central government’s decision to not give visas to over 900 Sodha Rajputs from Pakistan, most of whom have their kinship linkage to Rajasthan.

OpIndia spoke with a number of top Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) officials on the situation. According to a spokesperson of the Hindu organisation, Alok Kumar, VHP’s executive chairman is the only person who will be able to say anything about the matter.

When OpIndia contacted Alok Kumar, his assistant picked up the phone and informed that Kumar was in a meeting and would talk after some time. OpIndia briefed his assistant about the topic we wanted to speak to him about. After this, OpIndia tried calling Kumar several times, but he did not answer the call.

Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot was also approached by OpIndia. An official at his residence took our number and said that the CM would be available for a statement on this subject on Friday, June 10, 2022. OpIndia would update the article as soon as we get a response.

Congress’ blame game

Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, a Congress leader and a cabinet minister in Ahok Gehlot’s government has blamed the BJP government in the centre for the visa issue. He said that the work that Congress had done was not extended by the BJP. He said that he would write a letter to the central government regarding the same.

Speaking to OpIndia, Congress’ Pratap Singh Khachariawas said, that the central government has wronged these people. “We will write a letter on behalf of the state government to the Center on this matter and demand that these Pakistani Hindus be first removed from the blacklist and then allowed visas immediately.

Shakti Singh Gohil, a senior Congress politician and MP, told OpIndia that all Hindu families from Pakistan, including the Sodhas and Jat families, have for the last few decades, continued to flock to the border districts of India. The past Congress regime has done a lot for these people, he claimed.

“They (Pakistani Hindus) are our people,” Shakti Singh Gohil added. “It is not appropriate to blacklist them. I will be approaching the Prime Minister and suggest that he show some empathy for these individuals and withdraw their names from the blacklist.

Congress’ Delhi in-charge Gohil said that he had also raised the issue in the assembly during his tenure as the Leader of the Opposition in Gujarat. Not only this, but he also met the Governor and urged him to find a solution to this problem. However, the matter remains the same today.

Government working towards the issue: BJP

Gopal Krishna Agrawal, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national spokesperson, who has been sympathetic to Pakistani Hindus and has worked for them, spoke to OpIndia about this. He said that he will definitely bring up the issue of Pakistan’s 900 blacklisted Hindus to the attention of the central government. He assured that he would speak out on behalf of Pakistani Hindus who are having difficulty obtaining visas to travel to India.

The BJP leader opined that the central government has stood by persecuted minorities of neighbouring Islamic nations by bringing in CAA. Therefore, the Congress’ accusation that the administration doesn’t care about Hindus in neighbouring countries is false and politically motivated.

Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, the Union Minister for Jal Shakti, also told OpIndia that the Central Government is concerned about the issue and is striving to address it. “It will soon yield positive outcomes,” he said.

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