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Sodha Rajputs of Sindh can’t visit family in Rajasthan and Gujarat

Sodha Rajputs miss out on funerals, weddings as the Indian government has stopped issuing them visa since half a decade.

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.

Monitoring Desk

New Delhi 

Sodha Rajput of Sindh can’t visit family in Rajasthan and Gujarat and they miss out on funerals, weddings as the Indian government has stopped issuing them visa since half a decade.

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.

According to Indian media reports in June this year, the Indian government blacklisted almost 900 Sodha Rajputs leaving the fate of these Hindu minorities in jeopardy. Blacklisting means that they will no longer be given a visa to come to India, a report said.

The majority of those on the blacklist are Sodha Rajputs from the Parmar Kshatriya clan, who live in Umarkot, Sindh, Pakistan. Amarkot was the princely state of the Sodha Kshatriyas, 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.

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 Sindh. 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 Sodha, the erstwhile Kshatriya king of Amarkot (now Umarkot) in Sindh and a well-known Hindu leader in Pakistan, says, “For decades, our people have married from other Kshatriya clans in Rajasthan and Gujarat. After the partition, the Rajputs of Sindh in Pakistan must now travel to Gujarat and Rajasthan in India.”

Rana Hamir Singh further says that the Sodhas of Tharparkar, Umerkot, and Sanghar districts, which border Rajasthan’s neighboring 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,” 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 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).

In the year 2014, the BJP government was formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the center. After the completion of the BJP government’s first term in the year 2017, the center 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.

“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.

Rana Hamir Singh pointed out that as of now, no politician has brought this issue to the attention of the Center.

According to Indian media reports 900 Sodha Rajouts of Sindh have been blacklisted by the Central government

According to Indian media report Rajasthan government secretaries 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.

Pratap Singh Khachariyawas, a Congress leader and a cabinet minister in Ahok Gehlot’s government has blamed the BJP government in the center 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.

“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,” he said.

Shakti Singh Gohil, a senior Congress politician and MP, says 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.

Gopal Krishna Agrawal, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) national spokesperson, who has been sympathetic to Pakistani Hindus and has worked for them, 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.

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

An earlier report of December 2021 from Nagpur said that Ganpatsingh Sodha, from Sindh, kept applying for a visa to India and also made fervent appeals on phone to officials, to meet his dying mother Darya Kanwar at Jodhpur. Sodha’s visa kept getting rejected, even as Kanwar died in May this year, since he had been blacklisted due to an alleged overstay during an earlier visit.

However, like numerous others of the Sodha clan from the erstwhile Hindu Rajput princely state of Umerkot in Pakistan, Ganpatsingh had got his earlier 60-day visa extended a few times through the Foreign Resident Registration Office (FRRO), Jodhpur, before going back. The FRRO is authorized to give these extensions, but numerous Pakistani Sodhas have been denied visas for repeat visits for ‘overstay’ on extended visas.

Darya Kanwar was in Jodhpur with Ganpatsingh’s brother since 2014, after coming here for an angioplasty. Ganpatsingh too had come in December 2016, and gone back in April 2017. It was only in November 2021 that finally Ganpatsingh got a message that his case has been cleared and he can apply for a visa again. However, his mother has long passed away, and he could only see his son Chandarveer’s engagement on Monday via video call.

With the clearance received, Ganpatsingh had hoped to at least meet his wife and children, who were also living at Jodhpur. “There was no overstay as I had applied for a proper extension and got it,” he says. There was no objection when he returned to Pakistan too, when it’s usually pointed out, he said.

He is not alone. Most Sodhas in Pakistan have a sibling or parents living here. The Sodhas are mainly from Umerkot, Tharparkar, and Sanghar districts of Pakistan. With no other Rajputs in Pakistan, and a tradition of marrying outside the clan, they seek spouses across the border in India. However, when they apply for regular visa to return from Pakistan, the visa was rejected as they are blacklisted due to overstay.

Shaktisingh, a doctor, has four sisters married in India. He visited them in 2017 and had got visa extension through local FRRO. Now, wanting to come back, his name was on the backlist.

Rana Hamir Singh says there have been instances of Pakistani brides not being able to join their husbands in India for as long as three years after marriage. Lately, three such cases had come up. It was easy for the grooms to get a visa to Pakistan and get married, but tough for the brides to join them in India, he said.

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Source: Opindia (June 10, 2022) and Times of India (Dec 1, 2021)  

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