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Hindus fleeing Myanmar violence hope for shelter in Modi's India

[NEW DELHI] Caught in the crossfire between Myanmar's military and Rohingya insurgents, hundreds of Hindus who have fled to Bangladesh are placing their hopes on the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in neighbouring India.

Nearly 500 are sheltered in a cleared-out chicken farm in a Hindu hamlet in Bangladesh's southeast, a couple of miles from where most of the 421,000 Rohingya Muslims who have also fled violence in Myanmar since Aug 25 are living in makeshift camps.

The Hindu refugees say they are scared of going back to their villages in Buddhist-majority Myanmar's restive Rakhine state, but also wary of staying in mostly Muslim Bangladesh.

Mr Modi's government, meanwhile, is making it easier for Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and other minorities from Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain citizenship in India. "India is also known as Hindustan, the land of the Hindus,"said Niranjan Rudra, sitting on a plastic sheet in the chicken farm flanked by his wife, who sported a large vermilion red dot on her forehead typical of married Hindu women. "We just want a peaceful life in India, not much. We may not get that in Myanmar or here," he said. Fellow refugees nodded in agreement, stating that they wanted the message to reach the Indian government through the media.

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The Indian government declined to comment on the Hindu refugees' hopes. A government source said it was waiting while the Supreme Court hears an appeal against the home ministry's plans to deport around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims from the country.

But Achintya Biswas, a senior member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or the World Hindu Council, which has close ties with the ideological parent of Modi's ruling party, said India was the natural destination for the Hindus fleeing Myanmar. "Hindu families must be allowed to enter India by the government," Biswas said by phone. "Where else will they go? This is their place of origin." Mr Biswas said the VHP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the umbrella group that mentors Mr Modi's ruling party, would submit a report to the home ministry on the refugees and demand a new policy allowing Hindus from Myanmar and Bangladesh to seek asylum in India.

The Hindu right who form the bedrock of Mr Modi's support have long believed India is the home for all Hindus.

India's Home Ministry spokesman KS Dhatwalia declined to comment.

A senior home ministry official in New Delhi, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that no Hindu in Myanmar or Bangladesh affected by the violence had approached Indian authorities. "At this juncture we have no SOS calls from Hindus," said the official. "Also, the Supreme Court is yet to decide whether India should deport Rohingya Muslims or not. The matter is sub-judice and any policy decision will be taken only after the court's order." Hindus make up a small but long-standing minority in both Myanmar and Bangladesh.

REUTERS

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