Though Pakistan was established as a state for Muslims, the original vision of its founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was of a place of tolerance and inclusion. "You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed - that has nothing to do with the business of the state," he said in speech in August 1947.
Yet Jinnah's vision has steadily been eroded. Today, as Pakistan prepares for a historic election on 11 May, its Christians and Hindus, which together comprise perhaps 3 percent of the population, face persecution and assault. Some have fled. "If people have any resources, they want to leave here," Dr. Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, of the Pakistan Hindu Council, said from Karachi.
The Pakistanis who have made their way to the village of Bijwasan, not far from Delhi's international airport, all belong to the same low Hindu caste and come from the same part of Sindh province. They have applied unsuccessfully for visas to India for years and hit upon the idea of asking to visit the Kumbh Mela festival, the most auspicious date in the Hindu calendar. "Getting a passport is not so difficult. But getting a visa is very hard," said 35-year-old Hanuman Prashad, another fruit trader from Hyderabad, explaining how they told the Indian authorities they wished to attend the festival.
The Hindus, who came in three groups, said their biggest motivation to leave was the challenge of educating their children. There was discrimination in government schools, where they were referred to as "kafirs," told to go and work in the fields and obliged to recite the six kalimas, or tenets, of Islam.
They said the situation had become worse since the rule of the military leader General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who seized power in 1977 and for the next decade oversaw an increased Islamisation of Pakistan. Following the notorious destruction of India's Babri mosque by a Hindu mob in 1992, the Hindus of Pakistan were often the victims of revenge attacks.