Three weeks ago, Brij Mohan Shingari left his home in the middle of the night and, with his wife and four daughters, fled the village of his forefathers.
Sikh policemen in his village of Fatehabad, watching the Shingaris and their neighbors preparing to leave, told the driver of their truck to make sure to take them outside Punjab State because Hindus "were not fit" to live here, Shingari recalled.
The Shingaris are among hundreds of Hindus who have fled their homes in the terrorist-afflicted border districts of northwestern Punjab State during the past month, according to Punjab officials. Immigrants put the figures considerably higher.
Residents of Punjab, in northwestern India, have lived with increased violence since 1980, when the Sikh Akali party began its campaign for greater state autonomy from the central government. Militants took control of the campaign and prepared for war with a government they increasingly identified with Hindu interests. Prominent Hindus in Punjab were targeted by followers of the militant Sikh leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and the demand for autonomy eventually turned into a demand for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Punjab since a moderate Sikh state government was installed in September and an earlier peace accord was signed between the moderate Sikh Akali party and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
In the past month, 75 people have died in sectarian violence which appears increasingly to target ordinary citizens, mainly Hindus, rather than public figures.
The flight of Hindus to the comparative safety of neighboring states is the first such migration of this magnitude since the disturbances began. It has also raised fears among Sikhs outside Punjab of a Hindu backlash elsewhere in the country.
The migration underlines the continued failure of the state and central government to defuse what has become India's most dangerous regional and religious conflict.
Punjab government officials said that about 1,000 people from 259 families have left the state, while immigrants said the figure is several times that number.
Punjab Chief Minister Surjit Singh Barnala, a Sikh, recently sent two of his Cabinet members to visit families of immigrants to ask them to return to Punjab.
Militants would like Hindus to leave Punjab and Sikhs from across the country to resettle there. There are an estimated 16 million Sikhs in India.
"The temptation to leave the village had been there for quite some time, but I always resisted it, hoping that things would improve," said Shingari, a 45-year-old teacher. But terrorists killed nine people in one week, he said. One was Shingari's nephew. That is when he decided to leave.
By then there were reminders in Fatehabad that he was not welcome anyway. Posters appeared on village walls urging Hindus to leave the state within three months or "face the consequences." Sikhs offering shelter to Hindus were threatened, according to Ramesh Kumar, 24, who fled Fatehabad with the Shingari family.
Terrorist violence escalated in and around Amritsar, 25 miles from Fatehabad, after April 30, when Chief Minister Barnala ordered police and paramilitary troops into the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, to clear it of the militants who had taken it over and proclaimed an independent state the day before.
Although a widely praised move, reclaiming the temple caused a split within the state's ruling Akali party and among the Sikh population. Barnala was sentenced by five Sikh priests to clean shoes in Sikh shrines for a week to atone for his decision to send police into the temple.
Barnala's decision to accept punishment for having used legitimate police agencies to settle a law and order problem represented the dilemma of Punjab today: Barnala succeeded in restoring his image as a deeply religious Sikh and thus regained his credibility, but many Hindus saw the move as another example of the triumph of Sikh religion over the government.
"People, including Hindus staying on in our village, have grown beards and wear saffron turbans," said Kumar, who left Fatehabad. Saffron turbans are worn by Sikhs as a symbol of sacrifice, and have been adopted as a trademark of extremists.
Asked when he would return to his village, Om Prakash, 38, said only when his security could be assured. "I'm not obliging the terrorists by coming away," he said. "I'm only saving my life."