The Great Divide
By Shazman Shariff
05 November, 2004
of Naila's wedding to her cousin, an Indian, was received with raised
eyebrows in her family. The reason for this skepticism about having
a cross border marriage was uncertain diplomatic ties and travel restrictions
between the two countries.As feared, Naila's decision backfired as a
series of problems regarding her nationality and visa issuance arose.
Although she has been living in India for the last seven years, her
application to seek nationality was rejected when she failed to meet
the condition of staying in India at a stretch of five years. She came
to Pakistan to visit her ailing father within three years of her marriage.
The girl is now staying on a permit, which is renewed every year.
Although, she has
adjusted well there, the only thing that makes her feel insecure is
her non-citizen status. Since she has applied again for nationality,
she has to abide by the rule that puts restriction on her movement.
Though she longs to see her father again, if she defies, she will have
to restart her five-year uninterrupted stay.Naila's case is not an exception.
This is a fate faced by almost all the Pakistani girls leaving for India
after marriage. The problems they face include difficulty in getting
visas to their home country, and renewal of the stay permit, among others.
But the biggest problem is winning the battle for nationality which
stretches from six to eight years.
A case which recently
made headlines in the newspapers was the ordeal of a Karachi-based girl
who was jailed in Hyderabad Deccan, India, for overstaying her visa
after she married her cousin there. The young bride had applied for
nationality but her application was rejected twice.Relevant to the issue
is the case of two Karachi-based girls. Nida and Saima both who married
Indian boys and moved to India. It did not take them long to realize
that seeking nationality was an uphill task so within a short period
of time both made a move to settle down in Canada.
This is just the
tip of the iceberg. The issue of Indian-Pakistani couples facing difficulty
in getting visas or acquiring nationality after getting married tops
the list of problems faced by divided families. Relatives living across
the border long to build bridges and strengthen the family bond, butunfortunately
the barriers are too high to overcome.
Although the recent
wave of goodwill gestures taking place on the diplomatic level between
India and Pakistan has superseded the haughtiness which has been the
hallmark between the two for decades, the need for specifically addressing
this area is still present.However, the recently-issued statement of
the Indian government regarding issuance of multiple visas to some categories
of passengers such as accredited journalists and senior citizens, should
be hailed as a welcome sign.
Going by the citizenship
rules in India, it takes more than five years for an outsider woman
to get nationality after marrying an Indian. The situation and procedure
for an Indian girl to become a Pakistani national is comparatively less
cumbersome.Shakila, formerly an Indian national married to a Pakistani,
says it took her six months to get her nationality after marriage and
she is happily settled in Karachi for the last 16 years. "Maybe
I was lucky to have some connections, but I personally knowmany girls
who got it without any difficulty," she says.
For her Karachi
is no longer a foreign place. "I don't miss India now but I do
miss the food, clothes and my relatives, but a trip once in a couple
of years is enough to keep alive the connection with my country,"
said Shakila, who was born and bred in Bangalore.Another Indian girl,
Meena, feels she made the right choice by surrendering her Indian passport
in return for a Pakistani nationality after she married her cousin in
Karachi, in 1998.
Hailing from New
Delhi, and in her mid-twenties, she said her journey to become a Pakistani
national took a year and unexpectedly the process proved to be a bit
difficult for her.Her husband said that it was his own lack of knowledge
about proper paperwork that made the process difficult for them. They
were misguided in the beginning and were cheated by agents who took
a substantial amount of money to furnish the documents to them.It is
interesting to note Meena is not the only daughter from her family to
have settled here. She has been joined by her three sisters all married
to the Pakistani nationals. "We like the environment here,"
to TR about the official procedure of seeking nationality for Indian
wives of Pakistani nationals, Ibadur Rehman, who is In Charge Nationality
Counter, Passport Office, said there were proper and well defined rules
for it in accordance with the citizenship laws of Pakistan which are
clear on granting nationality to foreign wives of Pakistani nationals.I.Rehman
said: "People must come to the right place instead of going to
agents who make things appear difficult and charge a heavy amount for
furnishing the required documents." He said that the process was
easy and did not cost more than a couple of hundred rupees.
For seeking nationality,
the first step is to get a free-of-cost nationality form from the passport
office. A girl has to surrender her Indian passport along with numerous
other documents like verification of her marriage and nationality of
her husband.Surprisingly, one does not hear stories of trial and tribulation
of the Indian women seeking Pakistani nationality. It was learnt that
many Indian girls apply for the Pakistani nationality and within months
it is granted to them.
However, there can
be exceptions, and one case which recently made ripples was of Dr Hafsa
Aman. The situation for an Indian man trying to settle here can be very
hostile. The rules for giving nationality to men are stringent and a
foreigner married to a Pakistani girl is not entitled to apply for nationality.
According to the sources, one way for an Indian man willing to live
in Pakistan is to deposit Rs5 million in a non-residence account opened
in his name here. Such cases were handled entirely by the Intelligence
and the Interior Ministry.The ordeal Indian men are likely to face in
their struggle to seek
nationality can fairly be illustrated by taking the case of Ali; a young
man who came here from India in 1992 after marrying a Pakistani girl
and applied for a nationality. His story highlights the magnitude of
the complications involved and created by the authorities to discourage
any Indian trying to settle down in Pakistan.
In 1992, the amount
required was Rs500,000 and Ali, an IT professional, easily arranged
the money. He had no idea of the hurdles he would be facing in the process.
Though, he had adopted the right channel and fulfilled all the legalities
and formalities, things were not destined to go in his favour. For four
years his case remained pending and all this time he stayed here by
getting extensions in his visa, the process of which was very agonizing.With
no apparent factor that could hinder his case, he was shocked when one
fine day he was informed that his visa couldn't be extended any more
and the Interior Ministry had issued his deportation order.It happened
because the intelligence agencies did not issue him a clearance report
and to his utter amazement he was declared a RAW agent. Disheartened,
he was left with no choice but to pack. He now resides peacefully in
the Middle East with his family.The Citizenship Act of Pakistan entitles
nationality to foreign wives of the Pakistani husbands. However, the
act does not grant the same to foreign husbands of the Pakistani women.Speaking
of the issue, Kunwar Khalid Yonus, MNA, who has been vocal about this
issue, said that although children born to Pakistani wives and foreign
husbands now have the right to apply for nationality, which was not
the case earlier, the discrimination between nationality rights of men
and women must end. He has presented a bill in the National Assembly
for making amendments in the act, but no action has been taken in this
Majida Rizvi, head
of the Commission on the Status of Woman, said that the commission has
sent recommendations to the government to make some changes in the act.
"Its language is discriminatory, both the genders should be written
at places where only male gender is addressed." She emphasized
that women should also have equal citizenship rights.
here or in India can be a long process, but the other complication most
commonly faced is the problem in getting visas. The problems to visit
her family in India after her marriage, put Meena to so much trouble
that she has ceased to think about visiting India again. "I had
to go to Islamabad four times and I got the visa after a year,"
she narrated one ordeal she faced when she
went to India recently.
Meena deplores the
cumbersome visa rules. She strongly supports the need for relaxation
in the rules. "The authorities should ease the rules and should
not create unnecessary problems for visa seekers.
Visa issuance is a grave problem, which surely discourages people from
venturing into cross-border marriages."Mumtaz Quraishi, who runs
a marriage bureau, observed that people felt reluctant to marry their
daughters in India, but were happy in marrying them off in America or
England. She claimed that the trend of marrying Indian girls to Pakistani
boys is common mainly because they proved to be good wives.
"It is heartening
to see that both the countries are making an effort towards smootheningrelationships.
But why has nothing has been done to reopen the Indian embassy in Karachi?"
an indignant interviewee expressed his view. "Since it is from
Karachi that most of the people go to India, the visa office should
be opened on a priority basis here."
After the thaw in
the relationship which was visible after the 12th Saarc summit, held
earlier this year in Islamabad, there were signals that the two countries
had reached some agreement in increasing the
people-to-people contact.This was gathered from the announcement made
in the increasing of train, air and bus services. But with time it proved
to be a mere eye wash, as signs of practicalimplementation of many of
these plans are still nowhere in sight.
Saying that the
people-to-people contact should greatly be enhanced between the two
by adopting effective confidence building measures, Anis Haroon, Secretary
General of Pakistan-India Peoples' Forum for Peace and Democracy, added
that the forum had taken up the issue of visa issuance since its inception
in 1994. However, she opined some reluctance was still there as the
governments' backed out and shelved the plans which should be implemented.
"There is a
need for unilateral effort to settle things, particularly those concerning
restriction on travel between the two countries." Saying that the
visa rules between the two countries are 'inhuman,' Anis felt that visas
should be abolished between the Saarc countries. "The issue of
the non issuance of tourist visa to people of both the countries was
raised by us, and that tourist visa would now be
Radha, a Gujarat-based
Indian, said she came here after her marriage in 1996 to Sanjay, a Pakistani
Hindu, born and brought up in Karachi. "Because of the strained
relationship between both the countries my father was not in favour
of this proposal, but since Sanjay was our relative and I, too, was
not getting good proposals in my native country, my parents eventually
agreed." She said: "I have never faced any form of discrimination
for being a Hindu or for my association with India."
Can India and Pakistan
push aside their acrimony and rivalry to reach some peaceful solution
to solve the problems of divided families. Now when the relationship
between the two countries is said to be at a comfortable level in its
56-year history, can one hope that something concrete will be done about
this problem? Perhaps, the time is not faraway when both the governments
will ease the restrictions on travelling and staying on each other's