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The Great Divide

By Shazman Shariff

05 November, 2004

News 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," said Meena.

Giving information 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 regard.

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.

Seeking nationality 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 soil.











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