In Their Homeland
08 June, 2007
Ahammed is 76 now. When he was in his twenties, he worked in a restaurant
in Mumbai on daily wages. In 1953, a travel operator promised to take
him to Dubai in a wooden vessel for Rs 50. Ahammed agreed, but was offloaded
at Karachi instead. He started working in a restaurant there. Some years
later, when he got the news from home — Pattar Nadakkavu village,
near Thirunavaya in Malappuram district — that his mother was
unwell and he wanted to come and see her, his bosses advised him to
apply for a Pakistani passport. Ahammed, who is illiterate, did as he
was told. He spent three months in India during the first visit and
used the same passport to come to Malappuram on five other occasions
during his 22-year stay in Pakistan. It was during his visits that he
married Kunhimariam and fathered three children. His wife and children
never went to Pakistan and are Indian citizens.
Ahammed shifted to Dubai
from Pakistan where, eight years ago, he was diagnosed with diabetes
and both his legs amputated. He decided to return home to India and
that is when his troubles began. After he returned, the police and security
agencies labelled him an "infiltrator" and, since then, have
been trying to put him in prison or deport him to Pakistan. Ahammed
has won temporary reprieve as the Kerala High Court has issued a stay-order
in his favour. But he is not very hopeful, as he knows that the stay
could be vacated any time and the police would then try to deport him
to Pakistan. "Give me at least a chance to die as an Indian,"
Ahammed is not alone in
his predicament. There are over 700 men like him in Kerala who went
looking for jobs to Lahore and Karachi in Pakistan just before and after
Partition. They were seeking a better source of livelihood to support
their large joint families back home, and did not see much difference
between Mumbai and Karachi at the time.
For many, disillusionment
was swift. Unlike Ahammed who managed to stay on, barely had they reached
newly created Pakistan, they were labelled infiltrators and deported.
They returned to their homes, mostly along the Malabar coast in north
Kerala, and since then have lived in limbo, belonging to neither India
nor Pakistan. Now concentrated in Kannur, Kasargod, Kozhikode and Malappuram
districts, in the autumn of their lives, they are still under the constant
threat of deportation.
Koya who hails from Pandikkad lived in Mumbai at the time of Partition.
He joined a caravan headed for Karachi, where he set up a stationary
store and married a Pakistani girl. In 1953, Koya came to India for
a month on a Pakistani passport, and when he went back he found that
his shop had a new owner and his wife, a new husband. He was arrested
by the police there and imprisoned for two years before being deported
Since then, Koya has been
reduced to a political shuttlecock. "I was deported four times
by Pakistani authorities and twice by their Indian counterparts. During
my stay in Pakistan, they branded me as an Indian spy and treated me
shabbily. When I landed in India, it was the same — except that
I was now a Pakistani spy," he said.
Vattassery Mohammed of Malappuram,
now 83, went to Pakistan after Partition. He was disillusioned within
three years and returned to India on a Pakistani passport. He surrendered
his passport at Parappanangadi police station in Malappuram and was
instantly deported. He was forced to cross the border near Barmer in
Rajasthan, where Pakistani soldiers opened fire and he sustained bullet
Eranhikkal Kammu of Munnivoor
is a veteran of four deportations and as many returns. Pakistani authorities
dubbed him an infiltrator because he could not speak Urdu and demolished
his teashop in Karachi. He says that there were direct trains from Parappanangadi
to Karachi and Lahore before partition. He boarded one and has regretted
it ever since.
Kundoor village situated
near Thanoor in Malappuram has about 17 elders with Pakistani passports.
Once every month they sign on the register at Thanoor police station.
(At District Police Superintendent Office in Malappuram, about 270 aged
men sign on the register each month .)
"All political parties,
except for some hardcore elements in the bjp and the rss, agree that
these men should be granted citizenship. mps MP Veerendrakumar and A.Vijayaraghavan
have raised the issue several times in Parliament and have made representations
to the home ministry, but to no avail," says Thoppil Shajahan,
a Tirur-based social worker.
"I went to Baluchistan
before Partition without anticipating that India would be bifurcated.
Soon after Independence, I returned to India to join my family. But
even at the age of 80, I am facing deportation," says Kuthirodathu
Mohammed alias Baluchi Mohammed, who now suffers from respiratory ailments.
He was saved from deportation twice at the intervention of the Kerala
High Court. "I have never indulged in any kind of anti-national
activities. Poor people like me never wanted the creation of two states,"
Parambil Syed Alavi is bedridden and can't even recall the place in
Pakistan where he used to live before Partition. He is unable to acknowledge
friends and relatives. But his name is still on the list of "Pakistani
citizens" facing deportation. Policemen pay him a visit regularly.
("Are you the same official who came to my home last month to delete
my name from the ration card?" he shouted at this correspondent.)
A kindly supply officer had entered his name in the ration card but
his successor deleted it, saying that there could be no ration without
While authorities dismiss
the matter as a minor issue involving a few families in north Malabar,
problems of Indians with Pakistani passport also became an issue in
Pondicherry last year when 74-year-old V. Ibrahim, a heart-patient for
last several years, was forcibly deported to Pakistan through the Wagah
border in Punjab under the orders of the Union home ministry. The expulsion
order, which was invoked under the 1946 Foreigners' Act, reached Ibrahim
Ibrahim hails from Nedumbram
near Chalakkara in Mahe district, and his deportation raised numerous
questions, especially the divergent attitude being adopted, both by
the government and the society at large, towards these so-called foreign
citizens. Mahe was a former French colony and is home to a number of
French citizens who receive monthly pension from the French government.
For them foreign (French) citizenship is a boon, while his foreign (Pakistani)
citizenship has haunted Ibrahim all these years. Eleven months after
he was deported, Ibrahim is now back in Mahe knocking at every door
to avoid another round of humiliating deportation drama.
The unfortunate elderly
men have to live with temporary visa extensions and regular visits to
local police stations or courts to avoid the constant threat of deportation.
All that they want is permission to remain with their dear and near
ones at the fag end of their lives. They keep stressing that they have
no criminal records.
Their problems began with
Pakistan's decision after Partition not to allow migrants who wanted
to visit their families back home to leave the country without a Pakistani
passport. They unsuspectingly accepted the Pakistani passport, making
them permanently suspect in the eyes of Indian authorities. While "Pakistani
nationals" are usually unthinkingly associated with fundamentalist
Muslim organisations, police authorities are clear that these elderly
men have no extremist or criminal links.
Today, the Centre is reluctant
to grant them Indian citizenship. The Kerala government forwards their
applications to New Delhi as a matter of routine and there is no further
action from the home ministry in Delhi which just sits on the files.
Many cases are pending in the courts in Kerala, which gives authorities
an excuse to delay any decision. Officials in the home ministry in Delhi
refuse to comment on the subject. "The matter is confidential and
cannot be discussed with the press," said an official dealing with
"The issue needs a
political solution," says a home ministry official. Those who tried
to go through the official route to get citizenship failed. Sixty-eight-year-old
Masood, for instance, was asked by the Indian authorities to establish
his Pakistani nationality first. They also asked him for a renunciation
certificate from Pakistan. "For the last 11 years, I have shuttled
between Kerala and Delhi trying to become an Indian citizen. The Pakistani
embassy in Delhi wants me to cite three witnesses in Karachi to issue
the certificate. I left Karachi around 35 years ago. How can I find
witnesses?" he asks.
As Vijayaraghavan points
out, there have been other cases where Pakistani migrants of Indian
origin were granted citizenship — 1,469 migrants to Pakistan from
Gujarat and 11,298 from Rajasthan got their citizenship upon their return
to India two years ago. That is all that the long suffering men of Malabar
want, so that they can spend the last few years of their lives in their
country in peace.
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