Aatish Taseer OCI row: For individuals of mixed Indian, Pakistani decent, a long (and tricky) road to citizenship
Writer Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of Indian Card (OIC) being withdrawn has focused attention on citizenship issues faced by children of Indian and Pakistani parents.
The division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan has not erased shared customs or traditions
There are communities like the Sodha Rajputs who marry in India as they cannot marry in their own community in Pakistan
Some Pakistanis who are married to Indians and have to live in India, opt for other nationalities as dual passports are allowed for them
Writer Aatish Taseer’s Overseas Citizen of Indian Card (OIC) being withdrawn has focused attention on citizenship issues faced by children of Indian and Pakistani parents. While Taseer is a British national, the Indian government rules for OIC do not consider as eligible those with either parents or grandparents who are or were citizens of Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries.*
Not even Taseer’s celebrity status could insulate him, even though his mother, journalist and columnist Tavleen Singh is an ardent Modi supporter. Lesser mortals too have problems getting Indian citizenship and often the parent first, and then the children, have to wait more than seven years to be declared Indian citizens.
There are some famous examples, like the Pakistan artiste Adnan Sami who has Indian citizenship, but there are also cases like Asif Karadia’s, when he had to go to court to obtain his.
The division of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan has not erased shared customs or traditions and even today there are communities like the Sodha Rajputs who marry in India as they cannot marry in their own community in Pakistan. Member of South Asian Women’ s Network and social activist, Sarita Kumari from Amarkot who got married at 19 and came to Jaipur, says there are about 25,000 Rajputs in Sind and their children have to get married across the border. People travel across the border to find partners and the Thar express had made it easier. Now, no one wants to marry Pakistani girls as the citizenship process takes long.** Those with three or four daughters wait till the youngest one is of age and then make a trip across the border to find suitable grooms.
It took seven years and more for Sarita to get citizenship. Earlier in the 1980s, it was five years and she used to visit Pakistan on a NORI (No objection to re-entering India) visa which has to be extended once a year. Her sons were born in India and so became Indian citizens by birth. However, despite Indian citizenship, one can be harassed by the police who may not be aware of the rules. In the last two decades, the waiting time for citizenship has increased from five years to seven, she adds. There are problems if the girl goes for her first delivery to her mother’s place, which is the custom and the child is born in Pakistan.
There are many families who come from Pakistan, especially Sind province, and sometimes it takes very long for them to get citizenship, says JS (name changed to protect identity) who is based in Jaipur. Thanks to the Modi government, he says, many families were granted Indian citizenship but there is a problem of housing as people fear to give Pakistanis a place to stay. But for the children born here, it takes time, as the parents have to get Indian citizenship first, he adds.
Some Pakistanis who are married to Indians and have to live in India, opt for other nationalities as dual passports are allowed for them. This makes it easier to get an Indian visa in case they want to visit or live here. For instance, YN (name changed to protect identity) is a Pakistani with citizenship of another country, who is married to an Indian. Her visa has to be renewed every year like that of her son.
Advocate Sujay Kantawala of the Bombay high court has dealt with a curious case of citizenship where a Pakistani married to an Indian citizen went to Karachi for her delivery. The child returned on her passport and she did not apply for his citizenship, even though she herself was granted that in 1972. Asif Karadia, the son, faced a problem when he applied for a passport for Haj in 2012 and was given a Leave India Notice. Karadia then approached the Bombay high court. Kantawala, who was his lawyer, says he was living in India for 50 years and could not be asked to leave suddenly. However, the central government resolved the matter by granting him Indian citizenship. Many people are not aware that they need to apply for Indian citizenship if they are born in Pakistan and then return to live in India for good.
If you go by the law, the Indian government easily grants citizenship to both adults and children of Pakistani origin, Kantawala says. The rules are flexible and the situations contemplated under the Citizenship act are also flexible.
In the case of BS (name changed to protect identity), he married a woman who was Indian but was married to a Pakistani earlier and had a child there. She also became a Pakistani citizen. However, she came back to India with the child and later married BS. It was a second marriage for both of them. Since she and the child had Pakistani citizenship, they had to wait for ten years before they were granted Indian citizenship but they did eventually get it.
In the case of Pakistanis who marry Indians and come to India, they are on long term visa (LTV), before they can apply for citizenship. In the case of SM (name changed to protect identity), she came to an Indian city in 2010 and was granted an LTV for two years. Later that was changed to a year and she has to get it renewed every year. She has a tough life as her visa is restricted to one city and she cannot travel within the country, or open a bank account or work, though she has managed to study. Citizenship might ease her woes and she is considering applying for it, the only catch being that she has to stay here for a full year.
Hindu Singh Sodha came to India when he was 15 in 1971, just before the huge influx during the war later that year. He says that so many children were born in India but if their parents are not Indian citizens then it is difficult for them. He is president of the Seemant Lok Sanghatan which works with migrants in the border areas. Sometimes children born in Pakistan come back and live in India for many years without knowing they have to apply for citizenship.
The Thar express from Karachi to Jodhpur brings many migrants and there are some 20,000 in Jodhpur. The Indian government has granted nearly 14,000 people citizenship since 2005, of which 1,200 are recent. Many of those who come to India have little option in Pakistan but to convert to Islam or migrate, he says.
Now that the Thar express has stopped running, it is not so easy for migrants. Earlier too, those who went across the border were stuck there after the marriage, if the visas are delayed. The Indian grooms return while their brides are still in Pakistan. However, the shared practices will continue and the customs will be kept alive, Sodha adds.
Many of the migrants come on pilgrimage visas and there is an understanding that they can stay back, says Kavita Srivastav of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). She works with Pakistani migrants as they have many problems of housing and livelihoods. Some of them are good at agriculture but find daily wage work here. Sometimes they are not paid at all for their work. She also spoke of some people who returned to Pakistan as they couldn’t find a place to stay or any sustenance here. So even before filing for Indian citizenship for them or their children, Pakistani migrants, many of them poor, have other unresolved issues.
* No person, who or either of whose parents or grandparents or great grandparents is or had been a citizen of Pakistan, Bangladesh or such other country as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify, shall be eligible for registration as an Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder. https://boi.gov.in/content/overseas-citizen-india-oci-cardholder
** According to the Citizenship Act, 1955 a person may be registered as a citizen if married to a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident in India for seven years before making an application for registration.
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