NEW DELHI: Saira Javed gets emotional when she remembers her family in Pakistan; tears trickle down her face during a video conversation with her mother in Karachi.
It has been more than seven years since she last saw her relatives in Pakistan. In 2012, when she moved to Indian-administered Kashmir with her husband, Javed Ahmad, they hoped that the rehabilitation policy for former militants announced by the government at the time — led by Omar Abdullah in 2010 — would pave the way for a better life.
“We all regret that decision to come to India now,” 35-year-old Saira admits. “My husband and I were arrested when we entered Kashmir in 2012. I spent three months behind bars for entering India without valid documents, and my husband more than six months.”
She said the authorities seized all her documents, leaving her living in India effectively a stateless citizen.
“I should have been given Indian citizenship by virtue of being the wife of an Indian, but I have nothing and I want to return to Pakistan. We want the government to facilitate our return to our home country,” she added.
Last week, scores of Pakistani women, all wives of former militants, protested in the streets of Srinagar demanding the return of their passports and permission to leave India.
Ahmad, 46, and now working as a bus driver, left for Pakistan in 1990. He went to Karachi, acquired refugee status, and married his wife in 2000.
“From my village it was normal for young boys to be killed. My younger brother lost his life. Another relative also fell to the Indian bullets. I left for Pakistan at the age of 16 to save my life,” he said.
“The rehabilitation policy announced by the Omar Abdullah government was very reassuring and a very good gesture in building cross-border trust, but trusting India has proven costly for me.”
According to estimates, nearly 400 families returned to India from various parts of Pakistan between 2012 and 2015, with the government promising them education, employment and financial assistance.
K. Vijay Kumar, adviser to Jammu and Kashmir Gov. Satya Pal Malik, said the issue was being taken seriously by the government. He told Arab News that the families “were given four routes to come back to India: Via Delhi International Airport, and the Wagah, Poonch and Uri border points, but most of them came via Nepal and did not have Indian passports.
“If a woman is from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) then there is a rigorous procedure and the No Objection Certificate (NOC) given to her is valid for only two weeks. We cannot compromise security,” he said.
Ahmad, though, claims that the only route available to his family and others to return to India was through Nepal, as all other routes were closed.
Sana Sheikh, who also returned to India in 2012, feels betrayed by the Indian government. A resident of Mansehra in Pakistan, she is suffering from depression because of the harassment she has faced at the hands of the Indian authorities over the past year.
“I came with a lot of hope of leading a new life in India. In the last seven years, I have faced so many problems. I have been living like a stateless citizen, denied basic rights as a Kashmiri and an Indian,” 29-year-old Sana said.
Mustafa Kamal of National Conference, a Kashmir-based political party headed by Omar Abdullah, told Arab News: “These are the tragedies of militancy.
“This is a humanitarian issue and should not be viewed as a political issue. Those who are in power: It’s their responsibility to handle these issues, and if these women want to go back they should be allowed to return,” he said.
“Those who returned to Kashmir should be given the benefit of the rehabilitation policy. The best rehabilitation policy is the thaw between India and Pakistan over Jammu and Kashmir. It was meant to soften the border. I feel that people from both sides of the line should be allowed to cross the border easily, but the government in Delhi has a majoritarian streak, and does not bother about the agony of the people of Kashmir.”