Srinagar: Bereft of basic citizenship rights, about 350 Pakistani women are living as “stateless citizens” in Kashmir. Sopore-based Nageena Kaunsar, originally hailing from Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, is one example.
Kaunsar is the only child of her parents, who are now old and ailing and alone. She is desperate to go back to Pakistan to see them.
“I haven’t seen them for the past eight years. What is my fault or of my parents? I am their only child. Why are the authorities not providing me travel documents? why this injustice?” Kaunsar said, tears flowing down her face.
In 2011, Kaunsar had moved to Jammu and Kashmir with her former militant husband, Mohammad Ashraf Malik. The state government here had in November 2010 announced a policy to rehabilitate former militants.
The policy was meant for those who had crossed over to Pakistan-administered Kashmir between January 1989 and December 2009 for arms training, but had later laid down arms and were willing to return to India.
Nearly a decade later, the policy has resulted in numerous Pakistani women, and their children, without a place they can call home.
“We have not been accepted here, we have been cheated. The policy was a trap to punish us. If we have done wrong, why our wives and children are meant to suffer?” said Kaunsar’s husband, Ashraf Malik.
Most of the Pakistani women married to former Kashmiri militants are cursing themselves for leaving their home.
Taibah, hailing from Abbottabad in Pakistan, is a management post-graduate and was well settled with a job in the Institute of Science and Management at Abbottabad, before she left all that to come to Kashmir with her husband, Ajaz Ahmed Malik.
“I curse the day when I came here. Nothing good has happened to us in all these years. A small document is being denied to us on the pretext that we are illegal citizens. If we are illegal, please deport us back,” said Taibah, who lives in Pattan.
“We don’t have jobs, we don’t possess any document. For a small thing like getting a SIM card, we don’t have Aadhar cards. This is punishment and nothing else,” Taibah added.
Another Pakistani woman, Nabeela Javed, also hailing from Abbottabad, said many close relatives of her died in Pakistan but she couldn’t go there for want of travel documents.
“They are not letting us grieve for our beloved ones, what kind of justice is this? If we are illegal, let us be deported back. Don’t separate us from our families,” Nabeela said.
The women have already held several protests, including one at Press Colony Srinagar this year. They held up placards that read, “We are Pakistanis, provide us travel documents or deport us back to Pakistan.”
The women had appealed to both Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to resolve their problems. The Indian government has earlier said that former militants who re-entered the country through Nepal or Bangladesh, and not through three designated points along the India-Pakistan border or through the international airport in New Delhi, have forfeited their citizenship rights.
To this, the former militants and their families say that they went to Pakistan illegally and had to come back through illegal routes.
Former chief minister of J&K Mehbooba Mufti had requested the central government to make Nepal border as one of the designated routes, but her plea was not accepted.
As per state records, 377 men came back with 864 family members. Most of them are regretting their decision.
Tariq Ahmed of Habba Kadal, Srinagr, was a former militant who had infiltrated the Line of Control (LoC) to come back with his Pakistani wife and three children in 2011. He says, “I was well settled there and coming back to Kashmir was my gravest mistake. My wife cries for her family. My children are not getting proper education. There are no proper documents with us for getting ration cards and Aadhar cards. Everything we do here is by jugaad (underhand means).”
The perilous journey to Kashmir has also sometimes ended in tragedy. Some Pakistani women have been divorced, some have lost their husbands, some have developed mental illnesses, and some have committed suicide.
Saira Begum was among the Pakistani women who accompanied her husband to Kashmir. The family lived in extreme poverty and, in April 2014, she committed suicide. The same year, former militant Syed Bashir Bukhari set himself on fire in the village square of Kreeri in north Kashmir. Bukhari’s family had struggled for years to obtain Indian citizenship for his Pakistani wife and local schools had refused to admit their son.
Given voting rights but denied citizenship
Omar Shahzad, a former militant who returned to Kashmir through the rehabilitation policy in 2010, says that one the one hand the Pakistani wives have been given voting rights but on the other hand they have been declared to be illegal citizens.
Shahzad, who campaigns for Pakistani women’s rights in Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader, “Since the policy was rolled out, we have been used for political gains. We are allowed to vote but when our sisters (Pakistani women) demand travel documents, they are denied on the pretext that you live illegally here.”
Zeba, a Pakistani woman living in Kashmir, said, “We cannot get travel documents or hold government jobs. Admission to school is not easy. We can’t open a bank account or legally apply for a cooking gas connection. Buying property is out of the question.”
Though successive governments in the state have failed to settle this issue, National Conference (NC) general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar told Kashmir Reader that his party’s government (led by Omar Abdullah) in 2010 rolled out the rehabilitation policy to bring people back from extremism to the mainstream. The governments that came later did not work for the rehabilitation of such families, he said. The issue needs to be looked through the human lens, he said.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Waheed-Ur-Rehman Para said that the rehabilitation policy announced in 2010 had many loopholes. He said the PDP led government formed an Integration Policy to address issues of all people who had been affected by conflict. He said that the Integration Policy went to the cabinet but was not approved because the BJP raised objections.
He also said that a reconciliation process is needed to solve such issues.
Legal basis for citizenship
As the government is not doing anything for families that have come from Pakistan to Kashmir, the families have moved the J&K High Court at Srinagar through Advocate Parvez Imroz.
Imroz while speaking to Kashmir Reader referred to a High Court judgement in the case ‘Mohsin Shah Vs Union of India’ passed on October 31, 1973, wherein it was held that a person while travelling from one part of India to another need not obtain passport from any foreign country.
Imroz explained that a person named Mohsin Shah was brought up in Srinagar and had gone to Skardu in 1945 (then part of Ladakh) to take up a job there. When the borders were sealed after the Pakistani invasion of 1947 in Kashmir, Shah was compelled to apply for a Pakistan passport because Skardu was in the possession of Pakistan. The Indian government had sought to deport him back on the pretext that he was Pakistani citizen. The High Court of J&K held that the petitioner being a resident of Pakistan occupied territory was a citizen of India under the Constitution of J&K 1957, as also under the Constitution of India because the territory Skardu was now included in the territories to which Constitution of India applied.
“Under the notification of 1927, if a Kashmiri is marrying a girl from Azad Kashmir, then he is marrying a Kashmiri girl because, constitutionally, Azad Jammu and Kashmir is part of India,” Imroz said. “The wife of a state subject acquires the status of state subject provided she lives in the state and does not acquire any other citizenship.”
Imroz further said, “If a local has married a Pakistani girl, then, under the 1927 notification, she will acquire the nationality of her husband. Once she acquires the nationality of her husband, she has to surrender her previous nationality. Of course, she has to apply for citizenship to the central government, which will decide whether to grant it or not.”
Imroz said that because the families came through a rehabilitation policy, it was incumbent upon the government to take steps for their rehabilitation.