DIVIDED BY BORDERS, UNITED BY MATRIMONY

Ayesha Khan and Tahira Noor

Delhi-Conflicts between India and Pakistan might have been escalating but it has not stopped people from tying knots with each other. Cross border marriages between these countries continue to take place despite the rising tensions.
These marriages are a little difficult to manage because of the diplomatic and legal hurdles that such couples have to face. Visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for them. Due to this their mobility gets restricted to a few places, they have a problem going back to their country of origin. This also raises safety concerns and issues for getting new Visa or extending visa duration.
“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check-ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.

DIVIDED BY BORDERS, UNITED BY MATRIMONY
Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot on November 7, 2016, when the tension between the two countries was very high. Priya and her family belong to Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the date of marriage was arriving. Naresh tweeted his plight to the then foreign minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family get the visa.
“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting the visa and still, Priya is staying in India on a long term visa (LTV) and has not visited Pakistan after our marriage,” said Naresh.
Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of the border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. The government should ensure friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of giving citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh.’

BACK TO ROOTS
Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my grandfather house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married. “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad be a good
partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan once every two years since her marriage. “When I go to Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India, I cannot due to visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.” Laughing, she tells, ‘When there is a match between India and I support Pakistan.”

LOVE KNOWS NO BOUNDS
Prtiam and Fiza(name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and married in 2012. Even though in the eyes of society it an inter-religious and cross-culture marriage as Pritam is an Assamese and Fiza a Punjabi Muslim, they do not consider such social constructs as barriers.
“We saw each other as individuals rather than an Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their place of birth. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.
Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after getting married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. They stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian) card very easily for their spouses when Fiza cannot when Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam. Pritam and Fiza are concerned more for their one-year-old daughter who is too young to understand these social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place where they truly belong.
Regardless of the countless difficulties, these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.

CROSS BORDER COUPLES OF INDIA AND PAKISTAN

MARIUM AHMED AND SANA BATOOL

India and Pakistan have been in a troubled relationship for decades. The two countries have minimal diplomatic contact and tensions have reached the boiling point over a territorial dispute more than once. However, despite embittered ties, Indians and Pakistanis continue to defy all odds to unite in matrimony.

“Despite marked borders people often fail to regard the divide as territorial peripheries blur for them and relationships take preference,” said Shagufta Burney, an advocate and human rights activist at Pakistan-based Ansar Burney Trust.

“These are two countries, with intact borders…. [people have] relatives, friends and families living on both sides of the border,” she said. “It often happens that people don’t realize the [existence of] boundaries, come to Pakistan and then land in trouble. In such situations we approach the foreign ministries of both the countries to resolve the issue.”

The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 divided millions of families and the shadows of historic bifurcation still haunts the two countries. Since then, the relationship between them has been complicated.

According to experts, visa and citizenship are the major areas of trouble for crossborder couples. Due to these hurdles their mobility is restricted to a few places.

“The government of India provides citizenship to anyone who lives here for five years, but they have declared Pakistan as an enemy nation by law which is why Pakistanis face so many issues. The Pakistani spouses have to stay on long term visas for years and go through strict regular check ups,” said Imran Ali, a lawyer and professor.         

Here are the stories of some cross border couples:

Naresh Tiwani and Priya Bachini tied the knot in 2016 when fragile relationship between the nuclear-armed rivals was under severe strain. Priya and her family hail from Karachi, Pakistan and were unable to get a visa while the big day for the future couple was inching closer. Naresh Tweeted his plight to the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj who stepped in to help Priya and her family with the visa.

“It was quite tiring for both the families because the wedding date was so near and the Indian embassy was not granting visa,” said Naresh.

Naresh and Priya belong to the Sodha community which is known for having cross border marriages as a part of their tradition. “There are certain clans on both sides of border who culturally don’t have options for marriages and thus they prefer to opt for cross border marriages. Government should ensure a friendly visa regime at least for such marriages and the process of granting citizenship to them should be liberal,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, founder of ‘Vishthapit Sangh’, ‘Seemant Lok Sanghatan’ and ‘Universal Just Action Society’ NGOs which assist members of Sodha Community with the marriage process.”

Back to roots

Parveen Irshad who got married to Irshad Mirza in 1981, sitting in their old Delhi house says, “This is my Dada’s (grandfather) house. My husband is my cousin.” Parveen came to visit her family in India, with no intentions of getting married.  “My marriage was not planned. My parents felt Irshad would be a good partner for me and got us married.” She is staying on a long term visa (LTV) in India since her marriage and cannot move out of Delhi. Parveen has been lucky to visit Pakistan every two year since her marriage. “When I visit Pakistan, I visit places. Here in India I cannot due to the visa restrictions.” Parveen’s elder daughter is also married to a Pakistani. “I had no intentions of getting my daughter married there but we couldn’t find a good prospective husband for her here in India. My daughter is a proud Indian and still holds her Indian passport.”

Love knows no bounds

Pritam and Fiza (name changed), have a different story to tell. They met each other while studying law at Oxford University in 2005 and tied a knot in 2012. While Pritam is an Assamese, Fiza is a Punjabi Muslim.  

“We saw each other as individuals not as Indian or a Pakistani,” says Pritam who strongly believes that one shouldn’t be discriminated on the basis of their nationality. “I feel that it is similar to discriminating someone on the basis of their caste, creed and race, something that is not in their hand at all,” he added.

Fiza who comes from a conservative family said, “I informed my parents about Pritam after we got married. At that time we were in London and invited them to meet us. My parents stayed with us for three weeks and grew fond of Pritam, but never disclosed our marriage to our extended family because of the social pressure.”

“It’s so funny that my friends who married a German or an Australian can get a PIO (Person of Indian Origin) card very easily for their spouses but Fiza cannot — even while  Pakistan is historically, culturally, socially and geographically more connected to us,” says Pritam.

Pritam and Fiza are concerned for their one-year-old daughter’s future who is too young to understand the social complexities. They fear that they might have to move to a neutral country despite their wishes to stay back and serve the place they truly belong.

Reunion

“They cannot understand how [our] hearts aches. I have left behind my loved ones and you have parted with yours. [Only you and] I understand this misery.”

Nishat Naqvi, a 74-year-old widow and now a Pakistani, recalls these words by the Sikh officer who came to her help when she faced difficulties on her first visit back to India from Pakistan after her marriage. Her voice quivered as she recalls memories of the visit.

Having married Mukhtar Naqvi in 1970, she first came to Pakistan in 1971, along with her parents, to visit her relatives. Back then She had no idea that her short visit would turn out to be a permanent one.

It took her 7 years, after her marriage, to be able to meet her family in India again.   

“By the time I went back to India, I had two kids aged 5 and 2,” she said.

When finally she did get a chance to visit her former hometown, Allahabad, she had
to go through a lot of trouble and inconvenience during the course of her
journey. Due to a mistake from the Pakistan office, her children’s names were not
endorsed on her passport and the officers refused to let them accompany her to
India.

Naqvi was neither prepared to leave her children behind, nor was she ready to go back and restart the lengthy process of applying for a permit for India. “So I sat
in the office and said I won’t go back,” she said.    

After hours of waiting, a Sikh officer came to her help. He sympathized with her situation, having parted with his own family. Teary-eyed herself Naqvi recalls that he was in tears as he related his heart-wrenching experience.

Arif Hasan, an acclaimed social researcher and architect from Pakistan resonates Naqvi’s sentiments. According to him the impact of the partition was a long-lasting one and many still identify with their roots across the border.

“If you ask anyone of my generation what is your one wish, they will say want to go back to Hindustan and see their house just one more time,” he said.  “People go there and cry over the misery of separation due to partition.”

It is hard for Naqvi to let go of the memories of the past. They remain as deeply etched in her mind as that of the sardar jee who came to her rescue.

Naqvi chuckled as she recalled the hearty reception she got when she finally met her family in India.

“I felt as if I found some missing piece of my life’s puzzle … when I reached Allahabad, members of my family were so excited, they were all overwhelmed,” she said. “The whole neighborhood gathered to greet me.”

However, these pleasant memories are not enough to dispel Naqvi’s grief. “I don’t want to remember all that. Such a good time I spent with all of them, I can never forget it.”   

Relations across the border

Married in 1950, Rajabali has always yearned for easy access to members of her family including her daughter, who is now married to her nephew in India.

Hailing from Bombay — now known as Mumbai, she was separated from her family by a border spanning many miles when she settled in Karachi after her marriage. However, the border was of little consequence in impeding her travel to India. In fact, now as she reminisces the early years of her marriage with a smile, she opines that travel and communication was actually much easier in the past with no visa restrictions.

“There was a permit system and they [authorities] used to give permits [to travel across the border easily], you see. Since there were divided families, people used to travel often; the airfare was 110 rupees.”

Back in those days, the technology wasn’t advanced but distances weren’t as wide either. Travelling between the two countries was quite common and gifts were often sent through a third person across the border.

Remembering those days she said, “My mother used to send various things whenever someone was visiting Karachi. I too would send gifts to India… I used to send French Chiffon to India and often received Indian saris from there.”

Taimur Ahmed Suri, a Pakistani educationist, is of the opinion that the divide between the people across the border actually widened after the 1965 war. “Prior to that… people from Meerut used to send Qorma to refugee migrants via trains, every week”, he recalls, citing it as an example of frequent unbridled interaction between the residents of India and Pakistan post partition.

Rajabali, a nonagenarian has seen the relationship between the two countries plunge to unexpected lows since she migrated to Pakistan after her marriage. She especially feels the widening distances between both the countries due to travelling difficulties, including visa restrictions and increased cost, having one of her daughters married India.

“Now since PIA has limited its flight operations, you have to either go via Dubai or via Colombo and the cost has doubled”, she claimed.  “Is it fair? My daughter cannot afford to visit every year now.”

The last time Rajabali went to India was for her granddaughter’s wedding and nothing has changed. Old relations and friendships have persisted for Rajabali despite the territorial divide. “I wish, I wish that these borders were open,” she said, in a voice half choked with grief.

Regardless of the countless difficulties these couples wish for peace, prosperity and friendship between both countries and believe that such marriages should continue taking place to fight the politics of hate.

 

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