New Delhi: In 2015, Padmini Rathore of the erstwhile royal family of Kanota in Rajasthan was inundated with calls from journalists seeking to cover her cross-border wedding with Kunwar Karni Singh Sodha of the Amarkot royal family from Pakistan’s Sindh.
‘Pakistani boy, Indian girl and a royal wedding in Jaipur’ and ‘A wedding beyond borders’ were some of the headlines splashed across Indian news portals that year.
Seven years on, Padmini is grappling with the grimy bureaucratic misery that awaits those who marry across what is often called the world’s most dangerous border.
The number of Indians who received Pakistani citizenship has inched up, from zero in 2019, to 7 in 2020 and 41 in 2021, government data revealed last month. Padmini’s story helps understand why some Indians have chosen to become citizens of Pakistan, as well as the obstacles that confront them.
Unlike some other countries, India does not allow for dual citizenship, which means that all Indian nationals who acquire a foreign nationality must legally renounce their Indian citizenship.
Like most Indians who apply for Pakistani citizenship, 34-year-old Padmini did so for marital purpose.
“I married Kunwar Karni Singh in 2015. We have a five-year-old son who has a Pakistani passport. I’m the only one in our family who doesn’t have Pakistani citizenship which makes travelling within Pakistan a hassle. Since I’m still an Indian national, I can’t travel from one Pakistani city to another without a visa which usually takes 15-20 days to process,” she told ThePrint.
Travelling abroad is also an issue as she is allowed only two re-entries into Pakistan a year.
“Before the 2019 Pulwama attack, they were allowing four re-entries a year which was doable. Now, with only two re-entries, we can’t take many family trips abroad,” explained Padmini.
The situation has led to financial and logistical difficulties. “If I want to buy a piece of land in Pakistan, I have to register it under my husband’s name. Until I get citizenship, I can’t open a bank account or get my hands on a CNIC card,” she told ThePrint.
Similar to India’s Aadhaar card, Pakistan’s Computerised National Identity Card (CNIC) is required for close to everything there — from opening a bank account and purchasing vehicles or land, to obtaining a SIM card.
‘Repeated downgrading of India-Pak ties could be a factor’
Padmini suspects that repeated downgrading of India-Pakistan ties over the last decade could be a factor in the delay of her citizenship application.
“Many of the women who have married into my husband’s family were Indians — my mother-in-law, aunt-in-law, grandmother-in-law. In their time, Pakistani citizenship was granted within weeks,” she told ThePrint.
“I suspect mine is taking longer because of factors out of my control. In the last decade, India-Pakistan relations have been downgraded multiple times with the Pulwama attack, the Balakot strike, and the scrapping of Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir. Maybe both sides have become more cautious in issuing citizenship to each other’s people.”
Meanwhile, there has been no explanation for the recent uptick in grant of Pakistani citizenship to Indians.
Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal suggests it might have to do with the clearance of a backlog of applications as well as the rise in the number of Indian-Pakistani couples in the Gulf region.
“The slight increase in the number of Indians receiving Pakistani citizenship over the last two-three years may actually be a reflection of the clearing of a backlog of applications. As we know, Indians applying for Pakistani citizenship usually wait a long time. Another factor may be the Gulf region. Over the last decade or so, it has become a popular confluence of Indians and Pakistanis alike. It’s not uncommon for couples to meet there and then settle down in either India or Pakistan,” Sibal told ThePrint.
Lucky but tough experience
Among the few who did manage to get a Pakistani citizenship is 46-year-old Samira Ijlal, who had applied in 1999.
“My husband and I got married in January 1999 and I got my Pakistani citizenship in December. The process took about nine months from the start of application, which is rare. People usually wait years,” she told ThePrint.
Samira and her husband lived in Bangladesh from 2003 to 2017, which, she says, made it easier for them to obtain travel permits to India as compared to when they re-settled in Karachi.
“My husband and I had work permits in Bangladesh. I worked in a merchandise exporting house in Dhaka. We used to frequently visit India for business trips and to meet my family. Getting Indian visas was quite easy while we were living in Bangladesh. The trouble began when we returned to Karachi in 2017,” she said.
Acquiring Pakistani citizenship, though creates its own problems. The last time Samira visited India was in January 2019 to attend a wedding.
“I had applied for a visa to visit Hyderabad, Delhi and Lucknow, but was only permitted to travel to Hyderabad and Lucknow. The visa took a long time to come, about three-four months. I suspect they didn’t allow me to go to Delhi because security is tight during Republic Day preparations,” she explained.
Samira was also unable to attend her mother’s funeral in September 2020 as India and Pakistan were not issuing visas during the Covid pandemic.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)