|Rediff India Abroad Home | All the sections|
The Rediff Special/George Iype
February 22, 2003
Malappuram, Kerala's Muslim-dominated district, is in the throes of a deportation crisis. Nearly 100 Pakistani nationals live here in trepidation that they will soon be thrown out of the country.
In the last month, most of them received 'quit India' notices from the Kerala police. But these old, ailing Malayalee men are putting up a bitter battle. Their argument: "We have the right to live and die in our motherland."
"Where can I go at this age? Haven't I got the right to live and die in my own homeland?" laments 78-year-old V Ahamed.
Ahamed suffers from rheumatism, diabetes, blood pressure and kidney disorders and can barely walk. Yet, every Monday, he travels from Pookkottur village to the office of the superintendent of police in Malappuram town. There he signs on a register titled 'For Pakistan nationals.'
Poverty and ignorance have made these men 'anti-national' elements in their native country.
Their crime? Most of them are holders of valid Pakistani passports, which proves they are Pakistani residents. But they claim to have made their passports out of ignorance. Ahamed, for instance, holds passport 509-24-007478 issued in July 1999 from Karachi. He laments he was forced to make one after Partition.
These 'Pakistanis' were born in Malappuram. Before Independence, they used to go to other parts of then undivided India in search of better jobs. Karachi, which offered good prospects in beedi making, betel trade and hotel jobs, was an ideal destination. Mired in poverty and unemployment, Malappuram Muslims travelled by train to Karachi.
Life ran smoothly for them. Then, Partition happened.
Kozhithungil Abdulla of Parappanangadi says he did not know India had been partitioned and Pakistan was now a separate country. So Abdullah, now 83, continued working in a hotel in Karachi. In 1953, when he attempted to visit his hometown in Malappuram, the Karachi police said he could not go to India just like that. Abdullah's employer soon arranged for him to have a Pakistani passport. "I thought it was a new train ticket. But when I returned to my home in Malappuram, the police immediately arrested me and sent me back to Karachi," he recalls.
Ahamed too had not visited his native village for nine years. When he tried to return home permanently in 1957, he was told he needed travel documents before he could leave for India. He got a Pakistani passport through a travel agent in Karachi. The day after he reached his village in Pookkottur, the Malappuram police arrested him. "They thrashed me, took me to Barmer (in Rajasthan) and dumped me into Pakistani territory. I did not then know that the passport I held had made me a Pakistani," Ahamed says.
Ahamed and Abdullah were lucky they did not encounter Pakistani troopers or die in the desert on their miserable journey to Karachi.
But 80-year-old Vengara resident Mohammed Koya was not as fortunate. He was deported to Pakistan four times in six years. "The Pakistani police jailed me for two years. They released me only after my employer in Karachi bailed me out," Koya says.
He finally returned to Malappuram in 1996. "I destroyed my Pakistani passport. But, even now, I am a Pakistani in the eyes of the police. So I visit the police station and sign the register."
Koya is happy the police do not harass him these days. "Many have gone underground fearing deportation," he points out.
Not all of them went to Pakistan for work. Some left for Pakistan during Partition with the intention of creating a new life for themselves there. But they were soon disillusioned. The Pakistan government branded them infiltrators and deported them. When they returned to Malappuram they were registered as Pakistani nationals.
Today, they are the nowhere people. Both India and Pakistan refuse to acknowledge them as their citizens. Yet, none of them want to return to Pakistan.
They continue to live in their native villages on the basis of a court order. The Council for Social Justice, a voluntary group that took up the cases of these Pakistani nationals, filed an affidavit in court seeking permission to allow them to stay on in Malappuram. The court temporarily permitted them to live in their respective villages provided they go to the Malappuram superintendent of police's office every week and sign the 'For Pakistan nationals' register. The police issued residential permits to facilitate their stay in India.
"It is better to die rather than live like a Pakistani citizen in the village I was born," Ahamed laments. His attempts to become an Indian citizen has thus far proved futile. In 1999, he submitted an application to the Union home ministry pleading that he be provided Indian citizenship. "I am told I lost my Indian citizenship because I worked in Karachi for many years. But do Indians working in New York or London lose their citizenship?" he asks.
"They have suffered tremendously at the hands of Indian and Pakistani soldiers. It is cruel that they continue to be persecuted by the Indian authorities," says advocate K Mohandas, president of the Council for Social Justice. He points out that, as per the Indian Citizenship Act Section 9 (2), these Pakistani nationals have every right to get Indian citizenship. "But it is unlikely to happen since the Indian government considers them Pakistani spies."
The Kerala police does not have a record of how many India-born Pakistani nationals stay in various districts of the state. "They are Pakistani citizens by accident. But, as per orders from the home ministry, we have kept them under surveillance. Recently, we also issued them notices to quit India," a senior police officer told rediff.com
Meanwhile, the nowhere people continue to live in the twilight zone of hope and despair, praying that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government will allow them their last wish -- to die in the land they were born.
Design: Uttam Ghosh
The Rediff Specials