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'I want my children back'
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | August 14, 2004 19:09 IST
On August 15, when India celebrates its Independence, the stark reality of history haunts this man.
Sitting on the wide staircase of the historic Jama Masjid in the old quarters of Delhi, Naim Ahmed looks at the ramparts of the Mughal-built Red Fort, from where the prime minister delivers the Independence Day speech every year.
A resident of Saharanpur town in western Uttar Pradesh, about 187 km from here, Ahmed is running from pillar to post to explain his plight to anybody who will listen, in Delhi.
Wearing a torn, pale and stained green shirt, brown trousers and a brown cap, Ahmed is making the rounds of the Ministry of External Affairs, Pakistan High Commission and political parties' offices. The blank look on his face explains his sordid tale.
Even though peace efforts between the two countries are slowly moving, Ahmed, 38, is cursing the borders that have separated him from his children.
His wife, a Pakistani national, and two children, who are Indians, are in Karachi, Pakistan. Ahmed is exploring options to bring his children back. His daughter Aksha Naim is 13, and son Faheem Ahmed is 12.
Ahmed's story is one of love, marriage and betrayal… across the borders.
In the summer of 1982, Dilshad Bano, a resident of Karachi, came to India along with her parents, to visit relatives in Saharanpur. It was love at first sight. Ahmed and Bano decided to marry. Both were distant relatives and Bano stayed in his home.
Later, Bano's visa expired and she left for Pakistan. But the love grew stronger with time and distance. They regularly exchanged letters.
After two years, Ahmed, who studied till Class 5, went to Pakistan along with his parents and sister, to marry Bano. But Bano's parents rejected the proposal, due to the ''long distance and a strict border in between.''
Ahmed's love grew stronger. In 1987, he went again and convinced Bano's parents for the marriage. This time he returned with his wife.
Ahmed and Bano lived happily, shifting between Dehradun and Saharanpur.
His business of bangles did well and sometimes he sold rice in the wholesale market.
Bano could not get Indian citizenship and her visa expired. As she wanted to meet her parents in Karachi, the family went to Pakistan in 2001, to get her a fresh visa.
While the family was holidaying in Karachi, terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament in New Delhi on December 13, 2001. Communication channels -- rail, road and air traffic -- and the respective high commissions were closed.
Ahmed and his children, who were Indian citizens, were trapped in Pakistan. He had a visa only to stay in Karachi.
His visa was extended twice, but he could not return to India. Taking an air route from Dubai was expensive. Finally, the Pakistan government asked him to leave the country.
He decided to live illegally in Pakistan and return when the situation returned to normal.
He took a two room rented accommodation in Nafisabad, in Karachi, for which he paid Rs 2,000 per month. He started a bangle business that did fairly well.
"I always had in mind that I will return to India as soon as possible. My parents, brothers, sisters and friends were all here. Above all India was at my heart. It is my motherland," he said.
But gradually, his relationship with his wife started showing signs of strain.
"She never understood me. She neglected me. Her parents and relatives exerted pressure on me to stay back in Pakistan and forget India," he said.
"The fight was on my returning to India. They fought each time I mentioned India."
He alleged that his wife attacked him, lodged a complaint against him and left him, taking the children along. Their relationship ended in January 2004, though he did not grant her a divorce.
"People there understood my problem, but nobody helped as I was an Indian," said Ahmed. "She wanted to leave me as she did not want to come to India. But I did not want to live in Pakistan."
He stayed there doing odd jobs. Finally, he left Pakistan by the Samjhauta Express, and reached Delhi on April 22.
But Ahmed's real struggle starts now. He wants his children back.
"My children are Indians. I have documents to prove it. It is mentioned in my passport. The Customs officer in Pakistan did not look at it at the border. I could not tell them that, as I was scared," he said.
A lawyer friend in Saharanpur is helping him draft a petition and a friend in Delhi helps him stay here.
He asks anybody who sympathizes with him, "Will I get them (children) back? Do you know any case like this? Is it possible? Anyway, I will not give up. My children are Indians and they will come back."
More reports from Delhi
Indo-Pak Peace Talks: The Complete Coverage