At home in India

Ayesha Sultana’s first visit to India was when she was nine. A decade later, she came back to India as a young bride, to make this country her home. Ayesha belongs to Pakistan. Today, she is a veteran Banglorean. Ask her where to get the freshest vegetables from and she’ll guide you to Russell Market. She’ll tell you where to get the best bargains in clothes and accessories.  

Ayesha loves her freedom in India and she wouldn’t trade this life for any other. “The best thing I like about India is that every person has his or her personal freedom. And I find my life in India very peaceful. I have friends from all religions. Now, I don’t like Karachi as much as I love Bangalore,” says Ayesha, who has recently acquired Indian citizenship.

Pakistani women marrying Indians need to stay in India for at least five years to become citizens of India. Indian brides in Pakistan, on the other hand, need to stay for just two years to get Pakistani nationality. Ayesha’s husband, in his forties, is a businessman in Bangalore.  Her eldest son, who is now 18, faced problems in getting admission into a top engineering college in the city because he was born in Pakistan. Ultimately, the family had to give a huge sum of money under the SAARC quota to the college authorities.
Caught up in her married life in India, memories of childhood and college days in Pakistan are distant. “My childhood was the best phase of my life. I sometimes remember my school and college days in Karachi,” she says “I never thought that my father would get me married in such a distant place.”

There are hundreds of Pakistani women who cross the border after their marriage and seek Indian citizenship. Fifty-year-old Syeda Tasneem is one of them. Like Ayesha, Syeda too married an Indian over 20 years ago, and is settled in Bangalore.

“When I came to India after my wedding, like any young bride, I found India and my new home strange. But after a year, my daughter was born, and that’s when I set my heart on this country,” says Syeda as she holds her two-month-old grandson who has just woken up from sleep. Her daughter tells me that she is a popular and favourite aunt in their extended family.  

Syeda was born on August 14, exactly 13 years after her country was born. It was during her college days that army dictator Zia-ul-Haq ruled Pakistan. “We, especially the girls, suffered a lot during Zia’s regime. As college girls, we were not allowed to step out of the college until the end of the day and we were forced to wear scarves.”

And what difference does Syeda find between her birth country and India? “The food was much better there and the houses are much bigger and grander,” she says “The people are nice too. After all, it’s my motherland.”  However, Syeda has no plans of going back to Pakistan. Her parents died a few years back, and she, thus, sees no point in going there.
It is unlikely that Ayesha and Syeda would ever return to Pakistan sand be with their people. But today these women have made India their home and Indians their family.

(Some names have been changed to protect identities)

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