Divided borders delay 10-year-old's return to Pakistan

Divided borders  delay 10-year-old's return to Pakistan
Ten-year-old Hina grew up with dreams of living a life like any other girl would have imagined. She wasn’t blessed with the riches of life, nor could she ideate the Cinderella ballgown and pumpkin carriage. Destiny had something else in store for her. Hina even longed for friends. She opened her eyes in the confines of a jail.

So far, she has spent all her time inside the compound of the jail that has inmates from hardened criminals to gangsters. Ten years is a long time in jail, and that too for no fault of hers. But that’s what has been Hina’s unforgiving destiny all this while.

Her mother, Fatima, is a Pakistan national. She along with her younger sister, Mumtaz, were convicted for 10 years in jail by an Indian court. The conviction happened after three years of trial post their arrest at the Attari-Wagha border in Amritsar in May 2006 for smuggling 45 gms of drugs into India.

Fatima was then pregnant. As an undertrial, Fatima gave birth to Hina. Since then, the girl has been with her mother and aunt in the jail. Now, her mother and aunt are has been set free. So, Hina will finally be leaving India. She hopes to be in her father's arms soon.

But there is a catch here. It's about her nationality. Is she Indian or Pakistani? And if she has to travel to Pakistan, how will that be possible. Under law, Hina is an Indian since she was born in India. Her parents are Pakistan nationals. To travel to Pakistan with her mother, Hina will require an India passport. Then she will require a visa to travel to Pakistan. The documentation will require time, money and the will. If that does not happen, Hina will have to stay back longer.

Good Samaritans have come forward to help, which bring in a ray of hope for the mother and daughter. In fact, had it not been for the help of a non-government organisation (NGO), Batala-based Humanity Club, the Pakistani sisters and Hina would have had to spend another 2 years in jail.

The court, in its verdict in 2009, had imposed a fine of Rs 2 lakh each on the sisters. In the event of default, the two were sentenced to two more years in jail. That exactly what the case turned out to be. Their sentence ended November last year. Fatima, Mumtaz and Hina continued to be in jail just because they did not have money to pay fine. Fatima sought help back home from her family and husband in Gujranwala in Pakistan to pay the fine. The family did not have money to pay, and so they pleaded their helpless. The hope ended there and then.

But just when it appeared to be the end of the road, help poured in. Humanity Club has pitched in with Rs 4 lakh and paid the amount upfront. The receipt of the amount deposited in the bank was produced before the jail authorities which now paves the way for release of the sibling and Hina. The president of the NGO, Navtej Singh said he will do all it takes to help the family on humanitarian grounds.

Counsel assisting the sisters, Navjot Kaur Chabba, hopes the legal formalities do not take time and the family, which has already stayed nearly 6-months in jail, is expeditiously united with their loved ones in Pakistan. She said that Hina is an Indian citizen as she was born here. She also does not have a passport to travel to Pakistan and that the Pakistan Embassy will have to be approached with an application for a transit visa for Hina. A provisional passport and visa can be issued, she said.

 The jail staff is happy, in fact, relieved with the thought of Hina returning to her family in Pakistan. They say she was the “daughter of the jail”. Hina had little restrictions to move out of the jail barracks and play around at will. Whatever may have been the kindness manifested and put to effect all these years by the jail staff in Amritsar, Hina’s stay in jail brings forth the misery of destiny’s inexorable sudden intractable turn of events.

The jail staff once planned to send Hina to Nari Niketan. That was when she turned seven. But Fatima declined to stay without her daughter, nor did Hina want to separate from her mother, even if it meant spending years and days and nights in jail.  A writ petition was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to seek the approval for Hina to stay in the jail along with Fatima.

The bitter ties between India and Pakistan often hits repatriation of prisoners languishing in jails in both the nations. Reports suggest that there are dozens of cases where prisoners have overstayed in jails awaiting confirmation of nationality from their country. The MEA, which exchanges a list of prisoners with Pakistan twice a year in January and July, said in this context that, “we await from Pakistan confirmation of nationality of those in India’s custody who are otherwise eligible for release and repatriation”.

The sisters were arrested from the Indo-Pak peace train Samjhauta Express on May 8, 2006 at the Attari railway station. Drugs were confiscated from them. Punjab and Haryana High Court advocate Mohit Garg told DH that Hina will have to seek Pakistani citizenship on her return. For now, her birth certificate in India and school certificate will have to be produced to apply for a provisional Indian passport and visa, Mohit Garg maintained.

Hina’s journey of a decant life hasn’t yet begun. It’s a life of compromise, not by choice, that she has led all these years. A promise of a good life on hope awaits her new life in open air.

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