July 2007 News

Pak-born, Raised In J&K, Now Stateless

12 July 2007
The Times of India

Srinagar: She was born in Pakistan to a Kashmiri father and a Pakistani mother but has lived most of her life in a village near the north Kashmir town of Bandipore. In her 20s, Safia is now being asked by authorities in Jammu & Kashmir to return to Pakistan. But the feisty girl is fighting for Indian citizenship in a local court with the help of her stepfather Ghulam Rabbani Khan. Safia's prayer before the court is, 'I have nobody in Pakistan. Who will I go to?' Stories like these, though not commonplace, are familiar in Kashmir. Safia's father, Mati-ullah Khan, had gone to Mansera (now in Pakistan) during the tumultuous days of 1947. He later married Kafia Begum, a Pakistani citizen. Six months later the couple had a girl child, around 1987, they travelled to Bandipore with proper Pakistani passports and valid Indian visa. Mati-ullah reclaimed his share of ancestral land in Chottimullah village near Bandipore and continued living with his six brothers on the basis of an application demanding restoration of his status as a state subject. All was well for several years until insurgency erupted in Kashmir and authorities began questioning Mati-ullah and his family's credentials. Meanwhile, Mati-ullah had two more children and passed away in 1997. Kafia Begum later married her late husband's nephew Ghulam Rabbani. By law, the wife of a state subject automatically becomes a state subject of J&K. But government agencies continued to pressurise the family to send Matiulla's daughter Safia back to Pakistan. 'Let all of us cross over to Pakistan in that case. I will not allow just the girl to be repatriated,' says Rabbani. Safia and Rabbani are now fighting a court battle. The case shall come up for hearing on July 28, the day the court expects Safia to be present along with her 10-year-old brother Altaf, who was born in Chottimullah. According to Safia's lawyer, Mohammad Amin Bhat, 'Safia has married a relative from her father's side pending a formal ceremony to strengthen her claim over citizenship.' In a similar incident, a Pakistani citizen, Ghulam Mohammad Javeed, met his family in Srinagar after 36 years recently. Javeed belonged to Turtuk, a town close to LoC. He was just 10 when he had gone to Pakistan for studies; when he returned he found he had been separated from his family: his village was now part of J&K following a redrawn LoC after the 1971 war. Although Javeed could subsequently meet his mother and other siblings, he couldn't see his father, an 87-year-old man who couldn't travel from Turtuk to Srinagar. Javeed's visa was valid only for Srinagar. But CBMs like Srinagar- Muzaffarabad bus service have little meaning for people like Safia and Javeed.


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