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Published in the 16-31 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

New year cheer for "Pak citizens" in Kerala

Calicut: The decision of the Union Home Ministry to allow India-born Pakistani passport holders in the Malabar region of Kerala has instilled great elation and glee in the families of 218 frail old men who heaved a sigh of relief as their ordeal, due to the threat of deportation and related harassment, came to an end. They praised God Almighty that their prayer had eventually been heard. It was their cherished desire to spend the twilight of their life with kith and kin in their native places and breath their last in their presence. Euphoria showed on their faces when the news of the Union Home Ministry’s decision came as boon on the new year day. 

After much deliberations and discussions in the State Assembly, the Chief Minister forwarded the issue for the attention of the Union Home Minister. The first meeting of the Pak passport holders was held in February 2003 at the Cooperative College, Malappuram, under the aegis of the Kerala Pravasi Sanghom, in order to solve the issue after listening to their woes of harassment due to the threat of deportation. Some of these frail and old men in their late 60s, narrated their tragic tales and bitter experience both in India and Pakistan. A frightening experience the Pak citizens encountered was adventurous and chilling and could match some Hollywood horror movies. They were victims of deceit and fraud at the hands of some Arab boatmen who had lured them, under the disguise of recruiting agents, with promises of highly paid jobs in the oil rich Gulf and ferried them in motor boats from the shore of Gujarat. They had been brought earlier from Ahemadabad, where they had been working in hotels and shops since late 1960s. They were in a comparatively good position to earn some money which could enable them to support their families in Malabar. They paid their hard earned money to the boatmen.. But to their great shock, after a few days of sea voyage, they were forced to jump into the sea near the shores of Godhra bordering Karachi seaport, and those who could swim reached somewhere near the Karachi port, and the unfortunate ones drowned in the sea. Later nothing could be heard of them. 

Most of these men were semi-literate, speaking only Malayalam and ignorant of the territory and hence strangers to the Urdu speaking Pakistanis. With the help of some Malabaris who had earlier settled in Karachi prior to the partition, these new entrants got menial jobs in the city’s hotels and shops. But due to lack of communication skills in Urdu, they had to work for a pittance and they again fell in the trap of unscrupulous agents who provided them with some fake travel documents. In late 1970s, they returned to their native places on Pak passports and arrived in Malabar, Kerala. 

But on their arrival in Kerala, they have been subjected to various harassments such as reporting at local police stations every day and on the expiry of their visa, the threat of deportation was hanging over them. During their stay, some of them have fallen ill and are bedridden. One of these unfortunate folks is surviving on a pacemaker. The frail and aged ones last desire was to spend the twilight of their life with their families and relatives. But the stringent Foreigners’ Registration Act, and related rules and regulations, and surveillance of the Police and the Intelligence Agencies in India further added to their pathetic conditions. Throughout their traumatic years of overstaying in their homeland being aliens under threat of deportation to Pakistan, some of them had been taken to the Wagah border check post, accompanied by the Police officials, but in some cases, Pak authorities refused them entry to Pakistan since they had lost Pak passports during their stay in their home towns. Then again, they were brought back to India and put under judicial custody. Such shuttling had been going on almost regular basis.

Their gathering at Malappuram early last year helped them to get some solace because of the intervention of some local MLAs and MPs who brought their woes to the attention of the Chief Minister of Kerala. The Chief Minister, A K Antony, took their case on humanitarian grounds to the Union Home Minister in December, 2003. The role of A Vijayaraghavan, MP, was significant in securing Indian citizenship for these wretched people. The thaw in relations between India and Pakistan was an unexpected boon for 218 Pak passport holders who concentrated in Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kannur districts of Kerala. "Let us hope that we can now put those wretched tales behind us forever". We are all praying that other Pak citizens who are below 60 years old will join the ranks of the rescued, sharing the cheers." Thumbil Ahmed, Pak Malabari, who had overstayed expressed his gratitude to the Almighty Allah. 

- K Hamza

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