After a lifetime in Kolkata,a bitter parting ahead for this Kabuliwala

Kolkata’s most famous ‘Kabuliwala’,Tagore’s Rahamat Khan,had left the city with uncertainty,but with hopes of a happy reunion with his family.

Written by Subrata Nagchoudhury | Kolkata | Published: June 28, 2010 4:12 am

Fleeing Afghanistan,Gul Mohammed Khan found a home,job and family in the city

Kolkata’s most famous ‘Kabuliwala’,Tagore’s Rahamat Khan,had left the city with uncertainty,but with hopes of a happy reunion with his family. But as India and Pakistan p ledge to reduce mutual trust deficit,an Afghan refugee’s love story with India is drawing to a tragic end in the city.

Gul Mohammed Khan,who had arrived in March 1984 and stayed on for over quarter of a century,has been served with a “Quit India” notice.

“Mera kasoor kya hai?” asked Gul as he prepared to leave. “If I have done anything wrong,put me in jail. Why ask me to quit the country that I had come to regard as my own?”

Gul,who was 35 when he came and will soon be touching 60, cannot go back to his home in Jalalabad for fear of persecution — that the reason he had fled in 1984.

After arriving in India without a passport,he managed to approach the United Nations Committee for Human Rehabilitation (UNCHR) and procured a “refugee” status.

The UNCHR has once again come to his aid,providing him and his children with a “rehabilitation” scheme and a home in the Netherlands for 18 months.

The move will also split the family. Gul’s wife Samira will only get a temporary visa and will have to be back in Kolkata eventually. The UNHCR cannot provide her with a rehab offer as she is not a refugee. Gul has little option but to make the sacrifice.

But why was Gul told to leave India while 2,000 Afghan refugees are happily settled in Kolkata?

Shakeel Ahmed,the Deputy Commissioner of the Security Control of Kolkata police,which looks after foreigners in Kolkata,did not have a clear answer. “There must have been grounds for deportation,” he said. Documents accessed by The Indian Express shows a grey area. In 1999,Gul was booked under the Foreigner’s Act and judged guilty. But he received no punishment.

In its submission to the court,the police described him as a man of “suspicious nature “ and charged him for not submitting ‘Form C’ for running a guesthouse from Kolkata’s 30F Mirza Gahlib Street.

“All the charges are framed,” said Gul. “The truth is that the police came asking for money as my business flourished. When I refused to oblige,they slapped these fake charges and moved for my deportation.”

The documents show that after coming to Kolkata in 1984,Gul set up an STD/ISD booth with a permit from the telecom department. He also carried out a business as a general order supplier. In 1994,he married Samira. They have four children.

He made substantial investments meanwhile,to take a 99-year lease on the guesthouse,“Hotel Gulistan”. He also began filing his IT returns.

According to Gul,this was when he fell out with security people. On July 28,1997,he was served with a notice,which asked him to leave India within 15 days. It was “harassment”,said Gul. He applied for citizenship.

Observing that he failed to understand “why Gul was not deported after his conviction under the Foreigners Act earlier,” the judge dismissed his appeal.

Gul’s appeal for citizenship was not valid under the civil procedure code which is for the benefit of Indian nationals only,he said.

But despite the order,Gul stayed on in Kolkata. The concerned officials have no answer as to why he was not deported immediately.

The matter resurfaced in 2008 in connection with Gul’s petition challenging the “leave India” notice. A single bench judge of the Calcuta High Court dismissed his plea. But it took over two years for the police and state authorities to implement the order.

When Gul arrived in India 26 years ago,Afghanistan was under Soviet occupation and the mujahideens were fighting back.

“You belong to either side,you will be dead,” he said. “So I found my road to India through Pakistan. But this country has changed. Afghans always thought whatever happened to the rest of the world,one can have a safe shelter in India.”

This also explains the continuous trickle of Afghan refugees into India. Currently there are around 6,000,including about 2,000 in Kolkata and 4,000 in Kashmir Valley. The Centre has granted “refugee status” to these migrants.

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