TWO YEARS ago, in the winter of 2017, Sidra Rafique (32), a Pashto-speaking woman from Mansehra district in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, had crossed over to India via Wagah. For the newly-wed bride and her husband Ramish Aman (28) from Haldwani of Nainital, India’s former external affairs minister late Sushma Swaraj had played cupid.
Responding to Sidra’s request for visa on Twitter in no time, Swaraj wrote, ‘’Sidra – Hindustan apni betiyon aur bahuon ka visa inkaar nahi karta. Tumhe visa zaroor milega (India doesn’t reject visas of its daughters and daughters-in-law. You will surely get a visa)…”
Sidra and Ramish’s story dates back to 2008. They had to cross several hurdles including resistance from Sidra’s family before finally getting married in Rawalpindi on November 22, 2017. However, if it wasn’t for Swaraj, who approved Sidra’s visa for India, the wedding would have never taken place. “Her visa was already rejected before too and my in-laws had declared that if it is rejected again, there will be no wedding as my wife won’t be able to shift to India,” says Ramish.
Immediately after Swaraj’s reply to Twitter, the Indian embassy in Pakistan contacted Sidra and her visa was ready within hours.
Despite all this, today, Sidra’s life is far from a happy one. Nearly two years after her three-month short term visa granted by Swaraj expired and she applied for a Long Term Visa (LTV) (see box) in February 2018, the application still remains pending. The couple hasn’t been given any reasons by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) or the local Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for the same. As a result, Sibra and Ramish cannot live together. Sibra cannot step out of Haldwani, while her husband works in Delhi.
The couple says that the amended citizenship law has made them even more wary. “I wish Sushma ji was alive today. She might have given me an answer on why my LTV is still pending. She had called me daughter-in-law of India and because of her I was able to come to India. But now because of my pending LTV, I cannot move anywhere. I cannot even visit Delhi to live with my husband,” says Sidra.
Ramish, a software engineer working in Delhi, says, “This is human rights violation. Right before her 3-month visa was about to expire, we had applied for LTV on February 6, 2018 and till date it is pending with no reasons given to us. Since her residential permit (RP) is only for Haldwani where my parents live, she cannot come to Delhi to live with me. She cannot even move around in Nainital district. We can get her LTV extended till Delhi but for that we need an LTV first. It has been two years and we still aren’t living together. Now, with the amendment in citizenship law making norms stricter for Pakistani Muslims, our fears have grown. What if she is asked to leave India? And without LTV, she cannot even apply for citizenship later. We wish Sushma ji was alive today. Now, no one cares to reply or give any reasons on why my wife is being treated like this. She came to India on a valid visa and passport. She is married to an Indian citizen.”
Sidra, who has visited Delhi just once after getting married (when her earlier visa was valid), says people in India have been good to her but her pending LTV has made her life miserable. “Every other day, my father-in-law or I call the FRRO or MHA or MEA but they always say my application is pending. I do not know why or where my file is stuck. I cannot apply for citizenship till I get LTV and I cannot even move beyond Haldwani. We are ready to follow all rules, get all enquiries done and give all documents but a reason should be given on why my LTV is not being given,” she says. A qualified computer engineer, Sidra cannot even work or apply for a job in India without LTV (which is required for a work permit).
In June, when Sidra had to visit Pakistan to meet her family for a few days, she faced several inquiries and apprehensions before being given a NORI (No Objection to Return to India) visa, which is given to LTV holders. “Since her LTV was pending, her return to India might not have been allowed but finally when we showed them our pending LTV application, she was given NORI. Every few months, intelligence bureau and other officials visit our home in Haldwani to know her whereabouts. If she is not home and even goes to the market, she is called back home and officials leave only after assuring she hasn’t moved beyond Haldwani. We are ready to abide by all laws but when all documents have been submitted, why we are being denied the right to live together? She can’t live like a jailbird,” says Ramish.
“I am being made to feel like I made a mistake loving and marrying a woman from Pakistan. What if she is deported and asked to leave India? Where will she go? I will be responsible for spoiling her life…What is her fault?” he asks.
MHA spokesperson Vasudha Gupta did not respond to queries despite several attempts. However, a senior official from MHA told The Indian Express, “After LTV application, applicants are granted six months’ extension to their short term visa but there is no fixed time binding on MHA to grant LTV. Generally people do get it within six months to one year but MHA is not bound to give it within any specified time limit. There is no exception in rules for people from Pakistan.”
How persons from other countries married to Indians get citizenship
A person who is married to an Indian national can apply for Indian citizenship under the section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act. The clause (1)(c) of section 5 which provides for ‘Citizenship by registration’, reads, “…..The central government may, on an application made in this behalf, register as citizen of India, any person not being an illegal immigrant …. who is married to a citizen of India and is ordinarily resident in India for seven years before making an application for registration”.
As per MHA rules, for such applicants, mandatory documents include a copy of a valid foreign passport, a copy of valid residential permit (RP)/Long Term Visa (LTV), evidence of his/her spouse’s Indian nationality and a copy of marriage certificate issued by the registrar.
However, the rules add that there are certain ‘exemptions’ for uploading documents if ‘nationality of a person is Pakistan/Afghanistan and the person belongs to minority community (Hindus/Sikhs) in the respective country and person’s entry date in India was before 31/12/2009.’ For instance, it says, ‘If you don’t have a passport, then in place of passport, you may upload visa/RP document’ and ‘it is not an issue even if visa/RP has expired. Please enter expiry date’.
What is an LTV?
A Long Term Visa (LTV) is a mandatory document issued by the MHA for a minimum of one year or maximum five years to nationals of other countries ‘coming to India on valid documents such as visa and passport and seeking permanent settlement in India with a view to acquire Indian citizenship’, as per the MHA website.
‘Pakistan/Bangladesh persons married to Indian nationals and staying in India’ are among several categories of people who are eligible for LTV. Another document, a Residential Permit (RP), is also issued to such persons, allowing their stay in India at a particular address. After completing seven years of stay in India as an ‘ordinary resident’, they can then apply for Indian citizenship under the section 5(1)(c) of the Citizenship Act.
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