March 7, 2019, would always be a special day for Rajani Premnath. It is the day she found herself in tears, but also extremely happy. Rajani was among the 45 Pakistani nationals who were granted Indian citizenship on Thursday.
Rajani (61), a member of the Telgu Dhobi community, was born in Pune in 1957 and lived in the city till her late teens. In 1983, she got married to Premnath Babu, a Pakistani national and a member of the same community, and moved to Karachi.
“My husband worked in Dubai and my in-laws lived in Pakistan. After my marriage, I shifted to Pakistan and became a Pakistani citizen. I lived there for about 20 years. We lived in a temple in Karachi. I gave birth to six children in Pakistan. But as the situation around us became worse, we started feeling insecure and left Pakistan due to concerns about our safety,” she says.
Rajani and her children moved to Pune in 2004. “… My husband also came to Pune in 2006. Since then, we have been living in the city and wanted to get Indian citizenship. We applied for it in 2016… today, my husband and I were granted the citizenship. All my children have also applied for it and hopefully they will also get their Indian citizenship certificates soon,” she said.
Rajani, who lives in Khadki, added, “My parents, a sister and three brothers, all lived in India, but I had to shift to Pakistan after my marriage. Had my mother been alive, she would have been very happy to see me become an Indian again…”.
Rajani’s family has faced its share of ups and downs since moving to India. “My husband works as a contractor in the automobile sector. He faced lot of problems after shifting to India from Pakistan. We managed to earn our living only after a lot of struggle. All these years, we avoided talking about our Pakistan nationality for obvious reasons. Now, things would be easy,” she said.
Citizenship path made easier for ‘minorities’ from Pak
Pune was among the few cities in India whose district administration was authorised two years ago to grant Indian citizenship to applicants from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan residing in their jurisdictions. This power given to the district administration was meant to be exercised only in the case of applicants belonging to minority communities — Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians — in those countries. In Pune, a few hundred Pakistani nationals are said to be living on long-term visa, and many of them have filed for Indian citizenship.
“I was born Indian. I am very happy that I became an Indian again… Local residents in Pune and the Indian government supported us,” said Rajani.
As per an order by the Union Home Ministry, issued in December 2016, the district collectors of Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and Thane were conferred with the power to grant citizenship to minorities from Pakistan living in their jurisdictions. Accordingly, Pune District Collector Naval Kishor Ram on Thursday handed over Indian citizenship certificates to 45 Pakistani nationals residing in Pune. Most of them belong to the Sindhi community, while a few like Rajani are from other communities. One of them, Sunny Gogia, has waited 29 years to receive his citizenship. “I came to India with my family when I was a 40-day-old baby. I have been living in India all these years, but officially, I became an Indian today. It is a special moment for me. My sisters have also got Indian citizenship today,” said Gogia (29).
Niranjan Ramnani (51), a resident of Pimpri, who also received Indian citizenship on Thursday, said, “I can’t explain my happiness in words. I was born in Pakistan and I came to India in 2009 with my wife and children due to safety concerns.”
Raju Thakur, who was granted Indian citizenship last year, said, “… Earlier, the process was not easy. I came to India in 1982 and got Indian citizenship in 2018. We thank the government for its efforts…”. Social activist Balasaheb Runwal, who has been helping these people for a long time, said, “This is the first time in Pune that as many as 45 Pakistani nationals got Indian citizenship on the same day. There are still nearly 200 Pakistani nationals in the city who are waiting for Indian citizenship. The district collector and his team, city MP Anil Shirole and Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir supported us and ensured that the process was expedited.”
The 45 new Indian citizens felicitated Naval Kishor Ram, distributed sweets and raised slogans of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’. Ram said the names all those receiving citizenship will be added in the voters’ lists and they can avail all facilities meant for Indian citizens.
The Pune district collectorate has received about 165 applications from Pakistani nationals seeking Indian citizenship, of which 70 have been processed so far and 45 cleared for citizenship certificates after verification of essential documents.