It’s a Diwali gift that India can afford: Freedom for a 15-year-old Pakistani boy who followed his dreams and walked across the border to meet Shah Rukh Khan — but is now behind bars at a Faridkot home for juvenile offenders. <b1>
Meri ammi bahut pareshan hogi. Mere bhai mujhe yaad karke rote honge aur main yahan ro raha hoon (my mother must be very upset and my brothers must be crying too, just like me here),” Nasir Sultan told the Hindustan Times from behind bars on Saturday.
“I came here to fulfill my dream of winning the Sa-Re-Ga-Ma-Pa contest and follow Shah Rukh Khan to make it big in Bollywood,” explained Nasir, crestfallen and terrified. “I thought I just had to reach Mumbai to win the contest and then become another Shah Rukh Khan.” <b2>
It’s clear that Nasir isn’t a spy, saboteur or criminal. Though India and Pakistan have a long history of incarcerating for years innocents who cross the border, there have been stray instances when good sense has prevailed.
Right now, Nasir’s freedom will depend on the goodwill of local authorities and pressure, if any, from New Delhi. <b3>
Otherwise, he could spend an indefinite time — even years — behind bars.
The teenager has already been in Indian custody for 40 days after being picked up by a Border Security Force patrol. He faces trial in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate Jatinder Singh Behniwal in Ferozepur for violating the Indian Passport Act.
It is now up to the Punjab police to withdraw the case, and for the judge to accept it. That’s the route to freedom.
On August 16, Nasir left home as usual for school in a white shalwar-kameez. But the Government High School in Gunwardi, Upper Dir district, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, wasn’t his destination that Saturday.
“When I first came here I was certain I would die here. There was no hope of ever seeing my family again,” said Nasir, who still fears a beating from his father, Sultan, if and when he returns home.
Nasir has no idea that passports and visas are required to cross borders.
Khuda ke liye reham karein, hamara bachcha wapas bhej dein (for god’s sake, show us some mercy, please send our child back home, his father, Sultan Zareen, told HT from his home in Dir in the remote North-West Frontier Province.
Sultan said the family hunted “high and low” for Nasir: from the Wagah border to Karachi for 15 days. “And, then we gave up,” he said. “There was nothing more to be done.” On October 14, the family received a call from the Faridkot district court premises, said Sultan, who works as an attendant at a petrol pump in Chitral, Pakistan.
That’s when the family found out their boy was alive.
Nasir said Sultan would never have allowed him to go to Mumbai. “So, on August 16, I dressed in school uniform left home for school.”
“I took a bus for Lahore and then to Kasur [close to the Indian border]. Then, I continued walking till some Indian BSF men spotted me. My nightmare time started after BSF personnel started questioning and then sent me to police,” he said.
Naseer hates the overcrowded juvenile home, where 36 juveniles are kept in three dingy rooms. There is one television. He usually spends his time in a corner of the cell and now occasionally watches television.
“Ever since he came here, Nasir hardly uttered a sound,” said the head of the juvenile home, Chhinderpal Kaur. “He was in deep depression and was always submissive and quiet.”
An Islamabad-based group, the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), has taken up Nasir’s case. It has written to Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan, Satyabrata Pal, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
“The boy’s case requires sympathy and compassion,” Rafiq Khan, National Manager (Child Protection) of Sparc, said from Islamabad. A Pakistani Federal Minister, Najmuddin Khan, has also taken up Nasir’s case with his own government. <b4>
“The parents and other relatives of the boy, realising the gravity of the matter, are very worried. They are putting all their hopes on the government of Pakistan to help them in getting the son released from the Indian authorities at an early date,” Najmuddin Khan wrote in a letter to Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
Sultan Zareen blamed himself for his son’s departure as well. “I didn’t understand the impact of cable TV and videos on my child,” he said. “Nasir used to say that I, too, will go to India and join the movies.”
It’s unlikely Nasir will ever get to Bollywood. But he can get home — if India lets him.