Stranded in Pakistan, Hindus on long-term visas desperate to return to India
Thirty-three-year-old Janta Mali has been stuck in Pakistan since February after she went there with her husband and three children to see her ailing mother in Mirpur Khas before the Covid-19 lockdown was clamped.
In the last week of June, India and Pakistan operated a shuttle service for people stuck on both sides of the border due to the pandemic. Being Indian citizens, the husband and the children returned to Jodhpur but Janta Mali, a Pakistani living in Jodhpur on long-term visa since 2007, was denied permission to travel.
Like her, several Pakistani immigrants, who visited Pakistan to meet relatives or renew passports and other identity cards, are stranded. The immigrants visited Pakistan on No Objection Return to India (NORI) visa valid for 60 days. That period is long over.
In 2017, Rajasthan High Court had taken suo motu cognisance of the deportation of Pakistani nationals from minority communities. During hearing on it on Wednesday, amicus curiae Sajjan Singh Rathore raised this issue in the division bench of justices Sangeet Lodha and Rameshwar Vyas.
“Due to the expiry of the (NORI) visa and closure of international routes, many people are stranded in Pakistan,” he told the court.
The court has sought response from the Central and state governments on this.
Rathore said the NORI visa of Janta Mali and others who went to Pakistan was not extended by the MEA. Many Hindus in Pakistan immigrate to India to escape religious persecution and stay here on LTV until they become eligible for Indian citizenship.
The extended stay in Pakistan may jeopardise that, said Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangthan, an organisation working for Indian citizenship to Hindus from Pakistan.
“The period of NORI is 60 days. If they do not return in these 60 days, their NORI gets expired and they have to apply fresh for the visas. When this happens, their previous stay in India will not be counted for grant of citizenship,” he said. “Their NORI visas should be extended and they should be allowed to return to India,” Sodha said.
The Seemant Lok Sangthan also wrote to the Central government on July 11, requesting intervention in the matter. It also wrote to Subodh Agarwal, the Rajasthan official in charge of coordination cell overseeing return of Indian nationals.
The state government had written to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs last month to intervene in the matter of stranded people.
Meanwhile, the responsibility of raising the three children – Kuldeep (9), Mohit (8) and Chanchal (6) – has now fallen on Leelaram, Janta Mali’s husband.
“The children talk to their mother through WhatsApp video call but she starts crying on seeing them,” Leelaram said.