By Eram Agha
ALIGARH: As audiences in both Pakistan and India rave over Salman Khan starrer ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’, the story of one little girl from Pakistan lost in India, here is the story of young Salman, born in Aligarh, stranded in Karachi.
From her home in Jaiganj, Aligarh, 24-year-old Salman’s mother Salma struggles with renewed vigour to get her son back. She always carries with her two photographs – one taken in India in 1993 and the other in Pakistan in 2006.
In the first, a little boy sits in her lap. A child has merrily doodled over her face. In the second, the boy, grown now, stands a little away. “He thought I was his sister, he had not seen me, all the while he was growing up,” the 48-year-old says.
The story begins with a trip Salma made in 1994 to visit her parents in Karachi on a Noori visa – a visa that allows Pakistani women married to Indian men 90 days in the country of their origin, after thorough background checks are made by the state home department.
Accompanying Salma on that trip were two of her sons – she returned to India with just one.
She says she was forced to leave Salman, then only two years old, with his grand parents. He was terribly sick. Salma did not think it wise to extend her stay and wait for her son to recover. That might have meant trouble with authorities on either side of the border.
She returned to her large family. She is the mother of seven; Salman is her fifth child. With several small children to take care of, with deaths of parents-in-law and failing health of her husband Hafiz Viqar Ahmad, diagnosed with complications resulting from diabetes, she found it hard to plan a trip to Pakistan to bring her son back. Besides, his grandparents were taking good care of him. A childless sister had even informally adopted him.
Over two decades later, however, with her father dead and her mother in poor health, Salma finds that even her childless sister would now like to wash her hands of Salman. The boy too wants to return, unable to work there and living in fear of being discovered as an “illegal” resident.
Writing to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad on March 23, 2013, the family sought aid in getting the son back. They had previously attempted to get the Ministry of External Affairs to intervene, sending a fax in 2012 explaining the circumstances under which the youth came to live in Pakistan. On April 5this year, in a letter to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, the parents of Salman asked, “Our son is neither a Pakistani nor an Indian. How can we get him back?”
Salman’s father said, “His grandfather died in 2004. Some years later, even his grandmother fell ill. The sister-in-law who was the adopted mother of our son wanted to abandon him.”
Salma said, “We have been going from one office to another. He has no documents to show he is either a citizen of Pakistan or of India. Pakistan says his father holds an Indian passport, so he is technically Indian. India says he has been living in Pakistan for 22 years, it is best that he gets a Pakistani passport.”
The couple has approached officials in Aligarh with copies of their ration card and passport, which show Salman as their son. They also have his birth certificate. Officials, they say, plead helplessness.
Aligarh MP Satish Gautam says he will no approach external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. “This separation is unfortunate. We will have to look at circumstances in which it occurred. I will take the matter up with Sushma Swaraj,” Gautam told TOI.
Officials at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad that TOI spoke to, however, denied having received any request for the youth’s return to India. The officer said officials at the commission were available to look into such requests, “as and when approached”.
Meanwhile, Salman continues to write home, asking his parents to make it possible for him to return. When he was sick one time, two of his sisters had travelled to Karachi, and taken him Rs 50,000.
But that is not something they can do often. “We don’t have that kind of money. It’s not easy,” Salma said. “We’re stuck.”