My article in Aman ki Asha today, re-posted here with links and more photos/documents. I’ve since been informed that Idrees is living in the compound of Police Administration (Police Line), Kanpur, under constant surveillance by two officers. He last communicated with his family over a year ago.
You know it’s India-Pakistan when… overstaying a 15-day visa after a family tragedy leads to ten years in prison and a man’s continued 13-year separation from his wife and four sons .
By Beena Sarwar
The case of Mohammad Idrees Alam is a prime example of how people suffer due to the bureaucratic wrangling between India and Pakistan.
Stuck in India, he has been unable to meet his wife and four children in Pakistan for the last 13 years. Pakistan and India both refuse to verify his citizenship. He is, as the BBC termed it in a radio report of Oct 22, 2012, ‘The Nowhere Man’.
Originally an Indian citizen, he went to Pakistan in 1986 to visit relatives. While there, he got married and opted to stay on, obtaining Pakistani citizenship. In 1999, his father Ahmed Jan in Kanpur became seriously ill and in May, Idrees went to India on a 15-day visa. His father passed away, and Idrees, embroiled in last rites and legalities, overstayed his visa by a couple of months.
When he approached the authorities in July to explain the situation, he was arrested. Since then he has been stuck in India, separated from his wife and four children in Karachi.
K. M. Yadav, a member of the newly formed India Pakistan Families Solidarity Association (IPFSA), filed a Right to Information (RTI) appeal about Idrees’ case in July 2012. The 10-page response from the Home Ministry dated Aug 16, 2012 reveals a long bureaucratic nightmare that has left Idrees virtually stateless, unable to go back to Pakistan to be with this wife and in Karachi.
The name is spelt Idris in the correspondence between Mr Yadav and the Indian Home Ministry, but Idrees in the visa application for India. Copies of all these documents, including his Pakistan Nationality Identity Card and ‘B’ form listing his wife and children are with IPFSA as well as this writer.
Here is the sequence of events that emerges from the RTI response by the Home Ministry:
On July 12, 1999, a case was registered against Idrees under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act and he was imprisoned to Kanpur jail. A little over ten years later, on Aug 6, 2009, the Special Chief Judicial Magistrate in Kanpur fined him Rs 500 with the ten-year detention he had already undergone in Kanpur jail as his punishment.
The CJM ordered him to be repatriated to Pakistan, and he was taken to the Attari-Wagah border on Aug 8, 2012, for that purpose. However, since his Pakistani passport had expired, the authorities on the Pakistan side refused him entry.
He was then sent to Tihar jail in New Delhi, where he was finally provided Consular access with the Pakistan High Commission on Oct 1, 2009. The High Commission sent the case for the confirmation of Idrees’ nationality status for verification to Islamabad.
It must have seemed like a bad April Fool’s joke to Idrees that the Pakistan High Commission finally reverted on April 1, 2010, stating the Pakistani authorities to whom the case had been sent for confirmation of nationality status had refused to verify it, and that Idrees is an “Indian national”.
The matter then went back and forth between the Indian Home Ministry, the Ministry of External Affairs, the Government of Uttar Pradesh, and the Pakistan High Commission. The Pakistan High Commission again informed the Ministry of External Affairs, India via a Note Verbale dated Aug 5, 2010 that the case had been re-examined, and Idrees was again declared as an Indian national.
It was nearly two years later that another Consular Access was arranged for Idrees, on July 24, 2012 at Tihar Jail, New Delhi. This too, led to nothing.
Pakistan continues to deny him nationality.
“At a time when estranged South Asian siblings India and Pakistan are taking steps to mend their relationship through increased cross border people-to-people contacts and a liberal visa regime, 45-year-old Idrees is a forgotten victim and a tragic reminder of how animosity between nations can tear apart the lives of individual’s families,” as the BBC report aptly put it.
There is currently no case against Idrees in India, but he remains in Kanpur under custody of the District Administration, under suspicion, not accepted as a citizen, dependent on charity, out of touch with his family in Karachi, and losing hope as he waits for the Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi to confirm his citizenship. This, apparently, is not forthcoming reportedly because Idrees has spent more then 10 years in India as an offender or a suspect. This Catch-22 prevents him from returning to Pakistan and reuniting with his family. What are his options, really?