Published in Aman ki Asha blog The News/Jang Group on July 27, 2011
“A marriage license doesn’t come with a job description or a set of instructions. There is definitely some ‘assembly’ required. In fact, putting together a marriage can be likened to assembling an airplane in flight” - Patricia Love
Every marriage needs a lot of reassembling in social, psychological and emotional terms. But when marriages take place across the Indo-Pak border they also involve a lot of political reassembling.
Indo-Pak marriages are different from other cross-border marriages – such unions between people from these two neighbouring countries are far tougher and more challenging than marriages across oceans between people with vast cultural differences. The distance between India and Pakistan does not entail crossing oceans or even cultures but one has to cross huge mountains of hurdles in terms of legal and bureaucratic formalities.
With the pendulous political love-hate relationship that exists between the two countries, marrying and staying happily married across the border (‘pyar border paar’) is no small feat. It takes a tough mind and resilient heart to brave the challenges.
There are personal challenges involved in every marriage. But the additional challenges in Indo-Pak marriages include taking certain decisions which may be painful. As a patriotic and a proud Indian, it was hard for me to surrender my Indian passport and apply for a Pakistani. Not that I had any grudges against the latter, but to give up your national identity is an experience you have to live, to know how it feels.
You might ask why would an educated woman change her nationality? The answer is simple. No one coerced me. I did it for the desire to have a peaceful family life and for the sake of our children (who were to arrive later).
My British, Canadian and Filipino friends married to Pakistanis live without any problems in Pakistan, using their original passports. But for an Indian this is not possible.
I did quite a bit of homework before taking this life-changing decision. I knew of instances where people in this situation had retained their nationalities, leading to many practical and political challenges. Most of them advised me to swallow this bitter pill and make the change, but finally, it was entirely my own decision.
In Pakistan, the ID cards of both parents are required to obtain documents for children like B-form, passport, and ID card. A mother with an Indian passport would mean inviting trouble, with more errands from office to office, or one section officer to another, to get ‘no objection certificates’ or NOCs.
Obtaining a visa to visit family across the border is any case a Herculean task if you don’t have connections in the high offices. And for a family like ours living in a third country I would, if I had maintained my Indian nationality, have to go through the gruelling process of obtaining a Pakistani visa each time we were to visit Pakistan. By giving up my nationality and becoming a Pakistani, I thought at least we have to struggle for the visa on one side only, when my children and husband want to visit India.
Unfortunately, my having been a born Indian, lived there for 23 years, and having parents still living there, does not mean that my husband and children will be given any extra consideration when they apply for an Indian visa. I know this is also the case for Pakistani women who are married and live in India. The visa policies work on a reciprocal basis.
Our visa troubles are not a once in a while exercise, but an annual struggle. The struggle which I have been undertaking for the past twenty years, almost each year, to visit my ageing parents exactly the way any married woman aspires to visit her family. As the time nears for the visa application, I always shudder with the apprehension of “What if…”
Families like ours have no choice but to face this ordeal every time they want to visit ‘home’. Visas may be sometimes facilitated and expedited for artists going on a cultural exchange or for businessmen but the procedure, the requirements, the scrutiny, the hurdles are all exactly the same for people like us. We have to stand in the same queue as those applying for a visit visa for a conference or meeting (there is no ‘tourist’ visa between our two countries), to visit to meet distant relatives once or maybe twice in a lifetime.
Each time I stand in front of the visa submission window of the Consulate of the country where I was born, which I still love and own as I did then, I feel as if I am being punished for my audacious decision to marry across border. My counterparts across the border must be feeling the same, I am sure.
Once, I was exceptionally lucky: I obtained an Indian visa while sipping a cup of coffee in the office of the Consul General, when the Consulate was in Karachi. The CG turned out to be my father’s student. We followed the usual application procedure of course, but he expedited it. Then, as we left, a plainclothes official intercepted my husband and asked for our purpose of having visited the CG’s room. He said that our car’s plate number had been noted and that we must not repeat this again.
All told, in the 21 years of my marriage I have been lucky that despite the hurdles and the painful waiting times, I have not faced any serious disappointments in ultimately obtaining a visa for India.
The only time I faced a major setback was after the Kargil war, when tensions were so high that I could not visit my parents for three years, despite running from pillar to post, pulling various influential strings. Then, not even ‘high connections’ were willing to go out of their way to help me. However, for a vast majority of women from India married to Pakistanis, especially those living in Pakistan, it is by no means smooth sailing.
The writer is an Indian gynaecologist and women’s health activist, married to a Pakistani. She blogs at http://thinkloud65.wordpress.com/