NEW DELHI: It was, as Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said, a meeting of two mothers. Uzma Ahmed wiped the tears from her eyes as she hugged her mother. And then, as her eyes welled up again, she bent down to pick up her three-year-old daughter.
Delhi resident Uzma, back home today after a harrowing time in Pakistan, broke down often at an interaction with the media here.
Forced to marry a Pakistani national identified as Tahir Ali, she managed to return to India after the Islamabad High Court allowed her to leave Pakistan, forcing Ali, who had taken away her immigration papers, to return them to her. She recounted a tale of horror, of being forced to live in a "Taliban-like region" in Pakistan, which she described as a "well of death".
Questions were not asked at the conference organised by the Ministry of External Affairs, so the details of her story were often hazy. She had met Ali in Malaysia, and the two had fallen in love.
She left for Pakistan with him sometime in the beginning of May, she said. "My plan of going to Pakistan was for leisure. I had planned to return by May 10 or 12.
But, it wasn't like that at all when I reached there. You can call it a kidnapping situation," she said. "After we crossed the Wagah Border, nothing felt right," she said. At some point of time, she said, she had been given a sleeping pill by Ali and taken to "an unusual village" called Buner. Uzma, it seemed, had been taken to the remote Buner district in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, where she was married to Ali on May 3, allegedly at gunpoint. "The language was totally different there and the people were unusual, too. I was kept there, and I was beaten up," she said. There were "big guns" in the house where she was put up, and Ali carried a pistol with him, she said. She could hear sounds of firing every day. "I realised I may not have been alone there.
There were other girls, perhaps not Indian nationals, maybe from the Philippines. Many of girls there have not been able to leave the place," she said. Emotionally overwhelmed, she often cried while narrating her story at the briefing, in which minister Swaraj was also present. Uzma said she was an "adopted child" but the government made her feel she was "India's daughter".
She thanked Swaraj, her ministry and officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad for ensuring her safe return. "I am here today only because of Sushma Ma'am, who kept track of me all through this episode. She told me that I was 'Hindustan ki Beti', her daughter, and that I need not worry.
These words gave me strength when I was totally torn inside," she said. It was not clear how she reached Islamabad from Buner. But once there, she took refuge at the Indian High Commission, which took up her case, providing her with legal aid. "She (Swaraj) told me that I could stay at the high commission for even 2-3 years but she would not let me go back to that man (Tahir).
I had never expected that the government would do so much for me," Uzma added. Swaraj, while recalling the episode, said Uzma was so distressed that she told high commission officials she would commit suicide if she was not rescued. "She came to the mission counter, and she had such a terrified look on her face that we immediately took her inside and gave her all support," India's Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan J P Singh said. The Islamabad High Court yesterday allowed her to return to India after she appealed to the court to direct Ali to return her documents. Soon after crossing the Wagah Border into India, she kissed the ground and touched the soil to her forehead -- a gesture that Swaraj said "indeed made her India's daughter". "You sent out a powerful message with that gesture. And, for us at the MEA, it was a compliment, as you reposed faith in our mission in a foreign land," Swaraj said. "Your identity as an Indian national was enough for us to help you," the minister asserted. Uzma called Pakistan a place which was easy to go to but difficult to return from. "It is a well of death ('maut ka kuan')," she said. "Touching the soil of my homeland, I heaved a sigh of relief. I could breathe the air of freedom. There is no place in the world like India."