KARWAR : Anxiety is writ large on the faces of the few Pakistani women who are married to Indians and settled in Bhatkal town. They now stare at an uncertain future due to the strained relations between the two countries over the recent months.
Officially, there are 16 women of Pakistan nationality living in Bhatkal town of Uttara Kannada district on long-term visas. Of them, 14 are married to Indians and most of their children are born in India, police sources said.
Two months ago, the Ministry of External Affairs had rejected renewal of Arsala Abeer’s visa. She is married to Syed Ismail Afaq Lanka of Bhatkal and they have three children. Afaq, a homeopathy doctor, was arrested in 2015 on the suspicion of being an Indian Mujahideen (IM) operative.
A week ago, the district police sent a notice to Arsala Abeer, asking her to leave the country within three months. “She has three children aged below 12. If she is denied a visa, it will be very difficult for the children to live without their mother.
Arsala has been living here for more than one-and-half decades. If she is sent back to Pakistan, the children may be orphaned. Therefore, MEA should reconsider its decision,” said a close associate of the family. Arsala’s family is even considering moving a court if she is not allowed to continue to live in India.
‘Worried as India-Pak relations not getting better’
These developments have rattled the other women, who now fear that any further worsening of the situation will create huge problems for them. Hence, they are now pressing for Indian citizenship. The stoppage of rail and bus services, the closure of Pakistan air space and the Indian Navy remaining on high alert along the coast has only added to their worries.
“This year, the MEA has renewed the visa, but we are not sure what will happen next year as the relations between the two countries are not getting any better. The government has already given Indian citizenship to one Pakistani woman and we request the authorities to help more women so that the mothers are not separated from their children,” said a relative of a Bhatkal resident who is married to a woman from Karachi.
Why did Bhatkal men marry Pakistani nationals?
Prior to independence, many Muslim families from Bhatkal, especially families from the Nawayat community, had businesses in Karachi and other parts, which are now in Pakistan. Some of these families have close relatives in India and to maintain community bonds, relationships through marriage have been maintained with the Bhatkal Nawayats. Pakistani women who marry Bhatkal grooms come on long-term visas and apply for Indian citizenship after five years. But it has not been easy for the Pakistani women to get Indian citizenship, and some applications have been pending for decades.
‘Need Permanent Solution’
Marrying Pakistani nationals, who are close relatives has been a practice for last seven decades among some Bhatkal families. With the ties deteriorating over time, Pakistani women who marry Bhatkal men are not given Indian citizenship. Some of the women have been living in Bhatkal for over a decade, while a few have been there two-three decades too.