When Leelaram (34) set out from home with his family of four in February to visit his ailing mother-in-law in Mirpur Khas in Pakistan, he had no idea that he would have to leave his wife behind. Caught unawares by the coronavirus-induced lockdown in India, the family was stranded in the neighbouring country for months.
After India and Pakistan agreed to repatriate such persons stuck on both sides, authorities allowed Leelaram and his three children to return. However, his wife Janta (33), who doesn’t have Indian citizenship, wasn’t given permission.
The family returned home last week without Janta.
“We ran from pillar to post but the Indian embassy in Islamabad did not grant her the permission to return. I had to come back to India with my children, leaving my wife behind,” said Leelaram.
He first came to India from Pakistan in 1986 and was eventually granted Indian citizenship. He married Janta 12 years ago. Janta had been living in India on a long-term visa (LTV). She had left to visit her mother on a No Objection to Return to India (NORI) visa for 60 days.
After the family’s visas expired, the Indian embassy in Islamabad only gave an extension to Leelaram and his children. Leelaram said Janta’s application for Indian citizenship is pending with the authorities.
“We have applied for her citizenship as per rules. But despite being eligible, she hasn’t yet been granted the citizenship,” he claimed.
Seemant Lok Sangthan, an organisation working for the cause of Hindu immigrants from Pakistan, has now decided to take up Janta’s case with the government.
“I have heard the matter and have urged the Indian government to extend Janta”s visa so that she can reunite with her family,” said Hindu Singh Sodha, president of Seemant Lok Sangthan.
A Pakistani national staying in India on LTV is entitled to avail a return visa for a period of three months. If the person does not return within this period, he or she will be required to apply for a fresh visa, he said.
All their previous stays in India will not be counted as part of the time one is required to spend in the country for obtaining Indian citizenship, he added.
Sodha demanded that all such persons be allowed to travel back to India on humanitarian grounds. He said the extended stay in Pakistan was not their fault but was caused by the lockdown.