‘She is made in India!’ mid-day.com

18, Mar 2024

Once Pakistani Hindu father, now Indian, hopes his children—one born in Karachi, the other in Ulhasnagar—bag Indian citizenship. We talk CAA with Pakistani Sindhi Hindus across Maharashtra to explore old dreams and new challenges

‘She is made in India!’

Ulhasnagar resident and garments business owner Prakash Dewani managed citizenship for himself and his wife Saveeta in 2020 after arriving in India in 2008. He has now registered son Manesh, 21. Dewani isn’t sure if he will have to register his daughter Harshita, who was born in India in 2010, for citizenship under CAA. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi

“There would always be extortion calls,” Jaikesh Nanjani recalls for mid-day. He was barely 18 when he came to India on a tourist visa, with his parents and younger sister. His father had a transport and flooring material business in Karachi, but what Nanjani recalls clearly of his days there was the looming, inescapable fear. “We never went to plush hotels for a meal or bought a vehicle that was evidently expensive. Any well-to-do businessman was always targeted. Then, in 1996, my father was kidnapped and held to ransom for several days before being released. We had to move out.”

As soon as they got here, they made their way to Ulhasnagar—home to four lakh migrants from the Sindh province, who arrived in waves during Partition, the war of 1971, and the decades that followed. Ulhasnagar is where Nanjani’s uncle stayed. The whole family applied for a Long Term Visa (LTV), stating to the Indian government that they could not return to Pakistan.

Author Nandita Bhavnani has documented Sindhis for 27 yearsAuthor Nandita Bhavnani has documented Sindhis for 27 years

For many like Nanjani, the LTV has been a part of their lives. Like 43-year-old Dilip Utwani, who came to Ulhasnagar in 2010 with his wife and son, who was then four. Fourteen years down the line, they still don’t have Indian citizenship. “Every year, we have to line up at the local police station first and then to the FRRO to seek an extension. The application goes all the way to Delhi and then comes back to the Collector’s office. Only then is the LTV extended,” says Utwani, who left Pakistan because he was feeling increasingly alone when fellow Sindhis started leaving.

For people like Nanjani and Utwani, the first few years were the hardest. They had to put whatever they had brought with them to find their feet, and the rest was taken care of by gracious friends. Today, Utwani runs a garments business similar to the one he had in Karachi. Nanjani, too, has a transport business that is doing well.

(L-R) Jaikesh Nanjani, Prakash Dewani and Dilip Utwani represent the chunk of Sindhi migrants from Pakistan staying in Ulhasnagar who await the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act. A sizeable number of Sindhis in Ulhasnagar came here after fleeing Pakistan and not all of them have still managed to get Indian citizenship. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi(L-R) Jaikesh Nanjani, Prakash Dewani and Dilip Utwani represent the chunk of Sindhi migrants from Pakistan staying in Ulhasnagar who await the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act. A sizeable number of Sindhis in Ulhasnagar came here after fleeing Pakistan and not all of them have still managed to get Indian citizenship. Pic/Sayyed Sameer Abedi

Jodhpur-based Seemant Lok Sangathan advocates for the rights of Pakistani migrants in India. As of 2021, according to data compiled by the community-based organisation, around 800 immigrants had gone back to Pakistan after finding that there has been no progress on their applications for citizenship. To those who have stayed back and persist in their wait for an Indian passport, the implementation of the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act holds promise. mid-day spoke to Sindhi migrants, community leaders and experts across Maharashtra, about the community’s past struggles and the uncertain future that faces them.

“I have known her since Karachi,” says Nanjani, as he smiles for the first time since we meet. “She came to India in 2013 and we got married the same year. I hope that she has to jump through lesser hoops now that an amended act is going to be in place.”

Dilip Utwani, his wife and son came to Ulhasnagar in 2010. They still don’t have Indian citizenship and have to renew their Long Term Visa after a lengthy procedure every yearDilip Utwani, his wife and son came to Ulhasnagar in 2010. They still don’t have Indian citizenship and have to renew their Long Term Visa after a lengthy procedure every year

For all his joy, Nanjani is fiercely protective of his family. He insists on meeting us alone, is evasive when we ask about his wife, and ultimately declines to even share pictures. His parents first applied for Indian citizenship under the existing Indian Citizenship Act in 2014, and officially became Indian citizens in 2019.

Nanjani applied next, in 2022, because the process is easier if both your parents have citizenship. His citizenship came through last year, and now he looks forward to the CAA, so that his wife can apply.

Delhi BJP President Virendra Sachdeva celebrates along with Sikh and Hindu refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan after the implementation of CAA in the country last week in New Delhi. Pic/Getty ImagesDelhi BJP President Virendra Sachdeva celebrates along with Sikh and Hindu refugees from Afghanistan and Pakistan after the implementation of CAA in the country last week in New Delhi. Pic/Getty Images

“I had gone back to Pakistan a few years after I came here. I still have family there and needed to visit them. At the airport, when the Immigration officials saw I’d been staying in India on an LTV, I was taken aside. A few men asked me, ‘Apne mulk ke liye kya kar sakte ho?’. It took me a minute to understand that they were asking me to spy,” he says. He got out of the situation by claiming that he had been too busy setting up his business and didn’t roam the city beyond shuttling between his house and shop. He never went back.

When Prakash Dewani introduces us to his daughter, born in 2010, he beams. “She is made in India,” he chuckles as she rolls her eyes. She’s clearly been living with this joke for years. Dewani, who managed to get citizenship for himself and his wife last year after arriving in India in 2008, has now applied for the same for his son, now 21. He, too, hopes the CAA will speed things up.

The Sindhi migrants of Ulhasnagar have two main concerns: the existing process will take infinitely long and that the December 2014 cut off may not be fair to those who came to India prior. “The current process requires verification, first, by the local police station, then by the Intelligence Bureau, and then a central government committee. These verification reports are then forwarded to the district collector, who once again verifies the application at local level before citizenship can be cleared,” Dewani says, adding, “Some clarity on the process under the CAA would help. We don’t know if the CAA makes it faster or easier, or if it will add to our woes.”

Eleven hours away from Mumbai, in neighbourhoods like Jaripatka, Nagpur has long embraced migrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, from the Partition era to the 1960s and ’70s. Among the city’s newest Sindhi faces is Pradeep Haswani’s. The choice to live in Nagpur was a natural one for Haswani, who crossed the border in January 2013; it is the city where he’d find familiar faces from his native Ghotki in Sindh province—including his own elder brother and sister-in-law.

Hindu Singh Sodha, Rajesh Jhambia and Teesta SetalvadHindu Singh Sodha, Rajesh Jhambia and Teesta Setalvad

“My mamas and chachas moved to Nagpur… Anyone who has visited or moved to India from Ghotki, has come here. It helps to see your relatives and neighbours around,” he says. Like Mumbai’s Ulhasnagar, the Sindhi diaspora targets specific cities—like Indore and Lucknow—in an effort to find community and support.

The year 2013 was the very first time that he stepped foot in the country, and life was never the same for Haswani. “Yahaan ki freedom, kaam-kaaj, baatein, mohabbat—sabhi mein ek easy-pan tha [There was an ease to all matters here, from freedom, to work, and even love]. I also found the ease of conducting business which was missing back home,” Haswani, 40, says in introspection. He has managed to build a new trading business from scratch in the past decade.

Stories like Haswani’s lay bare the difficulties migrants face when it comes to visas, particularly the yearly renewal of the LTV. “Having to travel to Delhi to approach the High Commission of Pakistan in hot and cold weather, making yearly arrangements during difficult times—all of this comes at a cost,” the entrepreneur shares, as he looks forward to the future he has envisioned for himself in India: an expanded business, a home of his own.

The man who has helped Sindhi migrants like Haswani to avail of citizenship under CAA is Rajesh Jhambia, a local activist in Nagpur who runs the independent organisation Sindh Hindi Panchayat. He claims to have played a role in 1,500 successful applications, adding that 3,500 people are still waiting in line. “Over the last decade, I have been approached by people from Jacobabad [Sindh] and Quetta [Balochistan], too, alongside Ghotki… Haswani is the first applicant under CAA in Maharashtra, and the third in India,” Jhambia tells us proudly.

Cases like Haswani’s are comparatively simpler than that of a married couple who Jhambia encountered in the recent past: Susheel and Kavita Batra, who came to India 12 years ago, found that their second child was born into “no man’s land”. Though Kavita delivered the child in India, he could not be considered an Indian citizen because his parents still held Pakistan passports. The long road ahead involved seeking a permit for the child to go to Pakistan, apply for a passport there, then return to India and begin the arduous process of applying for Indian citizenship.

“It opened my eyes to the complexities that emerge when migrant couples have children in India—and cases like that of the Batras are not a rarity. Ever since, I have campaigned for such children to be granted Indian citizenship in a smoother, faster manner,”
Jhambia adds.

While Haswani sought a better, more peaceful business environment, Sagar Wadhwa, who moved with his parents and sisters, looked forward to a changed perception of himself—as someone who was no longer a minority. A survey of Sindhi history reveals overlapping bias at the hands of Muhajirs and Punjabis, of which both Hindus and Muslims are targets.

“Sindhi Muslims have articulated that they feel like second-class citizens. In this context, Sindhi Hindus feel that they’re third class citizens—discriminated against not just for their ethnicity, but also their religion. Ultimately, the religious divide is the bigger one,” says anthropologist Nandita Bhavnani, the author of Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India. In the last 15-20 years, instances of abductions of girls as young as 13 have risen, causing families to
become increasingly concerned and ask if they have a future in Pakistan, she says.

Being othered, gawked at and the subject of suspicion is a reality that follows these migrants across the border, as evidenced by Nanjani’s example. In Delhi’s Majnu Ka Tilla, a Pakistani Hindu refugee camp dodged destruction after a stay order from the Delhi High Court. The 800-odd people who reside in the camp cited their Sanatani beliefs in their appeal to Delhi’s politicians and public to accept them. When asked if the expedited naturalised citizenship process under the CAA has brought Pakistani Sindhis relief, Seemant Lok Sangathan’s President Hindu Singh Sodha said, “Of course. They all want the Pakistan tag to go away.”

Haswani himself was at the receiving end of questions about his background, in social and work situations, but much of these stemmed from a place of curiosity. “People would ask to compare what the situation is like in India, versus the circumstances in Pakistan. People know about how challenging things are, across the border,” Haswani adds.

It was 13 years after he arrived in India that Dewani drove a car here for the first time. For those in his position, driving themselves to work or around the city was not a possibility until 2016, when the Indian government approved the proposal to grant driving licences and Aadhar Cards to religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh staying in India on LTVs. This was a crucial step forward to opening bank accounts. However, in the same year, the Central government announced the demonetisation. The migrants thus found themselves held back by bureaucratic complexities yet again.

“Life has been a constant adjustment,” says Harish Bhulwani, who came over in 2014 with his wife and three daughters. He speaks to us over the phone from his confectionary shop in Kalyan. The year-old shop is in his friend’s name; he can’t own property in the absence of citizenship.

Currently, a 2018 Maharashtra Government notification grants land rights to only those refugees who have been living in India since Partition. The refugees, who fled Pakistan in 1947 and have been living in close to 30 government camps across the state since then, were in 2018 allowed to sell or redevelop their homes after six decades of staying there.

The hurdles posed by the lack of documentation extend to concerns about his children’s education. “My eldest daughter wanted to pursue a career in engineering but no college was willing to admit her because she didn’t have a domicile certificate,” he rues, “I didn’t even know how to explain to the colleges that I can’t have a domicile unless I have citizenship.”

Bhavnani lets us in on the issues of adjustment she learnt of two decades ago, faced by Sindhi Hindus. “Migrations like these involve the distress sale of assets like property, which means migrants aren’t getting a good value for their life-long belongings. Further, the Indian rupee is much stronger than the Pakistani rupee; as a result, they start out with a disadvantage. Migrants from Pakistan are not so accustomed to the greater degree of professionalism in the Indian work culture,” says Bhavnani, who has documented and researched Sindhis for 27 years. Migrants also struggle with realities like their extended families providing support to a certain extent, but not enough to help them keep afloat. “Some also find Indian culture and society too permissive,” she says.

Though the implementation of the CAA presents a glimmer of hope for the Sindhi community, criticisms of the law’s limitations —pointed out by experts and highlighted in a sea of protests across the country in 2019 and 2020—cannot be neglected. The opposition to the CAA is based on the fact that while the Act mentions communities such as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, who can apply for citizenship to escape religious persecution, there is no mention of Muslims.

In the past week, the US State Department has termed India’s implementation of the law “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted”. On March 19, the Supreme Court will hear a clutch of 237 petitions seeking that the CAA’s implementation be stayed. “The ambit of the law should have considered certain Muslim populations in India’s neighbouring countries, like the Ahmadiyya community. The law isn’t fair in this regard,” Bhavnani agrees. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is a modern Islamic sect founded in 1889 by mystic Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908), who was born in Qadian of Punjab in India. Considered heretics by orthodox Muslims, many of them have faced arrests for ‘blasphemy’ and are discriminated against in public-sector employment.

Teesta Setalvad, founder of Citizens for Justice and Peace, presents a broader point. “No one is against any community that stands to benefit from the implementation of the CAA. The larger issue is that certain communities are specifically named and certain others are not. Sri Lankan Tamils, Tibetans, Ahmadiyya Muslims, non-believing Muslims, Afghan refugees who came to escape the Taliban and even before that… they stay in India because we have had a tradition of inviting persecuted migrants to take refuge,” she says.

Even on the legal front, she points out, the discrimination on grounds of religion—itself a first in India—is dangerous. “It goes against specific sections of the Constitution; it [CAA] is unconstitutional,” says Setalvad.

No. of Sindhi Hindu families awaiting citizenship, who moved to Pune from the 1990s onwards (as of 2019)

No. of Pakistani Hindus from Nagpur preparing to seek Indian citizenship (as of 2024)

Increase in applications for Indian citizenship from Pak nationals in Maharashtra (as of 2018)

The Original piece may be read here




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