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August 7, 2015

No place to call home


August 7, 2015

With the exception of a birth certificate and a couple of other documents, Salman Ahmed, almost 23 now, does not exist in papers in both Pakistan and India. Yet this young man, too timidly-built for someone his age, perhaps because of his struggle with tuberculosis, is a living, breathing, and sad reality in one of the tiny houses lining the narrow, filthy lanes of an impoverished neighbourhood of New Karachi.
Never actually belonging to the land he has spent almost his entire life in, this terribly lonely existence had compelled him to end it all with four bottles of cough syrup. A fool, he admits with a sheepish smile, he had been when he did that, but he lived to continue coping with his nationality crisis. The hope that has kept him going – that one day he will live with his parents and siblings in India.

Illness and a costly mistake
His is a unique case. Born in Aligarh, India, he had arrived in Karachi with his mother, Salma Begum, and two elder siblings in 1993 when he was only two-and-a-half years old. Being a Pakistani married to an Indian man, Salma had come to Karachi to visit her parents on a No Objection to Return to India (NORI) – commonly called "Noori" – permission.
When she returned to India, she was forced to leave Salman with her parents as he fell too sick to travel. Dealing with her own citizenship problems in India, by the time she managed to come to Pakistan with her husband and other children, Salman, almost five by then, had become too attached to his grandparents and they too could not bear to lose sight of him.
Emotions took over and letting Salman continue living with his grandparents proved to be a costly mistake. Salman's father, Viqar Ahmed, a diabetic, ran into financial troubles and his health suffered too, making it difficult for the family to afford travelling to Pakistan
It was not until 2006 that Salman's parents and his six siblings arrived in Karachi and he, a teenager

then, saw them in the flesh in a phase of life wherein he could actually remember doing that. Though he had remained in touch with them, to embrace them in real kicked in the realisation that he was a bird lost from the flock – that he belonged with them.

From wish to necessity
But, with his maternal grandfather's death in 2012 and the rejection of his application for a national identity card in which he had laid all details accurately, it was no longer a wish – it had become a necessity.
Since then, Salman's family has been coming to Pakistan every year, trying to take him back home. In 2013, his parents had approached the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and were told that the case would be investigated. But they received no response. This year, Salman's elder sister, Nida, has come to Karachi, determined to take her brother back with her.
"I simply have to take him back with me. There's no other way," said a veiled Nida, holding her tears back.
The ailing health of Salman's maternal grandmother has made that more necessary than ever.
Without a national identity card, Salman has trouble even finding odd jobs and financial restraints have not allowed him to finish his course of treatment for tuberculosis.

Hope lives?
Salman and his family's hopes have been rekindled by the recent developments in the case of a deaf and mute Indian girl Geeta, who had accidentally crossed over to Pakistan when she was a child. Now, years later, with the ‘Aman ki Asha’ campaign having raised Geeta’s case since 2012 and Bollywood blockbuster ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ – based on a similar theme – having generated a new wave of sympathy on either side of the border, the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan, on the request of his country's external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, visited the Edhi Centre in Karachi to meet the girl. Salman and his sister managed to meet the Indian high commissioner there as well, but he too could only promise them that the case would be probed – an assurance they had heard two years ago too.
Salman and Nida believe that time is running out for them. Given his current status, Salman is a man with no nationality and that is a dangerous position to be in considering the suspicions in both Pakistan and India against each other.
The National Database and Registration Authority director general says that such a person is an illegal immigrant and will have to get himself registered with the alien registration authority and the local police station.
That, however, might complicate matters even further for Salman, making his life harder with the authorities giving him a tough time too. The National Alien Registration Authority chief's blunt refusal to talk to the media does not help matters either. Salman does not even have words to describe how he feels about his predicament – that he is a man without a country that he can call home. But even more important to him is his family. "I just want to be with my family. That's the only thing on my mind."

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