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This cross-border family gets ‘visa freedom’ on I-Day – Mrit News

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Man from Pakistani Sodha Rajput community gets Indian visa, after being separated from family for six years

Man from Pakistani Sodha Rajput community gets Indian visa, after being separated from family for six years

Days before the 75th anniversary of Pakistan’s and India’s Independence Day, Ganpat Singh received a call he has long been waiting for, that granted him freedom to see his family in India after six long and tragic years — the Indian High Commission in Islamabad said his visa to India was approved on Saturday.

Mr. Ganpat Singh is a Pakistani citizen born in the Hindu Rajput Sodha community, based in the Umarkot (earlier Amarkot) principality of the Sindh Province. Traditionally, the Sodhas don’t intermarry within their own clan, and have always intermarried with other Rajput clans in India, with a special visa mandate to travel back and forth agreed to for them some decades ago. Mr. Ganpat Singh’s father was from Pakistan, his mother belongs to India, and his brother and sister, born in Pakistan, now live in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer. Mr. Ganpat Singh married his wife Magan in Jodhpur in 1996 and she moved to Pakistan, but died of hepatitis in 2012, leaving three children — son Chander Veer Singh, 22, and daughters, Meena and Disha, now 21 and 13. He remarried in 2013 to Magan’s cousin Dimple Kanwar, who had two children — Kuleep, 8 and Priya, 4, and chose to bring up all the five children together in India. As India and Pakistan’s relations collapsed after the Uri attack in September 2016, however, so did Mr. Ganpat Singh’s world, as he learned he had been “blacklisted”.

“When my visa was first rejected, I thought it must be a mistake. They said I had been ‘blacklisted’ for overstaying in India, even though I had applied for extensions online. I couldn’t believe it,” said Mr. Ganpat Singh on the phone to The Hindu.

In fact, according to Sodha community leaders interviewed by local media, as many as 900 Sodha community members found themselves and their families blacklisted, as visa regulations between the two countries were tightened, and the special mandate for the Sodha community was rescinded. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) officials declined to comment on the reasons for the visa denials. 

As India and Pakistan shut down borders, exchanges, trade, and people-to-people ties over the next few years due to bilateral tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Ganpat Singh began to lose hope of visiting India again, although he kept re-applying for his visa each time he received a rejection. Ms. Dimple Kanwar too drafted letter after letter of appeal to officials in the Rajasthan government, the MEA and the MHA. “I humbly request on humanitarian grounds that the visa / clearance may be granted, so that our disturbed family [can be reunited], and our kids may receive the supervision of both their parents,” Dimple begged in one letter, dated November 2021. The frustrations multiply, says Mr. Ganpat Singh, given just how close they are to each other (just about 400 km) on the map.

Mother’s death

Darker, more tragic days were to follow as his mother Darya Kanwar’s health deteriorated in 2021. From her deathbed, Ms. Darya Kanwar recorded a heart-rending appeal to visa officials in India and at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad, urging them to give her son a visa so that he could see her one last time. But the officials and the visa processes were unmoved. Ms. Darya Kanwar died a week later.

Next came word that the family needed to move ahead with the marriages of the children that had been fixed, and Mr. Ganpat Singh’s quest for a visa turned more frantic. He attended Mr. Chandar Veer’s ring (engagement ceremony) via a video call. When he had to do the same for Ms. Meena’s ring ceremony, his heart sank. “Ring ceremony of a daughter without her father,” he wrote to Beena Sarwar, a Pakistani peace activist, who had been trying to raise awareness for Mr. Ganpat Singh’s case, as well as other cross-border spouses who remain hostage to India-Pakistan bitterness (https://www.change.org/p/southasia-ease-visa-restrictions-let-people-meet-milnedo ).

A miracle

Despite the joy over his visa, obstacles still remain for Mr. Ganpat Singh and his family — his Indian visa is only for 45 days, and an extension, which he will need in order to attend his children’s weddings in December, will still require more paperwork and clearances from the MHA in Delhi.

“Even this visa is a miracle, given the long wait,” he says, adding that he can only pray for another miracle so he can watch his son and daughter get married.

What makes it worse, says Ms. Sarwar, is that connectivity for ordinary people has actually decreased over the years. At independence, flights connected even smaller Indian and Pakistani cities, and Sodha community baraats travelled from Hyderabad (Sindh) to Jaipur. Today, no flights, trains or buses are allowed, and anyone wishing to travel must use prohibitively expensive flights via Dubai or other hubs, or travel hundreds of km extra via the Wagah-Atari border in Punjab on circuitous routes to reach their destinations across the border, and meet their loved ones again.

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