21 February 2023
By Rehan Piracha
The repatriation of Pakistani teenager Iqra Jeewani, who was detained in the Indian city of Bengaluru on January 23, in less than a month to her homeland is unprecedented and gives hope that scores of other prisoners will be similarly facilitated on humanitarian grounds despite the hostilities between the South Asian neighbours, say peace activists.
According to a tweet from Pakistan’s High Commission in New Delhi, Iqra Jeewani was repatriated to Pakistan via the Wagah-Attari border on February 20.
Speaking to Voicepk.net on Tuesday, Sohail Jeewani, Iqra’s father, said Pakistani officials handed over his daughter’s custody to them a day after her repatriation to Pakistan.
“Iqra is fine and healthy and the entire family is happy and thankful to Allah that she has safely returned home,” he said, adding that they were on their way to their hometown of Hyderabad city.
Sohail Jeewani was thankful to officials and activists on both sides of the border that worked for the early repatriation of his daughter.
“It’s a miracle that she was repatriated and reunited with her family within a month’s time after her detention in India,” he added.
According to diplomatic sources, the repatriation of Indian and Pakistani citizens between the two countries is a long and tedious process that can take up to a year in some cases. The Pakistani High Commission also mentioned the ‘cooperation of Indian authorities’ on Iqra’s early repatriation to Pakistan.
Police didn’t charge Iqra over border crossing in FIR
According to Sukanya Shantha, Senior Assistant Editor at The Wire, India, the first step for Iqra’s early repatriation was laid by the Bengaluru police who treated her as a trafficking victim and not as an illegal border crosser.
Initially, it was reported that Iqra Jeewani was arrested for illegally crossing into India from the Nepal border as well as forging identity documents.
“However, when the First Information Report was made available to reporters it did not mention Iqra as an accused in the case,” she told Voicepk.net.
The FIR was lodged against Mulayam Singh, the man who brought to her India, and Govinda Reddy, the owner of the house in which the couple stayed in Bengaluru city, she added.
In the opinion of human rights lawyer based in Bengaluru, the possibility of her name not being in the FIR implied that she might be considered a victim of human trafficking in India similar to women from Nepal and Bangladesh who are lured there for work and love. Iqra Jeewani was housed in a state shelter for women and not the detention centre for illegal foreigners. However, there were apprehensions that police could file charges against Iqra Jeewani at a later stage when the case goes to a trial.
In a similar case, Indian human rights lawyers had represented another Pakistani girl Sameera Abdul Rehman who was stranded in India for four years. Sameera Abdul Rehman and her 4-year-old daughter were repatriated to Pakistan last year after her case attracted media attention in Pakistan. In Sameera’s case, the repatriation process took over a year. Like Iqra, Sameera crossed to India to live with her Indian national husband Mohammed Shihab. She gave birth to a girl child in an Indian jail.
Cases of repatriation need to be processed quickly: Nida Aly
Nida Aly, Executive Director of AGHS Legal Aid Cell, said her organisation was in touch with human rights lawyers in Bengalaru city to engage a counsel for Iqra Jeewani as part of her repatriation process. AGHS Legal Aid Cell had previously facilitated legal representation for Sameera in India, she added.
“It’s quite unprecedented that Iqra’s repatriation took less than a month and the process was smoothly executed without any expected complications,” she told Voicepk.net.
The Indian authorities not convicting her for illegal entry is a welcome development in this case, especially in view of past cases where Pakistani nationals remained detained despite completing their sentences for illegal border crossing, Nida Aly added. However, she pointed out that several cases of repatriation remained pending and needed to be processed quickly on humanitarian grounds. “In one case a man remains detained till date despite completing his sentence and also being acquitted of all charges after completion of his years of detention,” she said.
“One can hope that prisoners on both sides will be similarly facilitated with expediency and on humanitarian grounds without prolonging their agony.”
Peace activist Mohammad Tahseen, the national convener of Pakistan India People’s Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), said Iqra Jeewani’s repatriation was an encouraging sign amidst the hostilities between India and Pakistan. “We appreciate the Indian government for treating Iqra Jeewani as a teenager in love and not making her suffer the ordeal of a legal rigmarole for repatriation to Pakistan,” he said.
India and Pakistan must review visa policy: Mohammad Tahseen
According to Mohammad Tahseen, both nations seriously need to review their visa policy for each other’s nationals. “We live in a digital village and no iron curtain can stop youngsters from finding love as was the case with Iqra or Sameera,” he said. There is no trade between India and Pakistan but the least their embassies could do is facilitate people-to-people travel between their nations, the peace activist added. “We call on the governments of India and Pakistan to review the current stringent visa regime for each other nationals,” Mohammad Tahseen said. Both countries have not yet implemented the 2012 agreement to relax their visa policies to allow citizens over 65 years a visa-on-arrival at the border.
Mohammad Tahseen also revealed that Mulayam Singh alias Sameer Ansari has still not been granted bail in the case. Reportedly, Iqra had married 26-year-old Indian national Mulayam Singh Yadav whom she met online popular video game application Ludo last year. She flew to Dubai where she took a flight to Kathmandu in September last year. After landing in Nepal, she married Yadav and illegally crossed into India from the Nepal border. The couple settled in Bengaluru city where Yadav, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, worked as a security guard. Yadav forged Indian identity documents with a false name for Iqra in Bengaluru city, according to Bengaluru police. In a phone call from India, Iqra told her family she married Sameer Ansari, referring to Mulayam’s Muslim name after he converted to Islam.
According to a list of prisoners exchanged between the two countries on January 1st, there were 434 Pakistani prisoners in India, including 339 civilian prisoners and 95 fishermen. Similarly, 705 Indian prisoners are detained in Pakistan, including 51 civilian prisoners and 654 fishermen. Pakistan had requested for early release and repatriation of its 51 civilian prisoners and 94 fishermen, who have completed their respective sentences and their national status stands confirmed. On January, 17 Pakistani nationals, released by Indian authorities on completion of their prison sentences, were repatriated to their home country via the Wagah-Attari border. On February 14, Pakistan repatriated two Indian nationals Raju and Gembra Ram after they had served sentences for illegal border crossing and remained in prisons for two and half years and five years respectively. Interestingly, Gembra Ram said that he had crossed the Pakistan border in pursuit of a girl he loved.