Tensions between Pakistan and India have always been rife. However, more often than not, the citizens from both the countries don’t hold any grudges against each other. And when it comes to applying for a visa to cross the border, one is usually left brokenhearted. Likewise, film-maker Mahera Omar was also denied a visa to India, reported The Week.
Omar’s The Rebel Optimist was given the best documentary award in the Across the Border category at the 7th Delhi International Film Festival 2018, but due to visa restrains she was unable to travel to India to collect it. “The festival authorities too have tried to help me, but it is very difficult for a Pakistani to get a visa,” she said over the phone.
Apart from being a part of the festival, the film-maker has always wanted to visit India as her grandparents belonged to the country. Omar stated, “I feel a sense of belonging. My ancestry is from there.”
Her great-grandfather Zafar Omar hailed from Aligarh and wrote detective fiction. His house, Nili Chatri still exists in the city but has now been taken over by the Aligarh Muslim University.
Like many others who crossed the border in 1947, Omar’s family too thought that they would visit India again someday. Her aunt was one of the people to make it to Aligarh and she had also found the house. The film-maker shared, “My aunt told us that the old family retainer was still there. My great-grandfather’s picture was still up in his room. as well. He looked at her and said to her ‘You are back.’ It was heartbreaking.”
After his passing, Omar felt like all the memories and tangible link that she had with the past were gone. She wishes to visit India someday and get to hear some more stories and experiences that she had grown up listening. But whenever that would happen, is still uncertain.
Omar is not the only Pakistani to have her Indian visa denied. The country’s government had introduced stricter rules on issuing visas to Pakistanis. Except special medical visa – all thanks to Indian Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj – all others have been severely restricted.
In May earlier this year, Moneeza Hashmi – daughter of Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz – was invited to speak at the 15th Asia Media Summit but her name was dropped off from the list of speakers and her hotel reservation was cancelled as well. Back in July, Pakistani scholars were barred from attending a meeting of the Association for Asian Studies and Ashoka University which garnered strong reactions from academics. Even former ISI chief Asad Durrani was not granted an Indian visa to promote his book. However, he then opted for a video conference.
Despite all visa restrictions, Omar was still able to get updates from the festival venue – all thanks to technology and her Indian friends whom she had met in Nepal. It was through these friendships that she got to virtually experience the taste of winning an award.
The Rebel Optimist shows the life and work of an urban planner and social activist Perween Rahman, who headed the Orangi Pilot Project. Her scheme helped solve the sanitation problems for the poor who have low-income. The activist passed away on March 13, 2013, after she was gunned down in Karachi.
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