Nuzhat Jahan’s only ‘crime’ was that she was born a Pakistani national who married Indian citizen Gulfam in 1983 and was living in India without a visa since May 2013.
For this crime, she spent three months and five days in a shelter home in New Delhi for female criminals, Nirmal Chhaya, not knowing if she would ever see her family again.
But on Thursday, the New Delhi High Court gave her the best Eid gift she could have wished for: ordering that Nuzhat be set free.
“I would stay awake the whole night, sitting in one corner, reading the Holy Quran and crying. For the first 15 days, I did not eat anything. When I was hungry, I would have a spoonful of namkeen,” she recalled her stay at Nirmal Chhaya.
She said she often fought the urge to commit suicide. “I would look at the bottle of acid which was used for cleaning and I would think of gulping it,” Nuzhat said, trying to hold back tears.
In May, a sessions court ordered that the 50-year-old woman be deported to Pakistan as she was living in New Delhi illegally on an expired visa.
Nuzhat was convicted of the offence of overstaying her visa by a magisterial court and had appealed in a sessions court on humanitarian grounds.
But Additional Sessions Judge Narinder Kumar directed that she be deported to Pakistan without any delay. After the order was pronounced, Nuzhat and her husband Gulfam asked the judge for leniency.
But the court said that due to the strict provisions of the law, it did not have the power to pass any lenient order. The court did, however, order that she be imprisoned for a week and pay a fine and finally be deported to Pakistan.
The judge said he had no other option.
But after months of litigation, appeals and hearings she finally was set free and went back home in New Delhi’s Turkman Gate.
The story goes back to the early 1980s, when Gulfam, now Nuzhat’s husband, went to Karachi to visit his uncle.
Nuzhat’s problem began when after two visa extensions she did nothing to renew her visa a third time. The Indian home ministry claimed her documentation for Indian citizenship was insufficient.
Although she was warned several times that she was living illegally and could be arrested any time, her family did not know where to go.
Nuzhat’s counsel Azad Khan had told the court that her application for citizenship was pending in the ministry of home affairs. The court was, however, informed by the prosecution that her application for citizenship was pending as she had failed to deposit her original passport and other requisite documents to the ministry.
But now, she will be filing papers for Indian citizenship afresh. With Eid here, her family feels that they could not have received a better gift. “It is the blessing of the Almighty that we are together right now,” Mansood, Nuzhat’s son, said.
Looking at his wife, Gulfam said, “She has lost a lot of weight. We weren’t allowed to give her any food cooked at home during her stay at the shelter home. Now that she has come back, we’ll make sure that she regains some strength.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2013.