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Kerala balm for ‘alien’ sons of soil

Thiruvananthapuram, Dec. 10: In perhaps the strongest intervention by the state to avert the deportation of about 300 “Pakistani citizens” in Kerala, the state cabinet today decided to appeal to the Centre to extend by 10 years the visa period of all such persons above 60.

Chief minister A.K. Antony said after the weekly cabinet meeting here that according to official data, there are 255 such cases of Keralites who had gone to Pakistan early in life in search of jobs, acquired Pakistani passports and returned home as “foreigners”.

“It’s a humanitarian issue. The government cannot watch helplessly as they are hounded out and sent to a country which does not call them its own,” said Antony.

The government also resolved to ask Delhi to dispose of within three months citizenship applications of those below 60 — their number is estimated to be less than a dozen. All such cases should be settled in the state with the central officials holding a sitting either at Kochi or Kozhikode, the chief minister added.

Most of their petitions for Indian citizenship are pending with the Centre or are at various stages of litigation. All of them are Muslims and the majority of the so-called Pakistanis live in the Muslim-dominated Malappuram.

These people had taken the much-trodden Mumbai-Karachi route, most of them reaching Pakistan before Partition to work as hotel boys or beedi workers, owing to abject poverty and unemployment in Kerala in the 1940s.

Partition literally found them on the wrong side. When a Pakistani passport became the only legal option for a safe exit to India, most of them secured it. Now old and ailing, they say enough is enough and want to “die here”.

The fate of the victims has been closely linked to the ups and downs in Indo-Pak ties. Branded as spies and militants, they had found the noose tightening around them every time the Centre stepped up anti-terrorist operations.

Recently, police in Pondicherry picked up an old man and pushed him across the border. No one knows what happened to him.

C. Ibrahim, picked up from Kozhikode and taken to the Wagah checkpost a few months ago, is lucky to be back home as the Pakistani officials refused to entertain him. The magistrate had rejected his contention that he was not a Pakistani and that he had accidentally landed in Karachi en route to the Gulf 35 years ago.

There are others like Masood Haji and Valaparambil Alawi whose petitions for Indian citizenship have been rejected by the Centre.

But of late, with the upswing in bilateral relations, there has been a change in the Centre’s mindset — deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani has announced in Parliament that the government would take a lenient view if the state sends its considered views on their settlement.

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