Just like Gita, an Indian who lived in Pakistan for nearly 15 years before efforts were initiated to bring her back, another ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ tale is unfolding as 24-year-old Salman Ahmed too needs India’s assistance to get back home – after over two decades.
“Thank you Sushma Swaraj for helping Gita,” Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney, who has played a pivotal role in pursuing Gita’s case with the Indian government, told IANS on Saturday, a day when the Indian external affairs minister said all efforts were being made to ensure Gita reaches home quick.
“But it is my earnest request to her that she should help Salman Ahmed also. There should not be any discrimination on the basis of religion that Gita, a Hindu, received help, but Salman, a Muslim, did not,” he said.
In “Bajrangi Bhaijaan”, actor Salman Khan takes a mute Pakistani girl lost in India back to her country. The movie became an instant hit in both the countries.
Born to an Indian father and a Pakistani mother, Salman Ahmed was two-years-old when his parents visited Pakistan’s Karachi city in 1994, Burney said.
But when it was time to return to India after their visa expired, Salman Ahmed became seriously ill and his mother, Salma Viqar, had no option but to leave him at his maternal grandparents care in Pakistan.
The mother of seven (Salman is her fifth child) returned to her large family in Aligarh in Uttar Pradesh.
“With several small children to take care of and the death of parents-in-law and failing health of her husband Hafiz Viqar Ahmad, diagnosed with complications, she found it hard to plan a trip to Pakistan to bring her son back.
“Salman, who has spent over two decades in Pakistan, wants to return to his parents. He is unable to work in Pakistan and lives with the fear of being discovered as an ‘illegal’ resident,” Burney, Pakistan’s former federal minister for human rights who now runs Ansar Burney Trust International, said.
Salman Ahmed’s family wrote to the Indian High Commission in Islamabad in March 2013, and sought aid in getting their son back. In 2012, they had sent a fax to the ministry of external affairs, explaining the circumstances under which their son came to live in Pakistan.
On April 5th this year, the family also reached out to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, but is yet to get a response from any of them.
Burney said the parents have been running from pillar to post to get Salman Ahmed, 24, back home.
“Salman has no documents to show he is either a citizen of Pakistan or of India. Pakistan says his father holds an Indian passport, so he is technically Indian. India says he has been living in Pakistan for 22 years, it is best that he gets a Pakistani passport,” he said.
The hapless couple approached officials in Aligarh with copies of their ration card and passport, which show Salman Ahmed as their son. They also have his birth certificate. Officials, they say, plead helplessness, Burney said.
A couple of years back, Salman Ahmed’s family got in touch with Burney who is now pursuing his case. Burney said the youth now lives in abject poverty with his maternal grandmother who is very sick.
“We have written to the Indian government, but have never got any response from them. This is an opportunity to send out a beautiful message of helping a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy,” Burney said.
For the hearing and speech-impaired Gita alias Guddi too, he prays she returns home soon.
“Gita has high hopes of finding her family. She should be sent home as early as possible so that there is a greater chance of finding her parents when the matter is hot,” Burney told IANS.
Burney felt Gita should travel to India by train as she was found at the Wagah railway station in Pakistan in 2003, crying and alone, presumably travelling by the Samjhauta Express.
“When you are among your people, you feel good. There is a greater chance she might recall her place, her people,” he said.
“Also, Gita is not happy in Pakistan, not because of any other shortcoming, but because she wants to live in her country,” Burney said.
Burney joked that ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ is his story as he too carried Gita’s photographs to India to find her parents.
He came in touch with Gita around three years back when someone told him about a Hindu girl in Karachi who was very sad as she was away from her home in India.
There were early signs that Gita was an Indian and a Hindu, Burney recalled. She would touch the feet of elders, fold her hands before the pictures of Hindu gods and godesses and identified India on the map. “She even performed pooja and aarti,” he said.
He lauded India’s efforts in helping Gita.
“Not just Gita, I hope the Indian government can help unite Salman Ahmed with his family too,” said Burney.