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MUMBAI: Maharashtra has witnessed a six-fold increase in applications for Indian citizenship from Pakistani nationals ever since relaxation and simplification of immigration rules in December 2017. The gainers include cross-border brides in Mumbai who have waited for citizenship for close to a decade.

Mahim’s Zahida Ansari (36), originally from Karachi, got her citizenship after 10 years of her marriage to cousin Mohammed Azam. “The biggest advantage that comes with citizenship is the liberty to travel anywhere in India,” said Asma Gazdhar, also born in Karachi. “Foreigners are not allowed to travel outside the city for which they secured a visa. I have not gone outside Mumbai in seven years.” For this reason, none of these brides had a honeymoon. Even after having kids, family outings to even a neighbouring hill station such as Lonavla were a pipe dream.

Against an average of 10 applications every six months earlier, today nearly 50 to 60 migrants from Pakistan apply for Indian citizenship in Maharashtra during the period. “Applications are also cleared in a time-bound period now since the powers have been delegated to collectors in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nagpur,” a senior home department official told TOI on Saturday.

“Applications are processed in seven days, subject to a favourable police report,” said Mumbai collector Shivajirao Jondhale. Currently, just seven applications for citizenship are pending in Mumbai.

Politician Gurumukh Jagwani from Jalgaon, a doctor by profession, migrated to India from Sindh in 1985 and succeeded in securing Indian citizenship in 1990. He was elected to the state legislative council in 2004 and re-elected in 2014. “It is a fact that there has been a spurt in migrants from Pakistan applying for citizenship for safety and security reasons,” said Jagwani, pointing out that after Partition, Indian citizenship was granted to those who had lived in the country for five continuous years. During then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, the period was reduced to two years for technocrats. When the UPA government took over, the period of continuous stay was enhanced to seven years.

Byculla resident Zeenat Fatima (34) is also from Karachi. Her husband Shahid Usmani, a software engineer, says they were married nine years ago and have two children. “My wife got her approval and within 15 months she got her card,” he said.

Asma was 21 when she married Vaseem Gazdhar, an internet cable contractor, who lives in Temkar Street. “My mother hails from India and moved to Pakistan after marriage. Since childhood, I had been visiting India during my summer vacation to meet relatives in Jodhpur,” she said. Now 30 and a mother of two, Asma and Vaseem are pleased that she has finally earned the red document that declares her an Indian national.

Since many of these cross-border marriages are consanguineous, the couple have relatives living in other cities or towns of India. Asma said, “I was unable to go to Jodhpur, where my elders, aunt, uncle and cousins live, for a family wedding. My grandmother passed away but I could not attend the funeral. I have not seen my parents in years. They arrived from Pakistan for the marriage in Rajasthan. But they did not get a visa to Mumbai and I was unable to go to Jodhpur in spite of putting in an application in New Delhi. We were in the same country but could not meet. That was a sad moment for us. Now I am eagerly looking forward to a reunion.”

Each of them wishes that the law is amended to allow foreigners in India to pay hazri (attendance) at the local police station while travelling, until they receive nationality.

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