THE fact that a visit by an Indian elderly person to his ancestral home in Rawalpindi made headlines speaks volumes about the level of difficulty faced in the Pakistan-India visa process. Perhaps in most other countries, if a foreigner were to visit the land of their roots, it would be a matter of routine. But not in the subcontinent.
Reena Varma, who moved to the Other Side with her family as a teenager, was given a warm welcome when she arrived at her ancestral home in the Garrison Town. Ms Varma had been trying for decades to get a visa and only succeeded after the intervention of a Facebook group dedicated to Pakistani-Indian friendship and the Pakistani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
The generation that witnessed the period of partition and still have memories of it is rapidly fading. Many of those who remain, on both sides of the border, want a glimpse of their ancestral hometown before leaving this world. They should be facilitated for humanitarian reasons by both governments, despite the latter’s mutual mistrust. Earlier this year, there was a touching story of how two brothers separated during partition were reunited through the corridor of Kartarpur.
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Besides the elderly, many divided families also face a torturous process to obtain a visa for the other country. Although India allows visas on arrival for people over 65, elderly people must have a voluminous amount of documentation with them to be allowed entry, including a certificate of sponsorship from an Indian citizen. . This tedious process basically negates the concept of visa on arrival. When it comes to divided families applying to travel to India, the paperwork is equally complex, while even Pakistanis with foreign passports have to go through a long and tedious process.
Pakistan also requires full documentation for Indians wishing to visit the country, while police reporting requirements on both sides add an undesirable and unfriendly layer of bureaucracy to travel. Perhaps the toxicity that has characterized bilateral relations for 75 years can be reduced somewhat if people are allowed to travel easily between the two countries. The process should certainly be made easier for older people whose place of birth is now beyond the border of their country of citizenship, as well as for divided families. Perhaps if travel restrictions are relaxed, the two states can one day replace hatred and distrust with a more civilized neighborly relationship.
Posted in Dawn, July 24, 2022