4 years after engagement, Pakistan bride allowed to enter India for marriage with Nagpurian

NAGPUR: Vandana Keswani, of Sukkur town of Pakistan’s Sindh province, was 25 years old when she got engaged to Nagpur’s Anil Jhamnani, then 26. They are set to marry after a four year wait, as strained ties between the two countries followed by Covid kept the couple away from each other.
Now 29 years old, Vandana crossed the border last week as part of special crossovers arranged from time to time. In the meantime, Anil, who was a Pakistani citizen living in India on a long-term visa (LTV), has become an Indian citizen. The marriage has been fixed for December 13.

The couple may set an example of unflinching love and patience, but their story also points to continuing people to people interaction between the two countries. This goes on even as curbs on cross border travel continue following Covid. During the pandemic, the borders were closed, leaving people on both sides stranded for nearly a year. The ban on movement has only been partially eased.

Rajesh Jhambia, leader of Sindhi-Hindi Panchayat, an organization of migrants from India took up the couple’s case. Amid tense moments, both families had decided to wait.

The couple was engaged in May 2018, and after the marriage date was fixed a year later, the girl’s family applied for a visa to India. In that time the surgical strikes took place and visas for Pakistanis trying to enter India were denied. This continued for nearly a year. In their second attempt, the visa was rejected due to technical reasons, and then Covid shut down the borders.

Recently, the boy’s family obtained Indian citizenship. This bolstered the case to push for her visa on the grounds that she was getting married to an Indian citizen, said Jhambia. Vandana got a spouse visa early this year but movement across the border remained restricted.

In July, Vandana and her family were finally allowed to cross over by air. Due to the high cost involved, they chose to wait till the land borders opened. This happened only on November 3, when Vandana crossed over with 140 odd persons.

Vandana is, however, coming all the way alone. “The list of persons crossing over on November 3 also had names of my parents. However, my sister’s marriage has been fixed and they had to stay back,” she told TOI.

Vandana is now staying with her relatives, and hopes her parents are able to reach India to attend her marriage. “The government should consider my case and my parents should be included in next crossover, so that they can be in India to attend my marriage,” she said.
During the four-year-long wait, the couple decided to hold on to the relationship. “I have only seen her during the video call at engagement. We were introduced by a relative. Over the last four years, we have been talking regularly and I find her to be compatible. So I decided to wait,” says Ajit.

“There were moments when I spoke of breaking the marriage, but that was only out of frustration and did not really mean it,” he says.
It was a tough time, especially for the girl’s family, added Jhambia. It’s time the situation on the borders is normalised, he said.

The 144 persons who crossed on November 3 includes stranded Indian nationals in Pakistan, as well as Pakistani nationals coming here on fresh visa. There is a third category of Pakistani citizens living in India, who had gone there for a visit and are now returning. More such persons have also gone recently for brief visits to Pakistan on no-objection return to India (NORI) visas.

Ajit’s family had come to India in 1991 and settled in Amravati. They returned in 2006 after their passport expired and came back a year later, after which they have been living in Nagpur.