A surge in the number of Pakistanis seeking visas to travel to Godhra has the local police worried. This year, 1,803 Pakistanis have so far visited the town, which was the site of the train burning that led to the 2002 Gujarat riots. That’s more than double the number (877) who came to Godhra last year on a temporary visa, and nearly 18 times the year before that (105).
The Panchmahal district police recently booked a constable, an agent, and a sponsor of a Pakistani national on the suspicion of forging documents to procure a visa. It is now investigating whether there is a larger racket, accounting for the increase in the number of Pakistanis visiting the town. “We are planning to seek the help of the central Intelligence Bureau,” Panchmahal SP Raghvendra Vatsa said. Police are also in touch with the Ministry of External Affairs to determine if there are more such cases of forgery.
Earlier this month, Godhra train burning convict Irfan Pada married a Pakistani girl, Maria, who was on a visit to Signal Falia. The 31-year-old, who is serving a life term, met and married Maria while out on bail after nine years in jail. Pada has applied for permanent residency for her.
While police are worried about the possibility of “anti-nationals” sneaking in, Godhra in fact has an old association with Karachi in Pakistan. Most of the visitors from Pakistan are residents of Godhra Colony in new Karachi, thus named because of the number of Muslims originally from Godhra who settled there after Partition.
Police claim to have tracked at least 42 cases of Pakistani Muslims from Vora and Ghanchi communities staying back in Godhra due to ongoing civil suits regarding their ancestral properties which, they believe, could be their ticket to a permanent citizenship if they manage to stay for seven years.
Among the Pakistani visitors from Godhra Colony is Jameel Ahmed, a 55-year-old two-wheeler mechanic who is on a month-long visit to Godhra to meet his relatives. He said he was drawn because of the “great difference between Pakistan and India”, especially the 24X7 power and water supply as well as law and order. “In Karachi, it is risky to venture out after 7 pm. Here, we are outside till 3 am,” says Ahmed.
Mohammad Shakeel, a 33-year-old medicine dealer, hopes the Indian government will allow him to stay back. Shakeel talks of many changes for the better since he last visited seven years ago. “We are here on a month-long visa. The love and respect we get from both Hindus and Muslims here is overwhelming,” he says.
A sponsor of a Pakistani national has to fill in a certificate with own name and details of the guest, including his/her photograph, how long he/she will stay and the purpose of the visit. Once attested by a senior government officer, this certificate is sent back to the Pakistani national concerned, who has to then submit it while seeking a visa.
“We are trying to check if there is a racket involving forging of stamps and identity cards of gazetted officers to facilitate the visit of Pakistanis here. With the number of visitors increasing sharply, it would be difficult for even officials of the Indian High Commission in Islamabad to verify cases on an individual basis,” a senior police officer probing the matter said.