THE RETURN OF UZMA AHMED, A MARRIED INDIAN WOMAN IN HER 20s, who says she was forced at gunpoint to marry a Pakistani in the remote Buner district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan is a milestone in the history of diplomacy.
She was escorted to the Wagha border by Pakistani police on the orders of an Islamabad court and staff of the Indian High Commission, where she took refuge for several days. It was a touching scene to see the young lady,bowing down to touch Indian soil and apply it to her forehead in a gesture of reverence to her motherland
Welcoming her back, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said that she was the “daughter of India” returning to her country. and said he was “so sorry about what she went through.”
Many Indians reacted to the event in comments on online news portals and on twitter. The difference between their reactions and that of Sushma is very significant. The Minister welcomed her just as a mother would welcome a daughter, did not resort to rhetoric about the torture the woman suffered in Pakistan and thanked not only the Indian consulate staff but also the Pakistan External Affairs Minister and the Islamabad judge, Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani,
Politics and the strained relations between India and Pakistan were a different matter and this was a humanitarian issue which had nothing to do with them, Sushma said. She praised Uzma saluting the Indian soil and applying it to her forehead (a typically Indian gesture and no fatwa has yet been issued by any cleric calling it an un-Islamic act).
The people’s reactions. however, were typical of those to any Indo-Pak event. The Hindus who reacted questioned why Uzma went to Malaysia where she fell in love with Taher Ali and followed him to Buner. Some said Indian parents who seek Pakistani matches for their daughters should take a lesson from the incident.
The Muslims who reacted found fault with Sushma for ‘apologising’ to Uzma and said she went there of her own accord. Some picked holes in Uzma’s story that she was married at gunpoint and said Islam would not permit it and wondered who performed such a nikah – hinting that it was a lie. Uzma herself said going to Pakistan was easy but coming away from there was difficult. She alleged she was tortured and said no Indian girl should ever marry a Pakistani.
No one, however, referred to the role of the Indian High Commission staff. Sushma had earlier told Uzma that she would be allowed to stay in the High Commission even if it took a year or two to secure her travel documents to return to India.
Everyone seems to have forgotten the past record of the Indian High Commissions, especially the one in London. In 1968 an extreme-rightist Conservative politician, Enoch Powell, caused a sensation by his racist and anti-Indian speeches threatening “rivers of blood” over Indian immigrants. Indian in UK were facing bad times.
A friend who was in London then told me that if an Indian was in trouble abroad, the last place he or she would get help from was the Indian diplomatic mission. “You may get some help from Enoch Powell but not the India House in London,” he said. Most of the appointments of High Commissioners and Indian ambassadors were political and staff postings there were rewards to favourites.
People like Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit, known for extravagance and aristocratic ways and Jeevraj Mehta who had to be “accommodated” there as he had to be removed as Gujarat chief minister, were appointed to India House,
In sharp contrast with that, Sushma Swaraj had taken immediate action to redress grievances of Indians abroad – often responding to twitter messages. The number of Indian workers she rescued from conflict-struck areas, the problems she redressed and her response to those who sought help, have been too many to count.
It is not only Indians abroad who sought her help and got it. When some Pakistani girls were stranded in India she saw to it that they were safely sent home. Indian envoys in most countries have been proactive in tackling problems of Indians working in or visiting other countries and in projecting a good image of India.
Sushma Swaraj was not only trouble-shooting but firm in safeguarding Indian image. When door pamos with the Indian tricolour on them, made by Mayers Flag Doormats, were being sold on Amazon Canada, she warned Amazon that unless it was stopped and they apologised visas for Amazon staff coming here would be withheld and those issued earlier cancelled.
Sushma Swaraj brought proactive zeal and concern for the country to Indian missions abroad.