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‘Wrong number’ couple fight India deportation

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Gulzar Khan and Dululat Bi
Image caption,

Gulzar Khan says he travelled to India for love after phoning Dululat Bi by mistake

In 2011, Gulzar Khan from Pakistan entered India illegally, married his lover and hid his real identity from her for the next eight years, until he was arrested. Now he is waiting to hear if he will be deported back to Pakistan.

Successful cross-border love stories between Indians and Pakistanis are rare – relations are tense between the neighbours, who have fought three wars since they became independent nations in 1947. This makes it hard for people to get visas to travel to see each other.

Several Indians and Pakistanis have landed in trouble after illegally crossing the border for love. In recent years, many couples whose stories received media attention have attributed their meeting to the internet.

In the case of Gulzar Khan and Daulat Bi, it started with a wrong number.

Mr Khan is from Sialkot region in Pakistan’s Punjab province (there is a Punjab state in India as well, as the region was divided during Partition in 1947). Ms Bi is from the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Mr Khan, who was working as a painter in Saudi Arabia, says he was trying to call a former colleague in India in 2009. When he didn’t get through, he tried changing a digit here and there, thinking he might have jotted down a wrong number.

“One of those random numbers connected him with me,” Ms Bi says.

She was a little apprehensive about talking to a stranger, she says. But he persisted.

Mr Khan says he did tell Ms Bi on the first call that he was from Punjab, but that he didn’t clarify that he meant the one in Pakistan. He also did not reveal that he was a Christian – for years, even after their marriage, Ms Bi assumed he was a Muslim like her.

A barbed wire fence is pictured at the India-Pakistan border in R.S Pora, southwest of Jammu, on October 3, 2016.IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,

Successful cross-border love stories between Indians and Pakistanis are rare

Over the next two years, they spoke regularly on the phone.

Ms Bi, who was a widow with a child, says her relatives and neighbours would taunt her for talking to him.

“I used to tell him that it’s better that I die,” she says. But he promised to come and marry her.

Mr Khan claims that he made several unsuccessful attempts to get a valid visa from the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia.

Finally, he decided to impersonate an Indian citizen. “I told [authorities] that I lost my passport, that I was an Indian and wanted to return to India,” he says, and showed them an identity card which had a black-and-white photo of an Indian man who looked similar to him.

He was detained and issued an emergency certificate, after which he was deported to India, he says. The BBC has contacted the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia for comment.

Mr Khan arrived in India’s Hyderabad city in January 2011 and within weeks, the couple married and moved to Ms Bi’s village in Nandyal district in Andhra Pradesh. Upon his arrival, the local police questioned him but no case was registered.

For the next eight years, the two lived together and had four more children, with Mr Khan making a living as a painter. He says he applied for and got an Aadhaar biometric card and other identity documents.

Mr Khan says he completely cut ties with his family in Pakistan during this time. His uncle even visited Saudi Arabia to find out what happened to him.

“We thought he may have had an accident,” his sister Sheela Lal, who lives in the city of Rawalpindi in Pakistan, told BBC Urdu.

“As I lived with my new family, I started considering myself an Indian,” Mr Khan says. But soon, he says, memories of home returned and he decided to visit Pakistan again.

In 2019, he was arrested at a railway station in the neighbouring Indian state of Telangana while trying to leave India with Ms Bi and their children and charged with illegal entry and procuring forged documents.

According to news reports, intelligence agencies had tracked calls made by Mr Khan to Pakistan. The Hyderabad police’s special investigation team, which is dealing with Mr Khan’s case, did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment.

It was when he was arrested that Ms Bi finally discovered that Mr Khan was a Christian from Pakistan. “I fought with the police, saying that he is from Punjab,” she said. “Then they told me that there is a Punjab in Pakistan too, and he is from there.”

Ms Bi says she was initially shocked to hear the truth but that she has now made peace with it. “How does it matter now?” she asks.

Gulzar Khan and Dululat Bi
Image caption,

Ms Bi and Mr Khan say they want to live together

After Mr Khan’s arrest, she sought help from villagers and collected money for his legal expenses. A local court granted him bail in 2020 and a case on whether he should be deported is being heard.

In February 2022, Mr Khan was arrested again after the Telangana government issued an order to detain what they described as “illegal migrants” in the state.

The state’s high court then ordered that he be released until his deportation case was decided.

Mr Khan doesn’t deny the charges against him, acknowledging that he is a Pakistani citizen who pretended to be an Indian. “I got what I deserved. I have no complaints,” he told the BBC.

Now the couple is waiting for the court’s verdict to find out if they can stay together, either in India or Pakistan.

“I just hope it all works out,” Ms Bi says.

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