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From Pakistan to India, waiting to vote for 16 years


Gurdaspur (Punjab), Apr 05: The 16-year wait to cast her vote in India's general election is almost over and Tahira Maqbool, who came from Pakistan in 2003 when she got married to an Indian citizen, is counting each day.

The 37-year-old will exercise her right to franchise in the 2019 Lok Sabha from the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to the polls on May 12,

From Pakistan to India, waiting to vote for 16 years

It's a moment that has been 16 years in the making, said Tahira, who will be voting in a parliamentary election for the first time in her life.

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I could never vote in Pakistan due to its rigid and inconsiderate government policies. This ended in India after a long wait of 13 years when I first cast my vote in the Punjab assembly elections in 2017. Now, I will exercise my franchise for the first time in the parliamentary elections, an excited Tahira said.

"This is my right, I will definitely cast my vote for the candidate who is capable of taking India to greater heights," she said.

Tahira came to India from Faisalabad in Pakistan in December 2003 and settled in Qadian, a small town in Gurdaspur district, after getting married to Indian resident Maqbool Ahmad, a writer by profession.

Now an Indian citizen, she remembers vividly the many difficulties she faced after she got married.

"I got an Indian visa after almost eight months and it was later extended 13 times in 13 years. It was a big challenge as I had to follow many restrictions, including limited access to cities and taking permission to go up to Amritsar," the mother of three said.

Tahira took an oath of loyalty to the Indian Constitution and completed all the legal formalities in 2011. It was not until April 2016, five years later, that she was enrolled as a voter after getting Indian citizenship.

It's been a tumultuous time, said her husband. Relations between the two countries nosedived after the 2001 attack on Parliament. Maqbool couldn't go to Pakistan to marry her and Tahira couldn't come here either.

It was only in 2003 that Tahira got an Indian visa and the couple got married. Voting is a big moment for Tahira and for her husband too.

Finally, the time has come. After 16 years of waiting, I will go to a polling station with my wife to vote in the world's biggest election," said Maqbool.

He appealed to the Union government to relax norms so Pakistani women married to Indian citizens don't have to wait for so long to get citizenship.

The couple has two daughters, Shumala and Soofiya, and one son Maghoor Ahmad.


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