Thursday, October 14, 2010

What ought to prevail: law or justice?

For all practical purposes, Ibrahim is an Indian.  This 55-year-old Keralite had lived in India until he was 22, when he went to Pakistan and worked there for nine years.  Then he came back to India and married an Indian woman in Kerala where he has been living for the past 26 years.  His name is on the voters' list and he even holds a ration card.

But there is a thorn in Ibrahim's flesh: his passport, issued by the Government of Pakistan.  This has led to the Government of India questioning his Indian citizenship time and again and ordering now deportation to Pakistan.

There is another dimension to this deportation case: Ibrahim cannot be proved to be a citizen of Pakistan.  His passport expired long ago.  Besides, he has lost it.  In any case, he doesn't want to live in Pakistan.  "Permit me to stay in my own land or hang me", he says.

Ibrahim's case reminds me of Albert Tong's.  In 1979, Tong left his native Hong Kong, a British colony at the time, to visit his younger brother in Britain.  He should have left Britain before his visitor's pass expired, but he overstayed by about two decades, married a British-born young woman, settled in Camborne, a tin-mining town in Britain, and led a happy life.  But the arm of the law is long.  When Tong was 43, he was found to be an illegal immigrant and a deportation order was served on him.

But Hong Kong was no longer Chris Patten's democratic Hong Kong: it had already come under the control of China, which was eager to remove all its vestigial traces of democracy.  And Tong, like his Indian counterpart, Ibrahim, didn't want to leave the country in which he had lived for about two decades and where his wife and children lived.

This is where Tong's story differs from Ibrahim's.  Unlike Ibrahim's fellow-citizens, the citizens of Camborne rallied round Tong and petitioned the government for mercy; they even urged Tong to move the European Court of Human Rights.  So far so good.  But the British government didn't relent.  Unlike the British government, the Indian government could be sympathetic towards Ibrahim and allow him to stay back with his family.

The law demands that Ibrahim be deported.  But justice demands that his case be treated differently and that he be recognized as an Indian citizen.

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