Meet Siraj Khan, now 35-years old. By birth, he is a citizen of Pakistan. However, at age 10, a childhood adventure took him to India, where he spent the better part of his youth, built a life and also started a family.“I ran away from my home in Sharkol village in Mansehra. In my naive desire to escape from being pressurised to focus on education, I went to Lahore from where I thought I would go to Karachi and have a grand time exploring the city. I used the little money I took with me to buy a train ticket. I boarded the train, filled with excitement on being so close to my ultimate destination. However, little did I know that I had boarded the wrong train and was on my way to New Delhi, India,” Siraj recalls. After arriving in New Delhi, a bewildered Siraj found himself in an altogether new place, where language and custom both were alien to him. Homeless and alone, he spent three years on the footpath, yearning to return to his mother’s warm embrace.At 13, unaware of the complications his undocumented stay would cause, Siraj boarded a train in Ahmadabad in the hopes of returning home. He was travelling without a ticket and was thus arrested. After his arrest, he was asked what he was doing on the train, with the true naiveté of a child Siraj replied “I am going back to Pakistan, of course!” Upon hearing his answer, the policemen got incensed at his temerity and refused to believe him. Thinking of him as a confused Kashmiri child because of his physical appearance, they heard his story with disbelief and brushed it off as a child’s wild imaginings. He was moved to a remand home where displaced minors were housed, assured by the police that he would soon be reunited with his family.His futile insistence that he be sent back to Pakistan were met with wry amusement. The impossibility of a 10-year old child crossing the LOC unhindered without any documentation was a scenario no one was ready to entertain seriously. Three long years passed in the remand centre – the authorities’ efforts to locate his family in Kashmir were thwarted. Without finding any leads Siraj was released from the centre to resume a life of poverty. All hope of returning to Pakistan was lost, and meeting his family became a distant unattainable dream. Years passed before Siraj finally moved to Mumbai, in the hope of finding employment. Fate was finally kind to him; he found work as a dish washer and later progressed to working as a chef. Looking at his success, his neighbour set him up with a girl, who he later married.Siraj’s life took a turn for the better in subsequent years; he was blessed with three children, Zara who is in eighth grade, and two boys Inayat and Ijaz who are fourth graders now. However, fate had different plans for him. Siraj got a call from his brother in Pakistan informing him of the death of their father and how his own health was deteriorating. Armed with this knowledge, he once again set out to meet his family in Pakistan. Siraj approached the authorities in Mumbai and re-told his tale. He was taken into custody after verification from the Pakistani authorities came; a case was also filed against him for illegally living in India.Siraj’s story was met with suspicion. Claims by the court were made that he has secret links with the government and is a Pakistani agent in actuality. Siraj vehemently opposed this narrative, telling them of how he was married to an Indian national for the past 11-years and thought of India as his home too. The authorities verified his claims by calling his wife Sajida in court, who presented all legal documentation needed to prove Siraj’s claims. He was let go on bail but was still under surveillance.Siraj fought for five long years to become an Indian national, but all his pleas were rejected. In a final desperate attempt, he contacted the Mumbai High Court where again his case was rejected.The Indian law recognises a foreign individual as a citizen, if they stay in India for seven consecutive years and are married to a national. However, Siraj’s case was tainted with accusations of him being a Pakistani agent living illegally in India, so instead of him becoming a national he was placed on house arrest for eight months, and then deported to Pakistan in March 2018. Being Indian citizens, his wife and children remained there.Back in his country of origin, Siraj was overwhelmed by the turn his life had taken; whilst he was happy to reunite with his mother and brother, the memory of his children and wife ate at him. Long forgotten faces greeted him with wonder. But his heart longed to see his children again. He went to obtain a CNIC and a passport so he could travel to India, legally this time.However, like in India, the authorities here also greeted Siraj with suspicion. They interrogated him and the people of his village to confirm that indeed he had once lived there. Even after all the relevant paperwork was submitted, the authorities stopped his CNIC registration process and have since kept him under strict surveillance.Siraj laments the day he boarded that train 25-years ago, which not only took him away from his family but also made him an invisible citizen, rootless and forgotten by both states. Daily Times contacted Nadra’s office in Shinkiari, Mansehra, where Siraj applied for his CNIC but they refused to comment on the issue claiming that the file is under interrogation.Meanwhile Sajida, Siraj’s wife, talked to a media outlet in India where she pleaded with the Indian foreign minister Sushma Swaraj to be reunited with her husband. However, she faces the same constraints in obtaining a visa to Pakistan.Unable to address the suspicions of Pakistani and Indian state authorities, Siraj and Sajida now intend to approach the United Nations to plead their case, and request for a possibility for reunion.Published in Daily Times, August 22nd 2018.