Mumbai: A month ago, Bengaluru police detained a 19-year-old Pakistani woman for entering India through illegal channels and living in Bengaluru for many months. On February 20, the woman was repatriated to Pakistan and reunited with her parents.
The woman, Iqra Jewani, had travelled across two countries – the United Arab Emirates and Nepal – to reach India. Iqra wanted to meet a man she had met online in an open game room of a gaming website named ‘Ludo’ and had eventually fallen in love with.
Bengaluru police say Iqra was kept at a women’s shelter home in the city for a month. There, the police say, she explained her situation and was given a choice to either stay back or return to her parents. She chose the latter, say police.
Iqra’s is perhaps one of the very few cases where a person from Pakistan has been repatriated in less than a month.
This, sources in both the Indian police and its Pakistani counterpart claim, was possible only because authorities “didn’t let the case be highlighted in the media more than required”.
“After the initial news, we didn’t share much information about her whereabouts and let diplomacy play its role. Once confirmed that the girl had genuinely travelled to India for love, we decided to not pursue the case any further,” a senior police officer told The Wire.
Iqra, a Class 12 student from Hyderabad in Pakistan, allegedly met Mulayam Singh Yadav on the online gaming portal last year. Her father, Muhammad Sohail Jewani, says the young student did not have a phone of her own and would play on her mother’s phone. Iqra is the only daughter of the family, born after three sons, her father says.
On September 19 last year, as Iqra went missing from home, her parents immediately filed a missing persons’ complaint with the police.
“At about 8 am, Iqra had gone to F.G. College, Cantonment [in Hyderabad, Sindh] for classes as usual. She would usually return home by noon but on September 19, when she did not return, I went to the college and I was told my daughter had not gone to college that day,” Jewani states in his complaint.
This complaint was soon handed over to the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency, which tracked her down to India.
Since Iqra went missing, her family has petitioned both the Pakistani and Indian governments seeking her immediate release.
Iqra had allegedly first travelled to Karachi and from there to Dubai and eventually to Nepal. From Nepal, she entered India and eventually settled with Mulayam, who, she claimed, had introduced himself as Sameer Ansari to her. A few days after Iqra reached Bengaluru, she contacted her mother and said she was married to a man named Sameer and was living in India.
“We could not make sense of what was happening. We tried convincing her that she should return to Pakistan and we would find a legal way to get the two married. But before we could convince her, the police had arrested her and the man,” the father told The Wire.
He maintains that his daughter was enticed into taking such a drastic step and that Mulayam had hidden his identity since day one.
“In one of her phone calls, Iqra had told her mother that Mulayam would lock her in the house before leaving for work,” he had told The Wire in one of the first conversations with this reporter after Iqra’s detention in Bengaluru.
The Bengaluru police have claimed that Iqra’s repeated WhatsApp calls to her mother in Pakistan first alerted them about her illegal stay in India. The police have, however, not clarified how and why were her WhatsApp calls intercepted. According to the police, the intelligence agencies were involved also involved in the interception process.
The ministry of home affairs in 2021 had informed Parliament that lawful interception and monitoring is carried out by law enforcement agencies only after obtaining approval of the competent authority under provisions of section 5(2) of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 read with Rule 419A of Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Rules, 2014, and Section 69 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 read with the Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Interception, Monitoring and Decryption of Information) Rules, 2009. Again, whether or not the requisite permissions had been sought and subsequently granted is not known.
The Wire was not able to establish contact with Iqra and hence, neither the police’s nor her father’s claims could be independently confirmed.
Iqra’s father Jewani says that his family, including Iqra, had been to Mecca only a few months before Iqra went missing. “But in September, her visa expired. The girl who needed us to accompany her to her school which was only 10 minutes away from where we lived, had suddenly travelled through three countries illegally. We have no idea how this happened,” Jewani says.
The FIR registered by the Bellandur police on January 19 only mentions Mulayam and Govinda Reddy, the owner of the house where the couple had lived since September as accused persons. Iqra was merely mentioned in the FIR as a victim. Mulayam, who worked as a security guard at a private firm, continues to be in jail custody and is currently lodged in the Bangalore Central Jail.
Police sources confirm that Iqra was questioned on multiple occasions by the local police and the intelligence department. “At one point, Iqra said she didn’t want to return to Pakistan. But later, she changed her mind,” a senior officer told The Wire.
However, The Indian Express has reported that she had expressed that she wanted to stay back in India. The report also notes that the couple are still in love, in addition to stressing on Iqra’s willingness to stay, and does not mention the duping that Jewani insisted Iqra had been a victim of.
On February 20, Iqra, along with the Indian police crossed the Wagah Border and she was handed over to Pakistani officials. On the completion of formalities, she was reunited with her family. Today, February 21, Iqra and her family returned to Hyderabad.
This article was first published on The Wire.