The Sodha Rajputs are descendants of the Parmara Rajputs, who once controlled regions of Malwa and later northwest Rajasthan. Over the course of history, their base shifted to Umerkot (earlier Amarkot) district in Sindh province, Pakistan. Their biggest concentration outside India remains in Tharparkar district across the border
However, given that they adhere to “purity of blood” and also forbid marrying within “gotra” (clan), the Sodha Rajputs in India are crucial to their race. Hence, marrying across the borders has been the common practice with little restrictions on cross border movement till 1965. Settling down in India, even for the groom, was preferred for the minority Hindu group in Pakistan.
Thereon, both governments, India and Pakistan, made special visa provisions and created a special diplomatic channel to facilitate the cross-country marriage of Sodha Rajputs, despite the strained relations between both countries.
However, this facility remains largely on paper. In the last couple of decades, borders have been fenced and diplomatic lines have hardened. When war hysteria ratchets up, it is this community that bears the brunt. Marriages, funerals, anniversaries fall victim to the “border par tanav.”
Funerals, being with ageing parents battling cancer or simply old-age woes, daughters married off, important celebratory events for the family, newly-weds who have to part ways because the spouse must leave in absence of permission to take his wife back home or the girl who must go back because she is a “foreigner” in the land… ask any Sodha and they will tell you how each one can relate to more than one circumstance, sometimes all.
Not because of the distance, which at the most is like a night’s bus travel. (The Thar Express was discontinued by Pakistan in the wake of the surgical strikes by India). Not because of financial concerns.
Simply because of “governments on either side.” One refuses access into the land while the other rounds up “people who overstay” and blacklist them forever. Both countries very often interchange and overlap these dispensing roles. Which also means, end to all to and fro between the very adjacent Tharpakar and Umerkot in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India.
Hindu Singh Sodha, an activist who has been working for the last 20 years with Sodha community, says Indian spouses are an obvious choice for the community. “Both girls and boys in India are well educated, which is a big draw. Hindus in Pakistan also fear persecution as they are a minority. Given a choice they all want to settle down in India,” he says. Ajeet Singh Sodha from Haveli village in Umerkot, Pakistan, is a newly minted Indian citizen. He moved to Jodhpur in 2007 with an IT diploma, the second brother in the family to do so. He started with a computer operator’s job in a private hospital and worked his way up. In 2011, he got married to a Rajput girl from Sirohi in Rajasthan. Over the years, four brothers and a sister have successfully shifted to Jodhpur. Though he has no complaints, the family has not seen their parents for three years. “We have applied four times and every time the visa papers get rejected. You feel helpless when you see aged parents struggling. They are so near yet so far,” says Ajeet Singh, who received his citizenship last year. Blessings are given on video call and Skype while emoticons on WhatsApp substitute for real hugs and smiles.
Ganpat Singh Sodha couldn’t go to his mother as she lay dying of cancer at his brother’s house in Jodhpur, India, a little over 300 km from Umerkot, Pakistan, where he lives. Three of his children are in Jodhpur too. He has been apart from them for five years.
A former government schoolteacher of Sindhi in Umerkot , he kept applying for a visa and desperately calling the Indian High Commission in Islamabad. On 20 April 2021, he sent a voice message in Urdu/English. He still has the recording, in which his voice audibly cracks as he pleads: “My mother is on her deathbed. Please issue the visa on humanitarian grounds.”
“We cannot issue the visa as we have not got the necessary clearances from India,” an official texted. Ganpat found he was blacklisted for “overstaying” his visa when he was last in India. While there, he had applied for a six-month visa extension, expecting it to be granted.
The agony of being so near. Yet so far, is best understood by a Sodha Rajput. With worsening Indo-Pak ties, there seems little hope for community’s trials in the near future.