A Pakistani mother of four, who sneaked into India to live with a Hindu man whom she befriended through an online game platform, has been ostracised by her family and neighbours for daring to defy the societal norms here.
Seema Ghulam Haider and Sachin Meena got in touch while playing PUBG in 2019 and a dramatic love story unfolded between the two living more than 1,300 km apart, in countries not too friendly to each other.
Seema, 30, and Sachin, 22, live in the Rabupura area of Greater Noida, near Delhi, where he runs a provision store, according to Uttar Pradesh Police.
While Seema was arrested on July 4 for illegally entering India without a visa via Nepal with her four children, all aged below seven years, Sachin was put behind bars for sheltering the illegal immigrants.
While they were released from jail recently, the news from across the border is not so positive.
Seema's neighbours and a relative made it clear that they do not want her back in Pakistan.
"She should just send her children back to Pakistan. She can stay there. Now she is no longer even a Muslim,” said the 16-year-old son of the landlord in whose rented home Seema stayed with her children for the last three years.
The story of how this uneducated mother of four and the wife of a husband working abroad could have the courage in Pakistan’s largely conservative society to abandon everything and enter India illegally to be with a much younger man still fascinates everyone in her neighbourhood.
Her home is in a neighbourhood of Bhittaiabad a Katchi Abadi in the heart of Gulistan-e-Jauhar and is nothing much to talk about as it is a three-room portion in a building devoid of any paint and located in a narrow lane full of garbage and overflowing sewerages.
As soon as one reaches Seema’s house, one myth is broken that her husband Ghulam Haider who works in Saudi Arabia brought her the house for ₹1.2 million.
"No, she was a tenant with us for three years with her children. She lived alone with her children. Her father-in-law lives some distance away from here,” Nur Muhammad, the landlord’s son, explained.
Seema and Ghulam Haider had eloped 10 years back to Karachi and got married against the wishes of their parents.
"We saw her call a taxi and leave one day with her children and some bags and we thought she was going to her village in Jacobabad. But after nearly a month, when we heard about her escapade on TV channels, we were all shocked,” adds Jamal Jakhrani, an elderly man, who was her neighbour.
Efforts to try to talk to women in the narrow lane failed as the area is mostly inhabited by tribal area Pashtuns, Sindhis and Seraikis from rural areas and the men do not allow their women to talk to strangers and make them wear purdah.
But one noticed some women peeking out of their windows and main door inquisitive to know what was happening.
Jamal, who is from the same tribe that Seema and Ghulam Haider belong to, believes it is best Seema remains in India now.
"If ever she thinks of coming back, she will not be forgiven by the tribe and secondly her decision to stay with a Hindu has angered everyone now,” Jamal said.
Religious leader’s threat
Mian Mithoo, a high-profile religious leader in rural Sindh, known for using his seminary to convert Hindu girls to Islam and even bandits, has openly threatened to punish Seema if she returns.
His supporters have also threatened to attack Hindu worship places in Seema’s village but SSP Kashmore-Kandhkot, Irfan Samoo, assured Hindus and Sikhs they would be protected.
Samoo, however, is puzzled by the whole case and has found anomalies in Seema’s documents and tale.
“Her national identity card says she was born in 2002. So, she should be 21 years of age now and yet she has four children all up to the age of six years,” he said.
Samoo also said the police have asked Ghulam Haider to return from Saudi Arabia but he has been in touch with them only on video or phone calls.
Samoo is not convinced that a woman with a rural background would have the courage to plan her way to India via Dubai and Kathmandu.
An officer at the police station in Karachi where Seema’s father-in-law filed an FIR is also not convinced that it is a simple case as it looks.
“The husband also keeps changing his stories to the police. First, he said he bought the house now he says he paid one million rupees to Seema’s family to settle a tribal decision when they first fled to Karachi,” he said.
“One thing is clear Seema was frustrated with her husband’s absence and being forced to take care of four children by herself as she had no support even from her in-laws,” he said.
Malik, a mobile shop owner, remembers how after a year that Seema moved into the neighbourhood, she used to visit his shop to get her balance recharged frequently.
"She always wore a chaddar over her head and had half of her face covered and also didn’t talk much so that is what surprised me when I learnt about her decision,” Malik said.
Maulvi Samiuddin, a prayer leader in the neighbourhood mosque, was initially not even willing to talk about the incident but then says Seema was evil.
“Husbands should never leave their wives alone for years, and parents need to constantly keep a watch on their daughters and sisters or we will have more such incidents in future as well because most people, especially women, are not educated enough in such poor neighbourhoods to understand the consequences of their actions,” he said.
“She has brought shame to Muslims and Pakistan. She will sooner or later face punishment for her actions,” he said.