Qadian: A Pakistan-born, 35-year-old woman who married a man living in Gurdaspur’s Qadian town in 2003, was able to vote for the time ever in her life when Punjab went to polls to elect its next legislative assembly on Saturday.
Though Tahira Maqbool lived in Pakistan till the age of 22, she never cast her vote in the four years of her adult life because she belongs to the persecuted Ahmadiyya Muslim sect of Islam. As far as India is concerned, she got her citizenship in April 2016 and exercised her franchise at the first opportunity.
In the neighbouring country, Ahmaddiya Muslims are considered non-Islamic and are allowed to vote for a separate 5% electorate of minority communities. However, as she does not consider herself non-Islamic, Tahira chose not to register as a voter there.
On Saturday, there was a spring in Tahira’s steps as she went to cast her vote to elect the MLA from Qadian. The mother of three returned from the election booth with an ineffable smile and showed off the ink on her finger with a gleam in her eyes. She cast her vote in Qadian assembly constituency of Gurdaspur district. “Polling day has come as Eid for me. After being an Indian citizen, now I am also a proud participant in the Indian democratic system,” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.
Born and brought up in Faisalabad district of Punjab province in Pakistan, Tahira married Qadian’s Chaudhary Maqbool Ahmad on December 7, 2003. She was granted citizenship in 2016 because of the democratic hurdles involved. “In Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas are not able to cast their vote as Muslims because they are categorized as non-Muslims. But, because I consider myself a Muslim, I did not vote,” she said.
Adding to her joy, Tahira’s serial number in the voter list was 786 (a number carrying immense significance in Islam). However, she said another 12 Pakistani women married to men in Qadian were awaiting Indian citizenship. “I have realized the power of the common man for the first time. I am going to take up cases of Pakistani girls who are married here but haven’t got Indian citizenship. I wish they also had a similar experience and felt proud, like I am feeling today,” she said.