Ila Popat has been living in India for more than five decades.
She got married here, had children, obtained an Indian driving licence and even a voter identity card.
But she still can’t travel abroad as an Indian because she doesn’t have a passport, effectively making her stateless.
She has now approached the Bombay High Court to direct Indian officials to issue her a passport.
Mrs Popat, 66, was born in Uganda in 1955 and came to India by ship as a 10 year old on her mother’s passport.
She has since lived in the country and has made it her home, with several documents to prove her “Indian-ness” as she calls it.
She is in this unique situation because her decades-long attempt to acquire a passport has seen her labelled “stateless” by three different countries.
“Each time, they would get stuck at the question of my citizenship,” she says.
Mrs Popat’s father was born and raised in Porbandar, a port city in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
In 1952, he left to work in Uganda and a few years later acquired a British passport.
Mrs Popat was born in Kamuli town of the east African country in 1955, seven years before the country’s independence from British rule.
In 1966, she left for India with her mother and her younger brother as Uganda went through a period of intense political turmoil which would lead to the suspension of its constitution and a state of emergency.
“I came to India as a minor, with my name registered on my mother’s passport. Her passport stated she was a British Protected Person,” Mrs Popat says. This was a class of nationality given by the UK government.
Her lawyer Aditya Chitale explains how she entered India without a passport at the time.
“Presumably the rules then said that a child could enter the country on their parent’s passport, or she would never have been allowed entry,” he says.
In India, Mrs Popat’s family first lived in Porbandar but moved to Mumbai in 1972. This is where Mrs Popat got married in 1977 and raised her family.
In 1997, Mrs Popat applied for Indian citizenship, having fulfilled the conditions under India’s 1955 Citizenship Act which included marriage to a citizen and residency of seven years. But her application was not “viewed favourably” and rejected.
She then approached the British High Commission in Mumbai since both her parents had held British passports. Her mother still had family in the UK.
The High Commission, however, said she was not eligible to apply for a British passport since neither her father nor her paternal grandfather were “born, registered or naturalised” in the country or its colonies after 1962.
It also said Mrs Popat was likely to be a Ugandan citizen “but if the Ugandan authorities refuse passport facilities you would appear to be a stateless person.”
This would be the first of a number of occasions she would hear herself labelled this way.
In the following decades, she applied for an Indian passport twice, getting rejected by authorities each time.
“I would ask if I could at least get a travel passport to visit my grandfather in the UK, but I couldn’t get one,” she says.
Her younger brother, who lives in Vadodara, had a British passport like their parents.
First Reported by International Media
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