Meet the Dubai family whose hearts beat for both India and Pakistan on independence days

Mumbai-born great-grandmother talks of her love for her homeland India and adopted country Pakistan

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India and Pakistan celebrate their independence days this week, only a day apart, but for one Dubai family the dates have even more significance as they celebrate both.

India celebrates its 76th year of freedom from British colonial rule on August 15, a day after its neighbour Pakistan marked its liberation from the British in 1947.

Mumbai-born Abidanisa Ayub Siraj was a teenager when she moved to Pakistan after marriage in 1962.

Now her family in Dubai embraces both its Indian and Pakistani roots with ties on either sides of the border.

From childhood we were told half our family lives in India and half our family stays in Pakistan
Khalid Siraj, Dubai resident

The great-grandmother says affection and love for both countries keeps the bond between family members strong.

“India is still home for me and Pakistan became my home because my husband was from Pakistan and my children are Pakistani,” the 75-year-old told The National.

Her late husband Ayub Siraj was also born in Mumbai. But his family moved to Karachi after the 1947 Partition, when British colonial rulers drew a border to split the country, displacing 15 million people in the process.

After her husband got a job in Dubai in the steel fabrication business, the Siraj family shifted to the UAE in 1973 where four of their eight children were born.

One of her daughters is married to an Indian, four of her 15 grandchildren are Indian and the rest are Pakistani. She also has four great-grandchildren.

“I will always say good things about India and Pakistan because they gave me a lot of love,” she said.

“I was showered with affection in both countries and I teach my children also to respect others.

“I feel we must all live in harmony together.”

Live in peace

The UAE is home to many families with Indian and Pakistani heritage who often celebrate festivals and landmark events together.

More than a million Pakistanis live in the Emirates and the number of Indians recently exceeded 3.5 million.

The Siraj family have more than 130 relatives in the Emirates and stay in touch with relatives in India and Pakistan on the phone or when they visit the UAE.

The family flies Indian and Pakistani flags from their cars and watch independence day celebrations on television from both countries.

Her daughter Aaliya Siraj, 54, a Pakistani citizen, is married to an Indian.

Aaliya finds herself in the minority when the cricket teams face off as her children who are Indian join their father in supporting them.

“We put up flags of both countries,” the Dubai resident said.

“My children naturally support India and as for me – who wouldn’t want their country to win?

“But I tell them I’m happy both ways because I really am happy seeing my children celebrate.”

Her Indian husband Sayed Pasha, 59, remembers flag-hoisting ceremonies in India on Independence Day from way back when he was at school.

“India is like my mother. How a son feels about his mother, that’s how I feel about India,” he said.

“We have family from India and Pakistan and our celebrations are together, side by side, harmoniously.

“My children naturally love India because they are Indian but they also love their uncles and their family from Pakistan.

“We just ask them to respect all.”

Brotherly ties

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since becoming independent.

Relations between the countries are usually tense, with friction between political parties and tough visa regulations making it difficult for families to visit the other side of the border.

Abidanisa Siraj’s youngest son Khalid was among those born in Dubai and shares the philosophy of brotherly ties.

“From childhood we were told half our family lives in India and half our family stays in Pakistan,” the 45-year-old Pakistani citizen said.

“We have family in Mumbai, Bangalore, Karachi, Lahore and Dubai.

“We celebrate each other’s festivals and big events. We put the flags of both countries on our cars and meet together.

“I tell my children there is always a deep connection with India because it’s their grandmother’s land and their grandfather was born there.

“We have to remember our roots whatever the cross border politics and tensions – that should not get in the way of understanding people.”

Updated: August 15, 2023, 2:00 AM