"I think they should make a movie on us... One like Gadar or Veer Zara," quipped 27-year-old Seema Ghulam Haider, a Pakistani Muslim woman, who along with her four children, allegedly sneaked into India in May 2022. Why? To be with 23-year-old Sachin Meena, a resident of Rabupura, a nondescript village 40 km from Noida in Uttar Pradesh.
The two claimed that they met — and fell in love — in 2020 on the hugely popular gaming app, PUBG-Battleground.
Four years on, in an eventful first week of July, the couple found themselves in the middle of two warring countries, security agencies, and a police investigation which landed them in prison.
On 8 July -- four days after they were arrested -- the couple secured bail, and Seema could not contain the excitement of living her 'Bollywood dream'.
"Have you watched that film... Gadar? I made hundreds of Instagram and TikTok videos on songs from that film. Is it any surprise then that I found love across the border? I only want to request the Indian government to give me citizenship and let me live here with Sachin," she told The Quint, hours after she stepped out of Luksar Jail in UP's Gautam Budh Nagar.
The Quint spoke to the couple, the man's family, and their neighbours in Rabupura to understand how this cross-border love story catapulted a small village in Uttar Pradesh to international fame and headlines.
From Karachi to Uttar Pradesh Via Nepal
After four years of knowing each other virtually, when Seema and Sachin finally decided to live together, things didn't go as planned.
On 4 July, the Uttar Pradesh police came knocking at their door following a complaint by an advocate who the couple had in fact approached for advice regarding marriage.
"She was at a local court and making inquiries about how to get married. Some of us (lawyers) were shocked when we learnt that she, and her four children, were carrying Pakistani passports," the lawyer told The Quint on the condition of anonymity.
The couple and Sachin's father Netrapal Meena were arrested by the Greater Noida police on 4 July. Seema was arrested for entering the country in violation of the immigration laws, and Sachin and his father were held for sheltering her.
"Seema and Sachin first met in Nepal in January this year. In mid-May, the 27-year-old woman, along with her children, left Karachi to go to Dubai and then to Kathmandu. From Kathmandu, she went to Pokhara and took a bus and managed to cross the Indian border... Since she was a woman travelling with four children, she was able to flout security checks," said DCP (Greater Noida) Saad Miya Khan.
After entering India allegedly via Nepal, Seema's next stop was Rabupura in UP where Sachin lived with his family in a modest two-room house and worked at a grocery store.
Once she arrived, Sachin rented a room to stay with Seema and her children.
"Sachin is my husband, I can't live without him. We got married at the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu earlier this year. If I'm sent back to Pakistan, I will be killed," said Seema, hours after the couple was granted bail on Friday, 7 July by the Jewar Civil court.
The court also ordered that as long as the case continues, Seema will not change her residence and will live with Sachin.
While granting them bail, Justice Nazim Akbar, observed that Seema "did not enter the borders of India with any wrong intention. Rather, she has come for the purpose of settling down with co-accused Sachin Meena."
Love in The Times of PUBG
It was during the COVID-19 pandemic that both Sachin and Seema first came in contact while playing PUBG.
"I was impressed with his skills in the game which is why I initiated a conversation and we became friends. Soon, we exchanged phone numbers and started talking on WhatsApp and Instagram. We confessed our love in January 2021. Since I arrived in India, I have accepted Hinduism and named my children Raj, Priyanka, Munni and Pari," Seema told The Quint.
Back home in Rabupura, Sachin's father Netrapal, who owns a nursery, is "excited about welcoming home his to-be daughter-in-law from across the border."
"Once the police investigation is done and they give us a go-ahead, we will not waste a single minute and get the two married. It is not easy to move countries. She (Seema) is a courageous woman, just the kind of person we would want our son to marry," said Netrapal, two days before Sachin and Seema got bail. Netrapal got bail on 6 July, and was at home when The Quint visited a day later.
Sachin, 23, who makes around Rs 13,000 a month working at a kirana store, has five siblings — three elder sisters, one elder and one younger brother.
The fact that Seema was married and has four children is not a deterrent for the Meena family.
"She told us that her husband was abusive. Also, he lived in Saudi Arabia. Both of them (Sachin and Seema) are in love and that is all that matters. We have happily accepted her children," added Netrapal.
Sachin's mother Rani said that once the couple is married as per Hindu traditions, she will "boast" about having a daughter-in-law from across the border to other women in the village.
"(Seema) gaon ki pehli bahu hogi jo border paar se aayi hai. (Seema will be the first daughter-in-law in the village to have come from across the border)," Rani told The Quint.
While Seema claimed that she was divorced, her husband, Ghulam Haider, claimed otherwise. In a video message, he urged the Indian government to send her back to Pakistan.
"Islam or Hinduism do not allow marriage of a woman with a man until she is divorced. I urge the Indian government to send Seema and my children back to Pakistan," the Hindustan Times reported him as saying in the video.
But Not Everybody in Rabupura is Happy
The Meena Thakuran Mohalla in Rabupura, where Sachin's family lives, is characterised by narrow lanes, open drains, and several kirana (grocery) stores.
A group of men sat outside the kirana store where Sachin works. "What if the woman was a spy? The family seems too comfortable sheltering her," one of them said, on condition of anonymity.
"She still could be one. Who knows? These gaming apps should be monitored," quipped another.
At the Meena residence, Sachin's uncle Birbal Meena, too, wasn't very happy.
"We told him to end this relationship the moment we learnt about it. Sometime in October last year, we caught Sachin talking to a woman over a video call late at night. We confronted him about her and he told us that they're in a relationship and they want to get married. We asked him to end the relationship. At that time we were unaware of the woman being a Pakistani," said the uncle.
"These gaming apps are the root of the problem. I often complained to his father that Sachin is always busy on the phone but he didn't listen," he added.
Around 200 m away from Sachin's uncle's house, at the village square, a group of young men between 15-20 years of age stood in a huddle — all with smartphones in their hands and pockets. "So, are you all playing PUBG?" this reporter asked.
Some denied in unison, others laughed.