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Sundered Hindu-Muslim, Indo-Pak-Kashmiri Family Cries for Reunion

Tuesday, June 23, 2009, Tanveer Ahmed

 

Forget borders, Let’s make LoC a line of peace-PM: Ruling out redrawing of borders in Jammu & Kashmir, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday that the Line of Control (LoC) could become a “line of peace’’ with a free flow of ideas, goods, services and...Read Full

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A Real Chance in Kashmir

Will Indo-Pak peace bring peace to  beleaguered Indian Muslims?

“Before 2005, my Nana was the main obstacle between my Nani [in Pakistan] and her family [in India]. Now it’s the relationship between India and Pakistan.”

 

I am a 37-year-old British Mirpuri Kashmiri.  Four years ago, I came to Pakistan with the sole intention of taking my Nani, my maternal grandmother, across the Line of Control to meet her family on the other side of Kashmir.

 

She was born into a Hindu-Brahman-Saasan family in the early 1930’s, on the Pakistani-administered side of Kashmir, not far from what is described as the Line of Control (LoC). The communal frenzy and folly that was August 1947 in the Punjab was replicated in Kashmir by October 1947. My Nani’s life changed for ever.

Misplaced from her fleeing family, destitution was quickly evident, dishonour imminent and death almost certain. What transpired as a rescue mission by my Nana, maternal grandfather, led to her having to convert from the faith of her forefathers, marry a stranger in a strange environment, bear children, rear grand-children, even great-grand-children and engage in almost 61 years of constant extemporisation to combat the persistent estrangement she endured. Her background was literally a closed chapter, sealed and suppressed. Not too unlike the border that has un-naturally divided Kashmir.

 

My Nani had probably accepted her predicament as fate as soon as she had entered my Nana’s house, way back in October 1947. I, however, have increasingly felt otherwise. I’ve always considered this to be part of a perverse political drama. Lack of imagination by the rulers accompanied denial of creative expression for the ruled. Improvising a constructive alternative has been my self-imposed mission for the past four years.

 

I had learnt of her story in 1988, while I was visiting my grandparents in Mirpur, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir. News had filtered through the 70 kilometres or so of mountainous terrain that her mother had passed away. We listened to a cassette recording of her kid brother’s forlorn attempt at getting a Pakistani visa a few years earlier.

 

A year later, after my GCSEs, I took a year off to explore my “origins.” I visited my Nani’s family in Rajouri, in Indian-administered Kashmir in December 1989. Three days was all I got with them — my father had accompanied me to India, and, being a staunch, orthodox Muslim, could not prolong the prospect of spending too much time with non-Muslims. The emotions of my Nani’s siblings and their offspring etched a permanent impression on my mind. I promised them that I would reunite them with their sister.

 

Travelling from India to Pakistan and relaying my adventure to all and sundry had a mildly sensational effect on the local population. Forty-two years of jingoism was momentarily set aside and human emotion was purposefully reflected on. This cut little ice with my Nana though. He remained rigid and paranoid over the idea of my Nani visiting her siblings, fearing she may never return.

 

The 1990’s raced past, conflict in the region easily overshadowing all else. Nevertheless, I made an attempt in 1993 when I tried to insist on my Nani accompanying me to India. Eventually, after a month of unsuccessful insistence, I crossed the Wagah-Attari border by myself. The lonesome figure that I was, instead of venturing north to visit her family I decided to ride my sorrow and angst by proceeding south to Bombay and Goa. The mere idea of meeting them without Nani was unbearable.

 

Life carried on but the emotional baggage increased. Nani’s kid brother’s death in February 2004 proved to be the final shock that I was willing to passively endure. It wasn’t until March 2005 that we were informed of this tragedy. A subsequent emotional verbal exchange between me and my Nana secured his long-sought acquiescence for my Nani to visit her family.

 

I arrived again in Pakistan in April 2005. The three of us applied together for an Indian visa in Islamabad. That was the advice the Indian visa officer in London gave me after getting over his disbelief that I could be related to both a Muslim and a Hindu family. We waited in vain. The Indian High Commission told us they were waiting for a No Objection Certificate to my visa application from the High Commission in London. The Indian visa delay prompted my Nana to revert back to his original stance of not allowing my Nani to travel. In effect, the Indian government had inadvertently done him a favour as he was not overly keen in the first place.

 

In October 2005, in the wake of the deadly earthquake that struck Kashmir, I applied for a cross-LoC permit, under the impression that people would be allowed to travel in a matter of weeks if not days. Finally, in February 2008, my cross-LoC permit came me through. I visited my Nani’s family in Mendhar, in the Poonch district of Indian-administered Kashmir. There was mutual elation. I witnessed the fourth death anniversary of my Nani’s younger brother, Sita Ram Sharma. He, along with his parents, had lived in constant anxiety over their sister and daughter respectively. They all died in vain. Anyway, meeting my Nani’s remaining two siblings after 19 years evoked a sense of mutual revival of hope. I explained my Nana’s intransigence and they eventually managed to convince him to apply for a cross-LoC permit so that he and my Nani could visit them. My Nani’s heart condition had become such that travelling via Wagah-Attari or Lahore-Delhi would be almost impossible.

 

In March 2008, I returned to the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir and promptly made applications for cross-LoC permits for myself and my Nani and Naana. It took many months of haggling with the local authorities and the ISI to get them to send the forms across the LOC, but not before October. It is understood that the authorities on the Indian side cleared our applications in March this year. However, their counterparts on the Pakistani side maintain that they have not received our applications to date.

 

Although I have received email confirmation from the sorting centre in Srinagar, Muzaffarabad is adamant on a ‘dispatch date’ in order to locate the files. My Nani, in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, and her 2 siblings, on the Indian-administered side, are ailing, and 63 years of separation will not withstand the test of time for much longer, I fear. This thought has been etched on my mind for the past several years. Not a day passes without it continuing to haunt me.

 

Before 2005, my Nana was the main obstacle between my Nani and her family. Now it’s the relationship between India and Pakistan. My Nani is now 79 years old. Please help me reunite her with her family, separated for over 60 years by a distance not much more than 60 kilometres.

 

I desperately hope this story doesn't culminate in that most
antagonising of cliches: "So near yet so far."

 

Tanveer Ahmed is a freelance journalist.

He can be reached at at sahaafi@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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Comments:

Dear Tanvir Ahmed,

Read the story of your Nani in Ummid.com today.
I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. Difficult to say which aspect of the story touched me so much.
 

Please continue your effort. Godspeed.

Dr. Mookhi Amir Ali

Mumbai

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