Another desperate bid surfaced at the Line of Control when an Uri woman ended her missing status recently by dialing her family from the other side of Kashmir. But beyond the latest crossover lies the perpetual struggle of the people living on the razor-edge.
A little more than a week ago, Abid Sheikh slipped into the river Neelum on his way home and most unexpectedly reached what is known as ‘Maqbooza Kashmir’ in his village. To everyone unfamiliar with his story, Abid was a seven-year-old boy who adventitiously fell into the roaring river and drowned. His body was found the next day, stuck to an embankment in Kashmir Valley, where the river is known as Kishenganga.
Kashmir has been witness to many such accidental and intentional crossovers. The most recent case that made international news belonged to the ‘accidental’ category.
Abid and his family had no inkling about the fate his life was going to meet or how his unanticipated death would spring two warring armies into collaborating for their emotional well-being.
His body was handed over at Chorwan, situated in the Gurez Valley of Bandipore district. The interaction India and Pakistan had here, was the first ever since the war of 1947.
Chorwan had been a transit station for cultural interaction since time immemorial. It was a segment of the legendary Silk Route, where knowledge and skill was exchanged, largely shaping our world today. This heritage of the Dardic people is their source of nationalistic pride.
After decades of war and hostility, the natives saw their ancestral land temporarily assume its natural character of humanitarian and loving association.
The military barrier that cuts across Dardistan, was roughly drawn in 1947 as the Ceasefire Line, which officially became the Line of Control after the 1972 Shimla Agreement. But no amount of political discourse or military force has stopped people, foreign and native, from leaping fences and frontiers.
On the 13th of July, Shaheena, a woman from Uri was suspected to have crossed the LoC from her village, Sahoora. The reasons for her migration are still unknown and being investigated but she has reportedly made a phone call from the other side informing her family of her whereabouts.
Shaheena isn’t a standalone case.
Sometimes motivated by their fantasies of romance, many youngsters have taken literal leaps of faith to unite with their aspiring lovers. Cross-LoC unions of Kashmir’s elite make it to primetime television and headlines, however there are countless unheard yet heartrending stories about commoners living at opposite ends of the same fence. One such story is that of Niaz and Barkat.
Womens News Service, in October 2007, reported the momentous reunion of Niaz Mohammad and his wife Barkat Bi, both septuagenarians, split geographically by the 1965 war.
For 42 years the couple were close enough to see each other across the fence between their villages and could even hear each other if they yelled loudly enough. In March that year, they finally managed to reunite when Niaz was granted a 28-day-permit to visit Barkat in Kashmir Valley.
Townships bordering the LoC have a heavy quota of such accounts which are mostly tragic.
Kapur Jan is a fabled Uri woman, who once lived in Bagh village not far away from Bandi, Pakistan Administrated Kashmir.
During the fateful year of 1987 she had crossed over as the 14-year-old bride of Javed Khan from Jabla, Kashmir. A year later, militancy started and she woke up one morning to find her husband missing. She was told that he’d crossed over for arms training. Jan waited a year and then jumped the fence to trace him but was caught. She was repatriated to her own village but later remarried another Uri resident named Yaqoob, in 2002.
When she moved in with him, she found that he was already married with children. Tensions led to arguments and eventually, torture. She attempted her second cross over but was caught in the act and jailed.
On completing her term, she was counselled to return to her cheating husband and while transitioning from one frontier village to the other, she was arrested at the Suntung post by the BSF.
She served a mandatory six-month-term which left her a mental wreck. She lived in a tin-shed for a long time after making six failed attempts at crossing over. In 2009, she was finally sent home via Amritsar.
War and jingoism has impacted our modern world more than we acknowledge. Every country and state’s primary identity rests in the jet black lines that define it on a piece of paper, we call a map. Our cultural heritage is distinguished by the places we come from and spend time living, but when these memories get packaged into repressive identities, the essence of life is lost.
The pain of dual or cusped identities is aptly personified by the Kashmiris who had fled to Pakistan when insurgency gripped their lands. In 1990, 30,000 residents ran off to Pakistan, or safe bunkers along the LoC. Almost 4,000 of these refugees are estimated to still be living on the Pakistani side. Although residents of a culture that is in congruence with theirs, they reportedly live a rootless existence.
Much of the LoC runs alongside the Neelum river which is around 100 meters wide. The closest separated family members can get is by gathering on the opposite river banks to wave and pass gestured signs to one another. “If only India and Pakistan care for Kashmiris, they should let us cross this blood line they have drawn to divide us,” lamented a Kashmiri living close to LoC.
In order to reunite, Kashmiris on Pakistan’s side work for months and save thousands of rupees for airfare to Nepal. Upon their arrival in Nepal, they require much time, money and coordination to cross over.
Despite such desperate bids to cross the barrier, the LoC continues to dominate their lives like in Hunderman, a quaint hamlet in Kargil, whose denizens have seen too much in too less time.
In the past 70 years, Hunderman has survived four wars, infinite skirmishes and absurd moments of military history. According to passed-down tales, the hamlet has been a part of two nations.
The villagers believe that between 1949 and ’71, it was a part of Pakistan. But after the fall of Dhaka in 1971, ‘Hundermanis’ became Indians overnight. Many families were separated in this process, an event that shouldn’t be novel to the reader anymore.
Inspired by the poignancy of such break-ups, a Skardu-based journalist, Musa Chulungkha, started a WhatsApp group titled ‘Hum Sb Kb Milenge’ (when will we meet). Today, the group has more than 110 members from both sides of the LoC and brings together relatives, well-wishers and residents of the villages that suffered in 1971.
One of the group members spoke to LiveMint through WhatsApp voice messages. “I am living the life of a Muhajir,” he said in Urdu. “I am one of those left behind from Thyakshi, now in India. To us, this seems like a different country. We face so much loneliness here. Many fathers, husbands and brothers from Thyakshi were left behind in Pakistan as they had left their homes for work. The mothers, wives, daughters and sisters were all alone. We still bear the repercussions of this violence. A man who was stuck here somehow managed to marry and have children again, but the loneliness persists. Eid for us isn’t a celebration. It is mourning. We have no brothers, sisters and family. Who should we visit?”
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