Nasreen, who was separated from her mother as an infant on the Indian side of the Line of Control, lives in hope of a reunion…
“There is a distance of a few kilometers, a mountain and a heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) between us”. This is how a 13-year old, Nasreen Qausar, defines her relationship with her mother and two siblings. They are longing for a soiree on the other side of the LoC in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Separated from her mother 12 years ago, Nasreen lives with her father Nazir Hussain in a border village called Keerni. It is located on the lower end of a mountain in the north west of the Poonch district, about two hundred and fifty kilometers from Jammu. The upper part of the same mountain is occupied by the Pakistan Army, making the village vulnerable to attacks -- a reality that the village residents have lived with for many years.
One such attack in the year 2000 changed Nasreen’s life forever. The local residents remember this year for the regular exchange of heavy fire at the LoC when hostilities between the two countries saw an unprecedented surge in the aftermath of the Kargil War.
When Pakistani forces fiercely attacked Nasreen’s village, it was transformed into a raging battlefield in moments. “My wife, Naseeb Jaan, along with our two children, Naseera Qausar and Naseer Ahmad, had gone to visit her family in the same village. All of a sudden, there was heavy gunfire, with bombs exploding everywhere. In a state of utter chaos, all of them rushed towards the Pakistani side to save their lives. They have not been able to return since,” shared Nazir, recalling the darkest day of his life.
For security reasons, the entire village was then vacated by the security forces and was referred to as “Barbaad Keerni” during the time it lay abandoned. The Indian forces reclaimed the village and permitted its habitation only last year.
Nasreen was a year old infant then and has no recollection of the mayhem that wrought havoc in her village. The absence of memories and the physical distance do not, however, dampen the strength of the mother-daughter relationship. Over the years, her emotional connect with her divided family has grown stronger, as she listened to her father’s stories about her mother and siblings. Her father did not give a thought to a second marriage. This has further strengthened Nasreen’s hopes of being reunited with her family.
In recent years, the Poonch-Rawalkote cross-LoC bus service started in 2006 has enabled family unions, albeit sporadically, bringing hope to thousands. In Nasreen’s case, the family members remained apart and incommunicado till last year, when Naseeb Jaan, with children in tow, was spotted by a person from her village during his visit to the other side via the bus service. Nasreen’s joy knew no bounds when she heard the news. She was convinced she would finally be reunited with her mother. Along with her father, she was ready to fulfil every formality, cross every boundary.
Unfortunately, the father and daughter continue to struggle with obstacles that have divided families for many years now. So far, they have been refused permission to travel on the bus on the grounds that their stranded family members have been living in a refugee camp as ‘stateless’ people.
According to Nazir, only those persons are permitted to board the cross LoC bus who have blood relations living as citizens on the other side. “My wife and children are putting up in a refugee camp,” says Nazir, who has left no stone unturned in his effort to bring his family together again.
He has pleaded with politicians and ministers visiting his area and has given representations to senior officials in the administration, all to no avail.
Meanwhile, Nasreen calls on every villager who returns after meeting their relations in PoK, hoping for news of her family. “ I am longing to meet them,” says Nasreen repeatedly. (Charkha Features)