“It is very easy to shout war cries from the interiors of metropolitan cities, but it is the villagers in border areas who bear the brunt every time,” say residents who live close to the Line of Control
“Is it possible?” asks 85-year-old Begum Jaan with the astonished innocence of a naïve child, about the possibility of her daughter Fatima Begum, settled on the other side of the Line of Control (LoC), returning home to her village Nakka Manjhari, a few km from the LoC in Mendhar tehsil of Kashmir’s Poonch district on the Indian side. This obscure corner of India is currently in the news for the brutal killing of two soldiers on the Indian side and one dead on the Pakistani side, suspending hopes, faint as they were, of the likes of Begum Jaan being reunited with family on the other side of the border.
The incident that led to the suspension of cross-LoC trade and bus service has left several divided families and pacifists on both sides deeply disturbed. Begum Jaan is among the thousands whose lives have been torn apart by the conflict and has been sending up fervent prayers of peace.
Fatima Begum was stranded on the other side of the border during the turbulence of the 1965 war. At that time, Begum Jaan had assumed that they would be reunited shortly after the war ceased. But it was not to be. The wait simply kept getting longer as days turned into months and months into years. The years have been piling up for nearly five decades now.
It was only in July last year that she could meet her long separated daughter for the first time. The joyous and tearful reunion, however, remained incomplete in spite of warm hugs and celebrations as Begum Jaan, by this time, had lost her sight. “Of what use was our meeting...now I cannot see anything. But I still wish for her to keep visiting me. I wish she settles here along with her family. Like my son, she, too, will inherit a share of my land and property,” says a visibly worried Begum Jaan, who regrets that her husband died before the reunion last year.
“I wish to meet my daughter again and again…She lives in Jammu Gali at Gujranwalla in Pakistan. The only bus that connected us has now been suspended following the disturbances at the border. I request both the governments to resolve their issues separately and restore the bus service immediately. I pray that good sense prevails on both sides so that people like us can live and die in peace.”
Sufferings of this humanitarian crisis are common on both sides of the LoC. According to Shahbaz Choudhary, a researcher in Political Science and a poet at heart hailing from the same village, “the wounds inflicted by Partition are still raw. We have grown up listening to heart-wrenching stories of separation scripted by Partition and subsequent wars. We have seen people crying their hearts out on meeting long-separated close relatives. Their sobs and cries, the warmth of their hugs and kisses, the final, desperate handshakes from the windows of moving buses, exchange of farewell notes at the site where cross-border travellers board or alight from the buses reflect the silent cries of the people who want only peace.”
Boundaries created by the State have failed to alter the relationships migrants share with their land. “Can you imagine what elderly people who migrated to the other side ask visitors to bring along while returning from this part of Poonch? They ask for unusual things like leaves of the old trees they had once planted here, photographs of their homes, fields, village lanes, mountains, streams and voice recordings of relatives living here. They ask for soil of their birthplace so that when they die and are buried, a fistful of their homeland is filled in their graves,” says Shahbaz, adding, “these sensibilities and sentiments ought not to be muzzled by the insanity of war and hatred.”
Every person living at the border is now hoping for the return of normalcy immediately so that the bus service, Paigam-e-Aman, can resume because prosperity without peace is virtually impossible to imagine in these border villages.
Lal Hussain, another villager who has seen the boundaries insidiously weave divisions into their lives, says that innocent people on either side of the LoC must not be forgotten or taken for granted by either government. “It is very easy to shout war cries from the interiors of metropolitan cities but it is the villagers in border areas who bear the brunt every time,” says Lal who also wishes the bus Paigam-e-Aman’ resume its services soon as he walks away, humming lines of the famous poet Sahir Ludhyanvi:
Jung to khud aik masla hai, jung kya maslon ka hal degi….Jung taltee rahay to behtar hai…… (War in itself is an issue, how can war resolve other issues? It is better if a war is kept in abeyance)