SUNDAY MAGAZINE

Beyond the religious divide

Across the gulf: Sheikh Sikander, son of Jivan Baksh, with his family in front of his home in PoK. Photo: Luv Puri.  



LUV PURI

Threads of a shared heritage tie people to each other across the LoC.

AFTER his visit to India in 2000, Bill Clinton termed the Jammu and Kashmir issue as a Hindu-Muslim problem. He is not alone in having such notions, as if there are neat divisions between the people belonging to two different religions. But what makes such ideas irrelevant are the friendship and even blood relationships that exist across religions, especially in an area which is known as the breeding ground for Islamist terror outfits.

Historic journey

The recent earthquake in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) demonstrated the umbilical bonds that exist in spite of religion. It brought nervous moments for the family of Joginder Singh, a Sikh living in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). He had an elder brother living across the Line of Control and from whom they had got separated in the Bagh district of PoK in 1947. For five decades the Line of Control had been an iron wall, as there had been no information about him.I joined Joginder in a historic journey across the Line of Control to locate his Muslim brother living in the Bagh district of PoK. After two days of looking around on the basis of the sketchy address given by his mother, Joginder found his brother's family in Mang Bajri village, in Bagh tehsil. His brother Sheikh Nazir spotted Joginder at the Bagh bus stand where he was enquiring about his brother. The two brothers, now belonging to two different religions, met for the first time and the Sikh was hosted as a guest of the Muslim district.

Not an isolated case

Joginder's case is not an isolated one. There are many Muslim families in PoK who have either Hindu or Sikh blood relations in J&K. I met Mohammad Hussain, a resident of Rawalkot, who is anxious to meet his uncle Mian Singh (80), a Hindu living in J&K as the two have not met each other in the last 58 years.Yet another Muslim family in the Barmoch area of Kotli district is anxious to meet their Hindu relatives living in Rajouri area. In 1947, three Hindu families stayed back in PoK but had to convert to Islam during the worst communal riots that the Indian subcontinent had seen. Sheikh Sikandar, who is the son of Jivan Baksh (a Hindu) says, "My aunt (father's sister) Sitto lives in Nowshera area (in J&K). The last time we heard from her was a decade back when she had sent a Rakhi for my father." Showkat Hayat (52), a resident of Hari Gyal area of Bagh district of PoK wants to meet his mother Seva Kour, a Sikh lady who lives in J&K. The neo-converts in PoK are called Sheikhs. But to say that there is any discrimination of any kind against them in PoK would be wrong. Habib-ul-Rehman, Deputy Director Social Welfare Department can be cited as an example and he is one of the senior-most officials in administrative machinery of PoK government. His father was a Hindu and got converted to Islam during the 1947 riots. Mr. Rehman says, "Initially it was difficult for my father to face the circumstances as his entire family had left but then he developed new contacts. Anyhow the longing still exists to meet our Hindu relatives." This longing, to meet people of other religions, is not limited to persons who have relatives in J&K. Manzoor Ahmed (77), a resident of Mirpur city of PoK, longs to meet his friend's family living in the Transport Nagar area of J&K. In 1995, he had got the visa to meet his friend Sukhdev Singh. But at the last moment had to cancel the programme for other reasons. Manzoor shows me the gift, still preserved, which he wants to personally present to his friend's family members. He says, "I cannot forget the fact that it was my Sikh friend who saved my life at the risk of his own when mobs almost lynched my family in 1947-48 at Jammu city. I am alive today because of him." Locals in Kotli district handed me a list of long-separated Hindu friends who are presently living in different parts of India and asked me to request them on their behalf to come to their native places as their guests. As the craving to meet each other strengthens among the people of different religions on both sides of Line of Control, it clearly demonstrates that there are no neat religious divisions which exist in any society, not even in PoK. Irrespective of religion, the threads of a common culture, language and other micro identities have proved to be a great bonding force.