Monday, November 12, 2007

Human side of India-Pakistan relations

Human side of India-Pakistan relations
Syed Ali Mujtaba

India and Pakistan has formed many peak and valleys in its love and hate relationship in a span of six decades. At times frenzied emotions were whipped up to such a level in India that political parties made open pronouncements to wipe out Pakistan from the face of the earth. However, when the political temperatures cooled, the same parties talked about an everlasting friendship with Pakistan.

At this moment there is much talk about the evolving India- Pakistan relationship that’s moving from eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in 2002 to brothers in arms syndrome. However, little is being written or said about the human face of this relationship that’s also emerging in its wake due to people-to people contact between the two countries.

Recently, two powerful narratives have come to limelight due to the new thaw in the India- Pak relationship that could melt any one's heart. The fact that these human relation stories are surfacing even sixty years after creation of Pakistan following India’s Partition in 1947 suggests that there exist a human bond that’s much deeper than the geographical boundaries that divide the two nations.

Two Sikh brothers Jogindar Singh and Kesar Singh who fled to India during the turbulent days of Partition were re-united with their Muslim sister Rabia living on the other side of the divide. They had to wait for six long decades for this to happen.

Their story goes something like this… Joginder now 76 and Kesar 72, in wake of Partition left behind two sisters in Pakistan who adopted Islam and became Rabia and Razia and settled down in Mirpur town on the Pakistan side of Kashmir. Despite raising their own families, the desire to meet their siblings remained alive on both sides of the border. The brothers had first received the information about their sisters, way back in 1953, but due to tensions between India and Pakistan they could never establish contact with them.

However, when a Muslim resident of the Mirpur area recently visited India to see his Hindu mother, the desire among the Sikh brothers to meet their sisters once again grew. They made fresh attempts to locate their sisters through this Muslim visitor and came to know that Razia had died a few years ago but Rabia was alive.

The brothers finally decided to cross the border and fulfill the long- cherished desire to see their sister before they breathe their last. It was an emotional moment for the divided families to reunite. Thanks to the peace process that such a reunion could ever materialise.

The brother and sister story is not an isolated event. There is yet another case which is more gripping than this. It’s a story of a 77-year-old Indian woman who has two homelands, two husbands and two religions and who finally got united with her family after decades of separation, thanks again to the India- Pakistan peace process.

Harbans Kaur and husband Banna Singh belong to a Kashmiri Sikh family living in the village of Pataika, 16 km northeast of Muzaffarabad in Pakistan side of Kashmir. After partition, Banna went to India alone to find work and a place to live before he could call his wife over. He left behind his wife with her father.

But around this time, both countries stopped issuing visas and Banna could not come back and Harbans could not join him in India. Soon after, her father died and Harbans was left all alone. The lady assuming that that she would never be able to see her husband again, married a Muslim called Hadayatullah and adopted Islam. They had two children-son Manzoor and daughter, Zeenat.

In 1953, Pakistan and India singed an agreement for the return of relatives left behind in each other's country. Banna filed a claim for his wife, and Harbans was forced to leave for India to be with her husband without her two children.

The poor ties between the two countries prevented Harbans from visiting her children in Pakistan. Her son and daughter grew up with their father and she did not hear anything about them. Meanwhile, Harbans who re converted to Sikhism gave birth to another son and daughter, Dalbeer and Manmohan.

For many years, the members of the divided family did not know each other's whereabouts or even if they were alive. The Pakistani children did not forget their mother. In 2000, when a Sikh from Mumbai visited, Muzaffarabad to meet his Muslim sister, Zeenat, now 53, and her brother Manzoor, 48, sought his help in locating their mother. To their surprise the gentleman found their mother living in Ahmedabad and provided her telephone number. They spoke to her on phone, wrote letters and exchanged pictures and became desperate to meet each other.

The daughter invited her mother to Muzaffabad where the latter was born and brought up. But India and Pakistan were then on the brink of war following a terrorist attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, and it was impossible for Harbans to visit Pakistan. The mother and children remained separated for another 30 months until the resumed Lahore-Delhi bus service in 2003 could finally unite them.

After more than 40 years, Harbans crossed back into Pakistan, accompanied by her Sikh son, Dalbeer Singh, and her daughter-in-law. She was greeted at the Wagah border crossing by her Muslim children Zeenat and Manzoor, along with grandchildren and other family members. Later her Sikh daughter Manmohan also joined them along with her husband and their daughter. But one person with whom she could not reunite was her Muslim husband who died some years after she left for India. Her Sikh husband was also dead.

These are the happy sides of the emerging peace process developing between India and Pakistan, thanks to the renewed people to people contact between the two countries. However, there are many families not so fortunate enough to see such reunion. The hostile India- Pakistan relation had kept them away from seeing each other relatives and in the process many have passed away. Some could know the welfare of their relatives living across the border only through a common relative living in a third country but were unable to attend the wedding or funeral at their homes.

However, things are changing for better now. The second generation of the divided families now want the borders to be softened enough so that they could freely crisscross to meet their loved ones. They want India and Pakistan to de-link their political differences from people’s to people’s contact. The people in both the countries desire to have a peaceful and neighborly relationship each other. The general perception is the bridges of peace and friendship between the people would help the governments of both the countries to iron out their political differences in more amicable manner.

The new thaw in India-Pakistan relationship has been a boon for the divided families of the two countries. There is no count as to how many of them live on the other side of the border. The migration from India to Pakistan has taken place from all over the country. The majority of the separated families however live in the Indo-Gangetic plains where there is the largest concentration of Muslim population in India. There would hardly be a family living in this region that many not have a relative in Pakistan. They hope and pray that the juggernaut of peace and friendship between India and Pakistan keeps moving till a lasting peace is established in the subcontinent.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a working journalist based in Chennai, India. He can be contacted at

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