Story of loss: The divided families of Jammu and Kashmir

Image: PTI

By Garima Sharma and Sajid Bukhari

The Line of Control (LoC), which temporarily defines the border between India and Pakistan, has been impacting the life of people of Jammu and Kashmir since decades. From the carnage of partition in 1947 to the Shopian fake encounter in 2020, the region of Jammu and Kashmir has been engulfed in the ongoing conflict concerning its status and autonomy, endangering the lives of people here. In addition to this, the border disturbances have adversely increased risks for survival and the ‘wires’ have divided families, villages, and communities of one culture and language.

Before going further into this, we would like to present some details on the demographics of the temporarily divided Jammu and Kashmir. The Azad Jammu and Kashmir region is dominated by Pahari speakers and very few Koshur/ Kashmiri and Gojri speakers, who often adopt different dialects of Pahari and Urdu. On this side of the valley, the majority are Kashmiris, along with some Paharis and Gujjars, who as a matter of course belong to the lower strata of the society and politics. Poonch and Rajouri are the only Pahari dominated regions and these are also some of the most underdeveloped and forgotten areas. The Pahari and Gujjar-Bakerwal communities, confined to the margins of the Valley and Jammu, experience a complex system of othering and deprivation. While inhabiting the conflicted regions, the border has deprived them of a culturally homogenous Pahari Heartland. The Gujjar-Bakerwals, who are minorities across (J&K and AJK), face an arduous task in preserving their language because of their sparse population. Similar patterns are seen in Azad Jammu and Kashmir where the Koshur-speaking populace has been facing default assimilation and loss of language as their exchange with the Koshur speakers of valley is rare.

In 2005, a bus service was started between Srinagar and Muzaffrabad and in 2006 between Poonch and Rawalakot. These weekly bus services with a visa permit heightened hopes for many families who were divided. After decades of buffer, exchange of ties and culture was evoked. Whenever a bus from the other side reached this side of the border, it met with cheers and enthusiastic waving from the residents of Poonch. People from this side were sent off with blessings and hopes. Buses of displaced Sikhs (who belonged to the villages which are on the other side now) went to visit Gurudwaras. These were the times when displaced and divided families were hopeful of seeing each other and their towns. Linguistic minorities from both sides were at a position of resuscitating their cultural ties once again. People from Poonch town visited Rawalakot, a vibrant Pahari town and the Koshurs of Muzzafrabad visited Srinagar, reconnecting their culture and language.

Separated hearts reunited to separate again, as the bus service between Srinagar to Muzaffarabad was stopped soon after the Pulwama Attack in February 2019. After the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories, the bus services from Poonch to Rawalakot were suspended. According to the 2019 Annual Report of the MHA, at least 11,028 people had visited Azad Jammu and Kashmir until March 2019, while 25,725 people from the other side of the LoC had visited Jammu and Kashmir. After the suspension of the bus service, this exchange came to an end. For the governments of India and Pakistan, this suspension might be only a way to protest against each other but for people from both sides of the Jammu and Kashmir it ended their hope of meeting those who have been away from them for decades.

“Since childhood it was my dream to see that part of Kashmir to know how they see the world, what they think, how they live. But this dream is still a dream and God knows if it will ever come true or not,” said Ali Asad, a 24-year-old from Muzaffrabad, whose father migrated to Azad Jammu and Kashmir, “It feels bad that we are unable to see our relatives who are just 2 hours away from our home. I cannot forget the day when I returned from school and was informed that my grandmother had passed away. It was difficult to control my emotions because I couldn’t see her even once despite such a short distance. Things would be more difficult for my father who left his mother four decades ago but was hopeful to meet her again. It was a similar situation when my only uncle died in 2017.” Asad was planning to meet his grandmother and uncle but the LoC didn’t allow him. This is not the plight of one family; every other divided family has been undergoing the same pain.

Anxieties run deep among the people of Jammu and Kashmir because of the uncertain nature of its borders and autonomy, which is directly impacted by the politics and relations between the two nations. The recent halt in bus services is outwardly a result of deteriorating relationship between India and Pakistan, but the price is paid by the people of J&K who are powerless in determining the future of their community and territory. The dawning of these services are attempts to enforce disabled “normalcy” and “democracy” in the region. The agony of divided families is not merely personal but a collective loss of different communities. The degradation of language and culture and the deprivation of belonging have added to the myriad miseries of people here, because of adamant politics of two democratic nations.

Garima Sharma studies M.A. (History) at Ambedkar University Delhi and Sajid Bukhari studies B.A. L.L.B at Aligarh Muslim University.


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