Sentinels of peace
Village shrines along the border areas in Jammu and Kashmir are a big draw. LUV PURI wonders if they could be used to cement friendly relations.
MUNIR HUSSIEN, from Sialkote district of Pakistan, was visiting the Ranbir Singh Pura sector near the Indo-Pak International Border after 56 years to participate in the famous Chambliyal mela held near zero line on the Indian side.
Munir Hussien was one of the few lucky people to make it to this side of the border as more than 1,00,000 people (figures from the Pakistan Rangers) had gathered on the Pakistani side near the zero line to worship atthe shrine on the other side of the border.
The event was, in many ways, unprecedented. Clearly shrines along the borders have the potential to promote Indo-Pakistani friendship. Shrines like the Chambliyal, common to the heritage of both countries, dot the border villages and people from both countries worship there. The Chambliyal shrine, for instance, was constructed in memory of saint Dalip Singh Manhas who died more than 300 years ago. It is believed that the soil is holy and can cure skin diseases. Every year, a fair is held near the shrine.
This year more than 50,000 people from India had gathered for the event. But the real surprise lay across the border. A large crowd gathered in Saidanwali village of Sialkote district of Pakistan. They were standing in a queue more than two kilometres long eager to visit the shrine.
The Pakistan Rangers had a difficult time controlling the crowds as they made desperate attempts to cross the border to get to the shrine. Finally the Rangers came with a small group of villagers to offer chadder, a ritual obeisance.
The crowds on the Pakistan side surprised many as nobody had an answer to the unusual enthusiasm. Irshad Ahmed, who came to the shrine, said, "Most of the people gathered on the Pakistani side are youngsters who have heard of the shrine from their elders."
Not many from Pakistan side could cross the zero line and the lucky ones were taken care of by the Indian villagers.
"We are overwhelmed by the warm reception," said Colonel Rab Nawaz, sector commander of the Chenab regiment, Pakistan Rangers. Indian villagers collected the soil from the shrine and passed it to the Pakistanis to be distributed among them.
Chambliyal is not the only shrine revered by both Indians and Pakistanis. Boundaries may have been drawn but hundreds of these shrines have retained their importance in the social life of villagers on either side, even when relations between the two countries reached the nadir.
Symbol of harmony
Unusual enthusiasm ... at the Chambliyal shrine.
For instance, Hindus and Muslims worship at the Nad Shrine of the Chib community in Akhnoor area of Jammu and Kashmir. Both claim to be descendants of Dharam Chand, a 12th Century saint who belonged to the Chib community. In 1947-48, most of the Chib Muslims migrated to the Punjab province in Pakistan.
Chibs are historically a warrior caste and, on both sides of the border, their main occupation was the army. So, members of the same caste confronted each other in the various Indo-Pak wars.
Thakur Suram Singh, who retired from the army, recalls an incident during the 1971-72 war.
During an exchange of Prisoners of War (PoW) in Longowal, Rajasthan, a group of Pakistani army personnel who had come to collect their PoWs learnt that there were many members of Chib community in the Indian army battalion.
"The Chib members of the Pakistani army requested our army commander to be given a chance meet us. The permission was granted and after a warm meeting, they gave us money to offer at the Nad Shrine as token of their reverence."
Noor Ahmed Tor, honorary chairman of Auqaf trust in RS Pura area, says, "Every village here has a shrine revered by people of both communities for centuries."
Apart from being a symbol of communal harmony in the villages, the shrines can be used to promote friendship between the two nations, he adds. With the creation of boundaries and frequent disturbances along the border, the condition of some shrines has worsened. While the local villagers look after some, others have disappeared.
Problem of resources
Iftikar Manhas, an inspector with the Auqaf trust says, "We recently discovered a centuries-old shrine in Kanachuk sector of Akhnoor, which was in a dilapidated state. Efforts are on to trace other such shrines but, with no support from authorities, resources are a problem."
The presence of such shrines along the Indo-Pak Border, which have witnessed highs and lows between the neighbours, shows the need to pay attention to natural bonds that exist not only on the ground but also in hearts and minds of the people.
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Tale of division
"We have been destroyed (Hum tu tabah ho gaye)," said Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, also known as Frontier Gandhi in his address at Congress Working Committee in June 1947, when he voted against the Partition.
This not only implied a tragedy for his Pakhtoon community in the North West Frontier province, but was also meant to be a prophetic warning for the whole sub continent.
This statement now echoes among the divided families and cultures on both sides of the border after 57 years of Independence. The pains of separation remain fresh and the wounds are still to heal.
Partition tells a tale of division within homes as blood relations were separated.
Shanti Devi, now in her mid 80s, was separated from her sister Sheela Devi during a tribal raid in 1947-48, when her village near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) was attacked.
While Shanti Devi crossed the Line of Control safely, her sister was left behind. Decades later, Shanti Devi (now living in Jammu and Kashmir) learnt that her sister had married a Muslim in PoK and was alive.
Harbans Singh was separated from his brothers Paramjeet Singh and Bhagat Singh who were left behind in Rawlakot area in PoK during the 1947 riots.
His family tried to bring back the two but could not. A Muslim friend adopted the two boys left behind. Harbans recently met his brothers by chance at Lahore during a pilgrimage tour to Sikh shrines in Pakistan.
"More than five decades have passed since communal carnage of Partition, but for the families like ours, the wounds have still not healed," says Harbans Singh.
There are some bonds on both sides of the border that transcend blood relations or religious faiths and were created in uncertain times.
Satish Gupta is 73 and he wants to meet his friends and the family of his father's friend, Fida Hussien, who saved his life during the communal riots after Partition. Fida Hussien saved Gupta when a communal mob had almost lynched him in Mirpur district of PoK. Unable to contact Satish's family, who had crossed over, Fida Hussien brought up Satish and sent him to Karachi for training in the Pakistan navy. Satish was selected as radio electric officer. Satish changed his religion and served the Pakistan navy as Nissar Hussien for 10 long years. He was sent to England for higher studies by the Pakistan government. A chance meeting with a acquaintance at Wagah border helped him trace his family in India. He came to India in 1957 and was finally united with his parents. "I still remember the tears in the eyes of my uncle when I asked for his permission to migrate to India. He treated me like his son for 10 years and had even willed his property in my name," recalls Satish.
As the country celebrates 57 years of independence, some households have yet not recovered from the trauma of separation from near and dear ones.
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