Trauma of families separated by Line of Control
Separated from her mother twelve years ago, thirteen year old Nasreen Qausar lives with her father Nazir Hussain in a border village called Keerni, located on the lower end of a mountain in the north-west of Poonch District.
Here separation has another definition - " Though the distance is only a few kilometers, a mountain and a heavily militarized Line of Control (LoC) is between us" is how Nasreen defines her relationship with her mother and two siblings who, on the other side of the LoC, in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), are yearning for a rendezvous.
The upper part of the same mountain where the father-daughter live is occupied by the Pakistan Army, making the village vulnerable to attacks, a reality that the village residents have lived with for many years. One such attack in the year 2000 changed Nasreen's life forever.
The year after the Kargil War, a year locals remember for the regular exchange of heavy fire at the LoC, hostilities between the two countries saw an unprecedented surge. Pakistani forces fiercely attacked Nasreen's village, and transformed it into a rampant battlefield in moments.
"My wife Naseeb Jaan along with our two children Naseera Qausar and Naseer Ahmad had gone to visit her family in the same village. All of a sudden, there was heavy gunfire, with bombs exploding everywhere. In a state of utter chaos, all of them rushed towards the Pakistani side to save their lives. They have not been able to return since," says Nazir recalling the darkest day of his life.
For security reasons, the entire village was then vacated by the security forces and was referred to as "Barbaad Keerni" during the time it lay abandoned. The Indian forces afterwards reclaimed the village and permitted its habitation only last year.
Nasreen was a year old infant then and has no recollections of the mayhem that wrought havoc on her village. The absence of memories and the physical distance do not, however, dampen the strength of the mother-daughter relationship. Over the years, her emotional connect with her divided family grew stronger, as she listened to her father's stories about her mother and siblings. Her father never thought of a second marriage, further strengthening Nasreen's hopes of being reunited with her family.
However, the recent death of soldiers on both sides of the border and the subsequent incidents of cross- firing have created a cloud of fear over the faint hopes of the villagers who have seen enough bloodshed in their lives and wish to suffer no more. The persistent violation of cease-fire and news from the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir being dished out by the mainstream media has nowhere highlighted the pleas for peace by the people in these border villages.
There are a number of divided families affected directly by hostile movements on either side of the border. This time, the suspension of the cross LoC bus service made them give up their only hope of meeting their separated family members.
Given the tenuous Indo-Pak relations, divided families on both sides of Poonch continued to suffer in silence as they have been consigned to oblivion by both governments. In the last few years, the Poonch-Rawalkote cross-LoC bus service that was started in 2006 enabled family unions, albeit sporadically, bringing hope to thousands. The 'hope' now stands "suspended".
In Nasreen's case, the family members remained apart and incommunicado till last year, when Naseeb Jaan, with children in tow, was spotted by a person from her village during his visit to the other side through the bus service. Nasreen's joy knew no bounds when she heard the news. She was convinced she would finally be reunited with her mother; she and her father were ready to fulfill every formality, cross every boundary, to visit her mother waiting for them on the other side in a seemingly endless wait.
Unfortunately, the father-daughter duo continue to struggle with the obstacles that have divided families for many years now. They have, so far, been refused permission to travel on the bus on the grounds that their stranded family members have purportedly been living in a refugee camp as 'stateless' people. According to Nazir, only those persons are permitted to board the cross- LoC bus who have blood relations living as citizens on the other side.
"My wife and children are putting up in a refugee camp," says Nazir, who has left no stone unturned in his effort to bring his family together again. He has pleaded with politicians and ministers visiting his area and has given representations to senior officials in the administration, all to no avail. "I appeal to the governments of both the countries to facilitate the reunion of my family. We have been suffering for the last 12 years without any fault of ours and now with suspension of bus service, our hopes have taken a backseat," shared an emotional Nazir.
The sorrows of divided families stranded across LoC raise many questions about the seriousness of the ongoing Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and usual rhetoric of "people to people contacts" between India and Pakistan.
The Charkha Development Communication Network feels that the CBMs initiated by both sides will only be bolstered in the real sense if such humane issues are handled sensitively by both sides without being detracted by the unresolved political and strategic concerns.