Thirty-seven years is a long and cruel wait for 50-year-old Parri Begum of Sillikoot Uri to see her mother Saja Begum and brother Muhammad Iqbal.
Parri Begum lives half a kilometre away from the Line of Control (LoC) on the Indian side, and her mother and brother live in Aagivass village in the Hajipeer sector on the Pakistan side. Her happiness knows no bounds when she hears her brother calling the 'Azaan' (prayer call) over the loudspeaker near the LoC. It is a much-loved voice that she longs to hear.
With a population of about 150 in about 30 households, Sillikoot is the last village in the Hajipeer sector on the LoC. Situated across is village Aagivaas, separated from Sillikoot by a stream, Hajipeer Nallah, which itself forms a part of the LoC here. Strategic Hajipeer was captured by Indian troops during the 1965 war and handed back to Pakistan three months later.
"Every time I hear my brother's 'Azaan', I wish I could see him and hug him," yearns Parri Begum. The LoC divides not only territory, but human hearts and families as well. Parri Begum longs for the day when there will be no dividing line -- the day when fragmented families can reunite. "Two years ago, when my nephew across the LoC got married, I was sitting on the rooftop of my house watching the proceedings. They were singing and I was humming the same 'Wan Wun' (folk songs sung on festive occasions, particularly on marriages)," recalls Parri Begum, tears brimming in her eyes.
Prior to 1989 when insurgency started in Kashmir, families on either side of the LoC visited each other during weddings and festivals. Now, they can't cross over because heavy deployment of troops on either side has made this union of families impossible. Says Raja Begum, "Thrice a year, we used to visit our relatives on the other side but now it is a distant dream. Will those good old days ever return?"
Jabeena Akhtar too has relatives living across in Aagivass village. She can see the house of her maternal uncle but cannot meet him. Similarly, Shabir Ahmed Chalkoo has his uncle and cousins living across the LoC. They shout out to each other, but if they wish to meet, they must travel thousands of miles via Srinagar, New Delhi and Islamabad. For them, visiting relatives and friends who live a stone's throw away is almost impossible. And if they can afford the prohibitive cost of travel, the bureaucratic bottlenecks in between discourage even the strong-willed.
For 90-year-old Abdul Aziz, who has been witness to many confrontations across the LoC, staring at it from the window generates feelings of anger and dejection. Through a flood of tears gushing from his age-worn eyes, he says he wants to see peace. "I am witness to three generations being lost to shells, fall prey to the mines, killed and maimed," he says. For Aziz the daily exchange of fire indicates that India and Pakistan are constantly in a state of war.
In the northern Kashmir district of Kupwara, Teetwal is a small town by the river Kishanganga. The river divides the town from the adjacent village of Chalyan on the other side of the LoC in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). The villagers shout across 100 feet on either side of the river to discuss the weather and prospects of fishing. But they never meet. There are schools on both sides of the river, and children of the two schools recognize each other and often yell out, but they cannot play together.
Sikandar Khan, a respected local leader in Teetwal, curses the politicians of both the countries for making his village a virtual hell. Blaming the British rulers who decided to divide the country in 1947, Khan, then a primary school student, remembers the horrors of the Partition. Once a bustling town on a trade route, beautiful Teetwal is now gloomy with despair, says Khan. "We are living under the shadow of machine guns."
Adds village headman Peer Maqbool Shah, whose sister died on the other side of the LoC, "I saw my relatives weeping and crying at her death but could not attend her last rites or even see her body for the last time. We are witness to this kind of trauma since 1947 and it is killing us."
There are many such villages where families are divided all along the LoC. Renowned Urdu poet Sardar Jafri calls it the "line of blood and tears" in his famous poem 'Subhe Farda' (Dawn). The LoC divides hearts, emotions and relationships in hundreds of families in Jammu and Kashmir. It is they who pay the heaviest price of Indo-Pak hostilities.