For the residents of Rajouri, they are the children of conflict — their existence, sometimes even nationality, defined by the hostilities between India and Pakistan. They are the villagers of Rajouri district, which sits on the Line of Control, or LoC, in Jammu and Kashmir.
Now the heightened tension on the line has once again altered their lives: they live in faraway camps during the day and return home in the evening to look after their cattle in the vulnerable villages. For example, the family of Jeet Kumar, 40, a resident of Khamba area, has been living in a boys’ school in Nowshera, 28 km away from their home and farmland, since May 2017, when Pakistani shelling lead to mass migration.
“In the evening, my brothers and I dodge firing and shelling to cross the fence and reach our house. I have two buffaloes, three cows, and two bulls. One cow died in Pakistani shelling last year and another became limp after splinters hit her. They feed us so we have to take care of them,” said Mr. Kumar. Mr. Kumar has five brothers and they take turns every day to feed the cattle and also to try to farm on their 25 kannals of land where they failed to grow anything last year due to the shelling. “It seems we are still living the 1947 tragedy. We are being pushed backward,” said Mr. Kumar.
The Kumars are not new to border tensions. The family witnessed Partition and the present generation is witness to the conflicts that have followed and that never seem to end. Mr. Kumar’s maternal uncle got separated in 1947 and was left behind in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). “My father, Nanak Jan, visited PoK later on a passport to find out that my, named Bala Ram, had become Wali Muhammad. He has four children now. All are Muslims,” said Mr. Kumar. He admits he has no desire to see them “as there is no emotional connection anymore”.
Rajouri was worst hit in Jammu and Kashmir during Partition when hundreds of Muslim families fled to what became PoK, and at the same time, hundreds of Hindu families moved to what became a part of India. Many more families got split later during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan. Muhammad Talib Malik, a retired deputy commissioner who was a science student in a college in 1965, lived under Pakistani rule for six months in Rajouri’s Darhal area after the area was captured by them. “This was in October 1965. People of Darhal were asked to change the time on their watches and match it with Pakistan’s. Pakistani flags were erected and administrative units set up. Six months later, Indian Army attacked Lahore and the Pakistan Army withdrew overnight,” recalled Mr. Malik.
However, Mr. Malik’s elder brother, Iqbal Malik, and a sister too vanished with the withdrawing soldiers. “My elder brother was a cricketer. He thought he had more chances of playing with the Pakistani team. He did play for Pakistan’s A-team later and settled in Gujaranwala. Since he joined the Army there, he could not visit Rajouri again,” said Mr. Malik.
“My parents went to see their separated children for the first time in 1983. When my mother died in 2000, it also brought a closure to the separation. I was burying my mother when my elder sister from Pakistan called up. I could not break the news of the death to her. I knew she could never make it to this place. At least the roads connecting the two parts of Jammu and Kashmir should open up. This conflict has degraded us, humans,” he said.
Mr. Malik went on to say: “Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks to us through Mann Ki Baat. When will he listen to our mann ki baat? The Muslim community created leaders like Maulana Azad and Sheikh Abdullah and turned the tide in favor of secularism. The fact that no single pandit died in 1947 in the Kashmir valley shows that we passed the Kashmiriyat test. But did New Delhi ever embrace us since 1947?”