Sikhs, Hindus make historic trip to AJK
6 October 2005
Muzaffarabad: Five Sikhs and three Hindus from Indian-occupied Kashmir made a historic journey on Thursday to Azad Jammu and Kashmir by the 14th trans-LoC bus. The eight non-Muslims were among 24 new passengers from the held territory who were travelling with 42 returning residents of AJK. They have come to revisit their birthplaces and see their relatives here. Earlier in the morning 20 new passengers from AJK left for Srinagar, taking the total number of travellers from this part since the launch of a bus service in April to 351, according to official figures. Interviews with non-Muslim travellers showed that seven of them were born in this part of Kashmir which they had to leave in the wake of riots that marked the unpopular division of Kashmir in 1947. “I was 17 years old at the time of partition in August 1947. We were sent to the other side of the LoC by the International Red Cross six months after the partition,” said Jagdish Lal Tandon, 75, now settled in Jammu. Mr Jagdish arrived with his younger brother Basti Ram Tandon, 73, and son Subhash Tandon, 47, to meet their Muslim relatives in the town of Hattian Dopatta, some 25 kilometres south of here. “Five of my cousins stayed back here and converted to Islam and it is their families who are waiting for us here,” he told Dawn, pointing to a gathering of men, women and children gathered outside the bus terminal with flower petals and garlands. Emotional scenes were witnessed on the occasion as the visitors and their relatives could not hold back their tears upon seeing each other. “My eyes can tell you how I am feeling today,” Mr Jagdish said. Samina Mumtaz, wife of Mr Jagdish’s nephew Sheikh Maqbool, said she was really excited to see the people who she had heard so much about. Ms Mumtaz, a lecturer in Urdu, said her father- in-law was the first cousin of Mr Jagdish and would often talk about him. Mr Subhash, a businessman, said he had never thought that he would one day be able to revisit the land of his forefathers. “For the past 20 years we had been planning to visit this part of Kashmir through the Wagah border, but could not do so for one reason or the other. The bus service rekindled our hopes and we’ve made it today,” he said. Mr Subhash said that they had several inter-faith marriages in their family and therefore had not harboured any fears about the tour to this part of Kashmir. He said in future he would also bring his wife to show her the birthplace of his forefathers. The AJK prime minister’s adviser, Raja Farooq Haider Khan, also arrived at the bus terminal with his wife to welcome the visitors. Mr Khan’s wife revealed that Mr Jagdish was a close friend of her father, Zafar Umar Khan. “My late father would often remember Jagdish Sahib and he is already known to us,” she told reporters. Standing nearby, Sardar Autar Singh, a retired police officer in held Kashmir who was born near Muzaffarabad in 1941, said the visit was a long cherished desire which had at long last come true. His views were echoed by Sardar Jameet Singh, 74, who said he was equally eager to revisit his Rara village near here where he had spent 16 years of his life before partition. Jameet Singh recalled that he was in Baramulla with his sister for admission in a college when the partition occurred and tribesmen (from North Western Frontier Province) attacked his village and killed 25 members of his family.