| A Pakistani soldier (left) and his Indian counterpart exchange gifts on Id-ul-Fitr at Wagah on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Muzaffarabad, Nov. 26 (Reuters): For several decades Harbans Kaur had no idea of the fate of two of her children, but after a seven-year quest, they were reunited this week for the first time since the 1950s.
The moving story of a 77-year-old Sikh woman who returned to Pakistan-controlled Kashmir on Monday to meet her long-lost Muslim son and daughter sums up the tragedy of national and religious division in the scenic Himalayan territory.
A thaw in relations since April has made direct travel between India and Pakistan possible again and ushered in a new era of hope, further boosted today by a ceasefire along the line dividing Kashmir.
Kaur travelled this week from Ahmedabad to Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, to meet the children she was forced to leave behind in the 1950s.
“It’s the first time in my life I have found this happiness,” Kaur’s long-lost son Manzoor Hussain Awan said after the reunion. “I can’t believe my eyes and ears that I am seeing her and talking to her. My dreams have come true.”
At the time of Partition, Kaur was separated from her husband, who, as a Sikh, was forced to flee from Muslim insurgents in Kashmir. Assuming him lost, she married a Muslim, converted to Islam, and bore two children.
But then in the mid-1950s, she had to leave Kashmir and her new family after an agreement between India and Pakistan required women to return to their original husbands.
In India, she returned to her Sikh faith and her first husband, with whom she had two daughters and a son.
“It was my wish to see my other children again once in my life and my wish has come true,” she said after arriving in Muzaffarabad accompanied by her Sikh son. “It’s lovely to see my children after all these years.”
Kaur will stay a month and visit her ancestral village nearby but she will not be able to see her Muslim husband — he died two years after she was forced to leave Kashmir.
It was only seven years ago that the children, with the help of relatives, managed to trace their mother.
“And it was just two years ago we were able to locate her telephone number and then we spoke by telephone, wrote letters and exchanged pictures,” Kaur’s daughter Zeenat Bibi said.
They wanted to meet immediately but this was prevented by heightened tension between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.
It was not until the resumption of a bus service between Lahore and New Delhi this year that their dream finally began to take shape.
“We know how we suffered all these years and how badly we missed our mother,” Zeenat said.
“I wish she can stay with us but she cannot because she has to go back. She has a family there also.”