By Zulfiqar Ali
Keran (Neelum Valley), Sept 19:
On July 16, people converged on both sides of Neelum river, which separates two parts of Kashmir administered by India and Pakistan, to hold funeral prayers for 60-year old Kashmiri man Raja Manzoor Khan.
For a moment the divide was blurred that divides people by Line of Control (LoC) – a defacto border that runs along river Neelum in Keran region.
It was funeral in which people separated by a river and a hostile border offered joint prayers. Khan died in Muzaffarabad, capital of PaK on July 15. His family members brought his body to Keran, some 100 kilometers Northeast of Muzaffarabad for last rites.
Raja’s had lived Keran but his body could not be brought here due to restrictions along LoC. But the villagers from both sides of LoC apart from Khan’s family members, friends and villagers attended prayers close to the LoC.
Raja Manzoor, his brother, two sisters and their father and their other relatives had crossed on the other side of LoC to settle down in PaK in 1990 after armed struggle began in Kashmir against Indian rule.
But they had left behind two sisters in Keran in J&K but continued with the practice of flocking by the Neelum river to exchange gifts or share moments of happiness or remorse.
Along with Khan’s, thousands of families crossed over to PaK in 90s after armed struggle began in Kashmir. Authorities put the number of Kashmiri refugees at 40,000 in PaK but the armed movement has separated families as many members have remained in Kashmir.
“We are helpless, they are there and we are here. We could not cross the LoC. They were crying on one side of river and we are crying on this side. Had we been at our homes, we would have offered funeral prayers together and buried my maternal uncle in his village,’’ lamented Raja Manzoor’s nephew Raja Nisar, who lives in one of refugee camps in Muzaffarabad.
“My material uncle wanted to be buried in his native village. We had to bury him away from his home. We chose Keran as per his wish because he had said if he could not be buried in his native village then he should be buried near his village,’’ recalled Nisar. Manzoor’s father, brother and a sister have already died in Muzaffarabad.
His elder sister Biya Begum undertook nearly 36 hour road journey from Keran village in Kashmir to Muzaffarabad through Amrister and Lahore.
She reached Muzaffarabad in the morning of July 16 before her brother’s death, but if there “were no restrictions’’ she could have covered the distance in a few hours. But she did not know it was her last meeting with her brother.
“ When I reached Muzaffarabad, my brother was not able to talk. He opened his eyes, looked at us and then died after few hours. I could not even talk to him for few minutes,’’ said Biya Begum.
She was told by her family members that her brother was ill and she should come to Muzaffarabad to meet him.
Begum said she was able to get Pakistani visa on July 14 as there were Eid holidays.
“Politics aside what is needed immediately is that divided families of Kashmiris be allowed to reunite at the time of emergency and important family occasions.”
She said her brother, sister, and father died in Muzaffarabad, but she could not “come to attend their funerals.”
Biya Begum’s son Raja Aijaz, who also accompanied her said a way out should be found so that divided families can reunite.
“We can’t even attend the last rituals of our loved ones. We cannot share of sorrows and joys,” he rued.