Baramulla: There are several villages in Uri that are so close to the Line of Control that they seem to be clinging to it, from both sides. Human settlements encroach even on the few feet that separate the nation states of India and Pakistan. The political divide, though, is no match for the cultural bonds that unite the people living on either side of it. These bonds are especially noticeable during the month of Ramzan, the holiest month in the calendar of those who inhabit this superficially divided and deeply united region.
“A few days ago, I was in deep sleep and there was no light in our area. In the middle of the night, at about 2:30, I heard the sehar khan announce the time of Sehri from the mosque across the LoC. I immediately woke up and also woke up my family. The people on the other side, too, follow our loudspeaker announcements. Sometimes when a funeral prayer of some person is announced on the loudspeaker from there, we keenly listen to it, regretting that we cannot go there to take part in them because of the LoC,” said a resident of Silikote village, one of the many that lie close to the LoC in Uri area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
Some villages like Churanda, Silikote, Hathlanga, Soura, Tilawari on this side of Kashmir are very close to villages of Pakistani Kashmir such as Sarjiwar, Doba, Igwas, Sadadaki, Khawajabandy, etc. The distance between Churanda and Sarjiwar is only a few feet, while Silikote, Hathlanga, Soura and Tilawari are a few meters from Doba, Igwas, and Sadadaki.
Laldin Ahmad, village head of Churanda, said that it is important for villagers on both sides of the border to eat together the meals of Sehri and Iftar, before and after the all-day Ramzan fast, to strengthen their shared culture. “There is only ten feet distance between Churanda village and Sarjiwar village in Pakistani Kashmir. Not only loudspeaker announcements, we listen to all their sermons and prayers and they listen to ours likewise. But we can’t talk to them and they can’t talk to us. In this month of Ramzan, people from both sides share the meals of Sehari and Iftar and who can stop us from doing so?” Laldin said with pride.
Nazir Ahmad, another resident of Churanda, said that the people of some two dozen villages on both sides of the LoC follow not just the Sehari and Iftar announcements but also share the five daily prayers. “Our children even know the time of arrival of the mini bus in Khawajabandy village across the border,” Nazir said.
“The army can stop our movement but they cannot blind our eyes and mute our ears,” Nazir said. “I used to visit the villages across the LoC numerous times. It took just five minutes. But that was before the nineties (1990s) when there was no armed struggle. When people started armed struggle in Kashmir, the army stopped our movement. They installed strong concertina wire at the LoC and since that time I have never visited those villages.”
Ali Mohammad, another local, said that he used to trade cattle with villagers on the other side but after the nineties the army stopped the trade. “I pray for those days to return,” he said, “when we will share our goods and other things like in the past. I appeal to the governments of both the countries to solve, for God’s sake, the Kashmir issue peacefully, and allow the people to share their lives with one another,” Ali said.
An army officer posted in the area said that it is not for the army to open the border. “It is not our hobby to stop the people from going and meeting each other. We know they have the same culture, custom, language, religion, way of life, but what can we do? The people of several villages have lands across the LoC but they can’t go there. Similarly, the people of the other side may have their lands here. The people have relatives and friends across the border. But we (soldiers) are helpless. The governments of both countries should talk to each other and should open the borders,” he said.