Wednesday September 28, 2022

Pakistan YouTuber reunites families split by partition

By News Desk
August 18, 2022

ISLAMABAD: A YouTube channel that connects Indians and Pakistanis who were separated by the 1947 partition has gained hundreds of thousands of followers from both countries.

Nasir Dhillon, 38, started Punjabi Lehar in 2016 with a friend - since then, he says the channel has helped hundreds of people reunite with their loved ones, often virtually, across the border, foreign media reported.

When the British left India in 1947, they divided the territory into two independent countries - India and Pakistan. The partition was a deeply traumatic event that set off a wave of religious violence.

About 12 million people became refugees and between 500,000 and a million people were killed. The neighbouring countries share a tense relationship, which makes it difficult for Indians and Pakistanis to travel across the border.

Dhillon, who is a Muslim, says he was inspired to start Punjabi Lehar because of his own family’s partition experience - his grandfather and father had moved to Pakistan from Amritsar in India’s Punjab state.

“They had a good life in Pakistan, but always yearned to go back to their village in Amritsar,” he says. But they died before that wish could be fulfilled, something Dhillon still feels guilty about. Punjabi Lehar hit headlines in India in January 2022 when a video of an emotional reunion between two brothers after 74 years went viral.

One of the brothers, Sikka Khan, had remained in India with their mother while the other brother, Sadiq Khan, ended up in Pakistan with their father after partition. The emotional reunion of Sikka Khan and Sadiq Khan went viral. They found each other after a man from Sikka Khan’s village spotted an appeal made by Sadiq through a video posted on Punjabi Lehar.

“There is no bigger virtue than reuniting loved ones,” Dhillon says. Before starting the channel, Dhillon would often visit Nankana Sahib - the birth place of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.

Here, he became friends with Bhupinder Singh Lovely, a Pakistani Sikh, who later co-founded Punjabi Lehar with him. At Nankana Sahib, Dhillon and Mr Lovely met several people whose family members had gone missing during the partition.

“In the beginning, we didn’t really have a strategy. We would note down the details of people looking for family members and post them on our social media accounts,” he says. This led to a few successful reunions, with the videos getting praise and attention on social media. That’s how they decided to create a YouTube channel specifically for connecting people separated by the partition.

The channel now has more than 600,000 subscribers. Dhillon says they are flooded with requests from people in India and Pakistan to find lost family members. “People also approach us to find their ancestral houses or gurdwaras (the Sikh place of worship),” he says.