Separated by a border, bound by blood, many desire a reunion with their loved ones residing on the other side
Premchand’s eyes sparkle as he recounts the days when he did not have to face any obstacle to meet his loved ones residing in India.
On the other side of Pakistan’s Thar Desert is the home of Premchand’s grandparents in Barmer district of Rajasthan, India. His cousins, with whom Premchand spent his childhood, live there. His grandparents had lived there, too, reminisces Premchand.
Nearly eighty, Premchand lives in a Pakistani village near the border between Pakistan and India. He wishes to visit his grandparents’ house before he dies. He says all he wants is to hug the doors and walls of the house that hold the memories of his elders, whom he loved immensely.
The 80-year-old says that before the 1965 war, he used to go to his grandparents’ house unhindered. His grandparents and cousins too used to come over to visit. But then the border was sealed. His grandparents have passed away. He says he was unable to attend his grandfather’s funeral. “Nothing can be more painful or tragic than being unable to be there for the last rites of your loved ones,” he says.
Premchand is not the only one bothered by the border that separates families. Many desire to meet their loved ones and share stories with their families living across the divide.
Amer*, who lives in Umerkot, has four sons. Three of them live in Jodhpur, India. About three years ago, one of his sons living in Jodhpur died, but the father could not attend his funeral.
Many people in the area have blood relations on the other side of the border. The border had remained porous after the 1947 partition and people continued to travel across it to visit families living on the other side. In many cases, marriages were arranged across the border.
The Thar Express would journey on a weekly basis. This service was cancelled till further notice after 13 years in 2019 following the February tensions between India and Pakistan. It has not been restored since then.
This arrangement continued till 1965. During this period, there was no activity in the area that could disturb the peace between the two countries. Then a war broke out between the two countries and the border was closed to people. Villagers say people would still travel between the two countries. However, after the Kargil war, the situation changed and cross-border
movement stopped altogether. In the process, many were
separated from some of their relatives.
Thar Express service was resumed in February 2006 after being closed for forty-one years since 1965. The train links Karachi Cantonment station to the Bhagat Ki Kothi station three kilometers away from Jodhpur, India.
Earlier, during the British rule, Sindh Mail used to run between Bombay (Mumbai) and Karachi. Zero Point, Khokhropar is the last station on the Pakistan side. Munabao in Barmer district is the first station on the Indian side where the customs inspections are carried out. Thar Express used to journey on a weekly basis. This service was discontinued till further notice in 2019 following the February tensions between India and Pakistan. It has not been restored since then.
People who have relatives in the other country are suffering, tormented by the thought of never getting another chance to see their family members. They include girls who came here after a marriage wish to be reunited with their birth families.
The Kartarpur corridor, which opened in November 2019 has been operating well. The emotional toll of never getting to meet their families is too much for the divided families of Thar.
The writer is a mass communication student at NUML, Islamabad