ABDUL MAJEED has not slept for several nights. Stepbrother Altaf Hussain says the 76-year-old keeps calling out for his children and small grandchildren at night.
They live only 50 km away, but in village Khuiratta in Kotli district across the Line of Control, in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Majeed is living on borrowed time here, at Sankari in Jammu province’s Rajouri district, his return blocked by the cancellation of the Poonch-Rawalakote bus service — one of the two cross-border people-to-people services to fall prey to the rising India-Pakistan tensions since the abrogation of Article 370.
Majeed is among the 28 passengers from PoK stranded on the Indian side after Pakistan, on August 19, declined to allow the bus to cross over through Chakkan Da Bagh. Officials said six Indians from J&K, who had gone across the LoC from Chakkan Da Bagh are similarly stranded there, though the period of stay mentioned in their permits is yet to expire.
People living in PoK and J&K are allowed to travel on the bus, which runs Mondays, to meet relatives on the other side with permits.
It is Majeed’s first trip across the LoC since Partition. He arrived at Sankari on July 15 on a 28-day permit, to meet Hussain, 65. While the permit expired on August 12, he had been trying to leave since August 4, fearing he might get stuck due to holidays on account of Eid, and Indian and Pakistani independence days.
“I first left Rajouri along with my brother Altaf on August 4 for Poonch (87 km away),” Majeed says. But August 4 midnight, clampdown was enforced across J&K before the abrogation of Article 370. “The bus too got suspended due to it.”
They then prepared to board the bus on August 12. “But the authorities asked us to return as Pakistan was refusing to open gates on its side of the LoC.”
Sankari, that has nearly 400 houses, has a large number of people serving in the Army and other security forces. Of Altaf’s three sons, one is in the Army. Majeed has eight children, including five daughters. All except two sons are married. One of his sons works as a barber in Saudi Arabia, while the other two are farmers owning nearly 3.6 acres of land.
Majeed originally hails from Rattal Basai village in PoK. He along with his elder sister Khurshaid shifted to the house of his maternal aunt in Khuiratta after their mother Fateh Begum married Abdul Latief, a soldier in the Army assigned to the Pakistan side after Partition, after their father’s death. However, Latief left his job and came to Sankari on the Indian side to be with his family, Altaf says. Altaf was born to Latief and Begum in 1954 at Sankari. Majeed and Khurshaid, 4 and 7 respectively at the time, got left behind.
In 1989, Altaf says, he went over to meet Majeed and Khurshaid. “My mother used to tell me I have a brother and sister. I somehow traced them.” He stayed in PoK for three months. “On return, when I showed their photos to my mother, she looked at them and breathed her last.”
The brothers lost contact again after militancy erupted in the Valley, and the LoC became a hot zone. It was a chance contact four years ago that brought them together again. Majeed and Altaf’s sons, who were both working in Saudi Arabia at the time, got in touch through Facebook.
Until six months ago, respective deputy commissioners, with the consent of the Foreigners’ Regional Registration Office, would extend permits of PoK residents in case they were unable to board the bus on due date. But with some using this provision to overstay, it was scrapped.
At present, five PoK residents, including the son of a former militant, are known to be staying past their permit in Jammu region after a stay order from the high court against their deportation. One of them, a an old PoK resident, has appealed to be allowed to die in Poonch and be buried there as he had no one on the other side of LoC.
“We have informed the Ministry of External Affairs about the situation,” a senior official said, talking about the 28 PoK residents stranded in J&K. “It is a humanitarian issue. We can’t force them to leave.”
Pointing out that people from both sides are stuck following the renewal of tension, Iftikar Hussain, a retired Armyman in Sankari, says, “We want peace. There is no purpose fighting as Pakistan cannot get an inch of J&K, or India of PoK.”
Altaf points out that former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had opened the cross-LoC routes to enable people divided by history and geography to meet each other. “We want peace so that families can continue to meet, like brothers… After all, if one person dies on our side in Pakistani firing, four get killed on the Pakistan side too when India retaliates.”
Majeed says that boarding the bus in PoK, he had been apprehensive about what awaited him across the LoC. “I found people who were hospitable, and no different from us,” he says, adding that like here, over there too, teachers remained absent in government schools, medicines were in short supply in hospitals, and power and water supply was erratic.
But, with home now seeming further away, Majeed longs for it. Pointing to his brother’s “trembling hands”, Altaf says, “He may die here due to the stress.”
That’s what worries Majeed too. “Of course I worry. I am on this side, and my children on the other,” he says. As some villagers try to pacify him saying this too was his home, the 76-year-old mumbles, “Apna ghar te apna hi hota hai (What can take the place of home).”