A touching story of a family, one among hundreds, separated by the Kishenganga river
In 2004, when Jameela Bano saw her husband Shakir Rayees after a gap of nine years, it was a moment she had never prepared for. A man appeared among a crowd meekly waving his hand and smiling at her. She stared at him, recognizing him instantly.
But she could hardly bring herself to talk and started crying, her eyes in sync with Kishenganga river that separated the two.
That year authorities had approved people from divided Kashmir to see each other across roaring Kishenganga river. Talk-if-you-can was the bonus. Some were desperately shouting, whereas others like exhausted Jameela could only murmur. In any case nobody succeeded.
“I waved to him and asked him to come back,” said Jameela. “I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe he would somehow cross the river. He was so close.”
Ten years since that meeting, nothing has changed for the ill-fated couple. Jameela, 44, continues to raise her two children, and Shakir, 47, continues to live in Muzafarabad teaching children in a school. And Kishenganga continues to flow with the same ferocity.
Jameela is one among hundreds of such women who were left stranded in this part of Kashmir after their husbands migrated to Pakistan administered Kashmir during the nineties.
Jameela was married to Shakir, also from Keran, in 1988. A year later the insurgency erupted in Kashmir and the couple couldn’t escape its aftermath.
Shakir found himself facing regular harassment from the government agencies. “He was not any militant but being neutral had its dangers too,” said Jameela. “He was running a cosmetic shop.
Shakir was frequently arrested, subjected to third degree torture and kept in custody for days. When the situation became unbearable for Shakir, he secretly left for PaK.
Jameela never blamed Shakir for leaving her alone with two kids. “They (government forces) forced him to leave,” she says curtly as she wipes her tears with her right hand. Shakir left when his daughter Yasmeena was just 18 months old and Jameela was expecting Tamheed.
“Whenever they (children) ask about their father, I tell them that he will come next day,” she says. “Each day they wait for their father and every day they are disappointed.”
The cycle of hope and disappointment has aged Jameela beyond her years. "Now I just want to meet Shakir once before my eyes close forever," says Jameela.
These days Jameela is waiting for her passport, previously rejected four times. She applies for the passport to be able to meet her husband, but her passport is rejected for the reason that her husband has migrated to PaK. The frustration has become endemic to her.
Such ‘unsatisfactory security credentials’ has marred the prospects of tens of thousands of reunions across the two Kashmirs.
Shakir finds himself equally helpless in Muzaffarabad. “I have everything but not my family. I want to be with them. I want to bring happiness to their lives but there seems to be no way out,” said Shakir through a Skype conversation.
“I was never involved in any militant activity but still I had to endure this situation,” said Shakir who runs a school, Aliyan High School of Excellence and Modern Education (AHSEME) in Muzaffarabad and also owns a Candle making unit.
The much publicized rehabilitation policy has proven a dampener too, making his return uncertain.
Jameela, who never remarried, devoted her life to raising her two children. Her in-laws took good care of her and the children, but there are some questions and situations she always had to manage herself.
"Whenever kids are sad, they tell me – ‘If abbu (father) was here, all our problems would be solved and he would care for us’,” sighs Jameela while terming festivals and social gatherings as the two toughest situations she has to always deal with.
Jameela occasionally glances at mountains with a hope that someday a miracle might happen, which she believes is possible. "If it is written in my fate that I will meet my husband, then nothing can stop it, not even these borders," she says.