Monday, 22 August 2011

A Citizenship Walk along the LOC - Day 1 Saturday 20/08/11

I originally toyed with the idea of starting my walk from Shakergarh (in Pakistan's province of Punjab) along the international border which corresponds with Kathua, the southern-most urban centre of our State which lies in Indian-administered territory. Taking time and other matters of a practical nature into account, I revised it to travelling on public transport from Sialkot to Manawar (where the southern-most point of Azad Kashmir begins).

Barely 30 kilometres – as the crow flies – from Jammu, Sialkot is a busy city in Pakistan's Punjab province and was a major migration hub for the Muslims of Jammu province in November 1947. Many of them had narrowly escaped massacre at the hands of Hindu mobs, who in turn were enraged by countless stories narrated to them of Muslim mobs killing Hindus and Sikhs in what became known as Azad Kashmir. I wanted to give myself a sense of orientation of our State (as a whole) and develop some insight into the impact of 'borders' on our freedom to move.

This took me via Chapraar and Saidpur to the Chenab River (Head Maralla) and Phagwal before I entered our State at Manawar late in the evening. I put up for the night at a hotel in Mo-il, a dozen or so kilometres further north. During the day, I had been questioned by the police as well as an army unit near the Chenab River without incident.

My journey enabled me to engage in conversation at every opportunity with the public of Pakistan as well as those inhabiting Azad Kashmir. There was little to differentiate them in terms of language and culture, nevertheless a difference in political status was acknowledged by both Pakistanis and 'Kashmiris' (As per norm, I use the word generically to represent all inhabitants of the erstwhile Dogra State of Jammu & Kashmir). The bus driver driving us into Azad Kashmir was enquiring from experience when he politely asked of my origin. “This is a 'border area' and the security agencies have made us paranoid of all strangers that travel with us,” he apologetically explained.

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