Barmer, Rajasthan: “I pray for peace between the two countries [India and Pakistan] so that people who have blood ties across the border need not suffer the pain of separation,” said Gani Devi, 35, a resident of Barmer in Marwar region of Rajasthan. Originally from Sindh province in Pakistan, Gani got married in 2008 and since then she has never been able to visit Pakistan, where her family lives, due to visa issues. Like Gani, there are scores of women who have to bear the brunt of separation.
At a time when both India and Pakistan are engaged in conflict, western Rajasthan, which shares a 1,075 kilometres-long border with Pakistan, sees a different side of Pakistan. Residents of Sindh (Pakistan) and Marwar (India) not only have a shared cultural and social history, but they also have cross-border blood ties.
One cannot distinguish between the people from either side on the basis of language, costume and culture as both regions share various cultural similarities.
Languages like Sindhi, Dhati and Marwari are spoken on both sides of the border. Sodha Rajputs and Sindhi Muslims live on both sides of the border. Bajra is still the staple food on both sides of the border. The same parched expanse of Thar desert is present on both the sides. Musicians have grown up singing the same songs. Sufism originated from the area and hence, the influence can be seen in their music and folklore.
Most of the traditional and religious rituals are similar as well. Often, one can witness the condolence meetings of relatives from the other side of the border.
Shankarlal Dhariwal, 75, a veteran journalist, said that while partition has distanced the people physically, blood ties have kept them emotionally, socially and culturally connected, he added.
People in bordering districts of western Rajasthan such as Barmer, Jaisalmer, Bikaner, Pali, Jodhpur, Jalore and Sri Ganganagar have blood ties with people of Mirpur Khas, Tharparkar, Amarkot and Chachro in Sindh province of Pakistan.
Every year, about a dozen cross-border marriages take place in the area. Pakistani women have in-laws in this part, while Indian women have their in-laws in Pakistan. It is because Sodha Rajputs prefer marrying within the community. A similar practice has been adopted by other communities like Charan, Mali and Meghwal.
Some sections of Sindhi Muslims also follow the same pattern. Wedding processions come in huge numbers and Thar Express, running between India and Pakistan, has been nicknamed as “Marriage Express”.
"We prefer to marry within our community. As a large number of our community people are settled in India due to which cross-border marriages are taking place in large numbers," said Peer Dan, 66, a resident of Kharoda village in Pakistan’s Sindh province. His four daughters and three sons have been living in Rajasthan after their wedding.
Tirth Dan, who came to India in 2006 and married an Indian girl and settled in Barmer, recently he got Indian citizenship. He said in 2009 his two brothers married women from Jodhpur district and his sister-in-laws moved to Pakistan while his four sisters are in Rajasthan.
Akali, a village in Barmer district, is the last village on the Indian side. Locals here worship a local deity known as Jata Mata, but the main temple lies in Pakistan. A large number of followers try every year to get a visa to visit the temple, but it is difficult for them to get the visa.
Every year thousands of Pakistani Hindus visit holy places like Haridwar, Kashi, Puskar and Rameswaram. Returning passengers can be seen carrying canisters of the holy Ganga water.
Ramesh Maheshwari, a recent visitor to Haridwar, said, “Every Hindu in Pakistan is not lucky enough to get a chance to visit the holy Ganga. I am carrying holy water for those who could not come,” he said.
Apart from Hindus, every year thousands of Muslims visit the Dargah Sharif in Ajmer. Hundreds of Charans and Khatri from India visit Hinglaj Mata temple located in Balochistan, Pakistan.
Post partition, owing to the religious persecution, a large number of Pakistani migrants came to India and took shelter in Rajasthan. One can say that Marwar is the second home for Pak migrants.
Sarwan Kumar, who came from Pakistan in 1971 and settled in India, said the line has divided the landmass and formed two countries but it has failed to weaken the emotional bonding. “On both sides of the border, there are thousands whose parents are living on the other side. People have shifted but one cannot forget their land of birth, it is almost difficult,” said Kumar.
Every week, hundreds of people come in Thar Express from Pakistan to meet their relatives. Every Saturday, the Thar Link Express departs from Bhagat Ki Kothi Railway Station, on the outskirts of Jodhpur, and makes a 320-kilometre journey to Munabao in Barmer on the international border. The train then crosses over to Pakistan, where it is known as the Thar Express.
This train ran until 1965 and was discontinued due to the 1965 war. However, the rail service was resumed between Indian and Pakistan on this route as Thar Link Express in 2006.
Prior to the Indo-Pak war in 1965, the Munabao-Khokhrapar rail link in the Thar Desert was the main trade link between Marwar and Sindh before partition. It provided access to the Karachi port and served as the main trade route for people of Marwar during the British rule. Even after independence, the arrangement continued as people in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra used the route to visit Pakistan. But the rail link was closed during the war in 1965 when Pakistani planes attacked Munabao Junction.
Camels were also exported to Pakistan and horses of Sindh breed were imported to India. Sojat's henna, limestone of Jaisalmer, stainless steel utensils of Jodhpur, Bhujia, Papad, Rasgulla, and handicrafts of Barmer were transported to Pakistan through this route. Jodhpur's Mawa Kachori, laddu of Gadara and Ghotua of Jaisalmer are still popular in Pakistan’s Sindh province.
Relaxation in norms demanded
Though rail service has resumed between the two nations, people on either side are facing numerous hurdles. According to Foreigners Act, foreign nationals, especially Pakistanis, have restricted entry west of National Highway 68 passing through Barmer and Jaisalmer. Despite close blood-ties, people hardly get the visa to meet their relatives.
The train also doesn’t halt between Jodhpur and Munabao owing to the restrictions. A native of Munabao has to go to Jodhpur, which is over 300 kilometres away, to catch the train.
Since long, people have been demanding a halt for the Thar Link Express in Barmer. Besides, residents also demand relaxation in restrictions of foreign nationals.
Bhuwnesh Jain, a social activist, said that a "buffer zone" should be created close to the international border so that people on both sides of the border could meet each other in a controlled manner.
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