Border villages in India, Pak divided by map, united by love
Barmer, Rajasthan: “I pray for peace between the two countries 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, because of visa issues. Like Gani, there are scores of women who have to bear the brunt of separation.
At a time when India and Pakistan are engaged in a bitter conflict, western Rajasthan, which shares a 1,075 kilometre-long border with Pakistan, sees a different side of the neighbouring country. 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 of the border on the basis of language, costume and culture as both the regions share various cultural similarities.
Languages like Sindhi, Dhati and Marwari are spoken on both the sides, Sodha Rajputs and Sindhi Muslims live on both the sides and Bajra is the staple grain. 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. Veteran journalist Shankarlal Dhariwal, 75, said that while partition has distanced the people physically, blood ties have kept them emotionally, socially and culturally connected.
People in the 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, 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 the Marriage Express.
“We prefer to marry within our community. 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, married an Indian girl and settled in Barmer got Indian citizenship recently. He said his two brothers married women from Jodhpur district in 2009 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 deity called Jata Mata, whose 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.
Many Pakistanis came to India after partition and took shelter in Rajasthan. Arguably, Marwar is the second home for Pakistani migrants.
Sarwan Kumar, who came from Pakistan in 1971 and settled in India, said the line on the map might have divided the landmass into two countries but it has failed to weaken the bond between the people.
“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 birthplace,” said Kumar.
Every week, hundreds of people come in Thar Express from Pakistan to meet their relatives. Every Saturday, the ytsom 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.
This train was in service until 1965, when it was discontinued because of the war that broke out between the two countries that year. The rail service was resumed 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 till partition. It provided access to the Karachi port and served as the main trade route for the 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.
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, paapad, 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.
Though the rail service has resumed between the two nations, people on either side are facing many 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 visa to meet their relatives.
The train also doesn’t halt between Jodhpur and Munabao because of the restrictions. A native of Munabao has to go to Jodhpur, which is over 300 kilometres away, to catch the train.
For long, people have been demanding a halt for the Thar Link Express in Barmer. Besides, residents also demand relaxation in restrictions on foreign nationals.