How two Jatts of Pak’s Punjab use social media to reunite families separated by partition
The technology and Kartar Sahib corridor played a vital role in reuniting people after 74 years
The pain of communal clashes that killed thousands during the Indo-Pak partition in 1947 is hard to be forgotten.
Thousands were separated from their families in the course of this mayhem. Many died in the vagaries of the time without meeting their loved ones.
When Nasir Dhillion and Pupinder Singh Lovely of Pakistan Punjab’s Faisalabad district started a social media platform, Punjabi Lehr, in 2016, they were not very sure if they would even find partition survivors seven decades later.
After all, societies have changed. The current generation, fourth after the partition, may not carry the same burden of displacement and pain as their previous generations had gone through.
Dhillion told NewsDrum, “Call it a god’s blessing, we have so far helped connect 200 families across the border.”
He said not all were first-generation survivors. “But reuniting extended families was a great feat. They met with such passion and emotion that it never occurred to us that it was their first meeting,” said Nasir.
He said every partition story has similar emotions of pain, trauma, nostalgia and cries.
“But when they hug each other and wipe out each other’s tears, we see a hope that the world is still a beautiful place to live,” he added.
Several such re-unions of partition survivors or their extended families have already become epic in the Indian subcontinent.
One such case was that of Sikka Khan (86) of Punjab’s Phulewala village in Bathinda district and his brother, Muhammed Siddique (84), of Pakistan’s Faisalabad district.
They were teens when they both separated at the time of partition. Punjabi Lehr helped them to re-connect soon after they uploaded Siddique's story looking for his brother.
The video of their teary union in Kartar Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan’s Punjab province in January went viral.
Then support poured in from both Indian and Pakistan sides to grant visa to Sikka Khan so that he could stay a bit longer with his brother in Pakistan.
Finally, Sikka Khan managed to travel to Pakistan in March this year and returned last month on May 25. He was not alone. This time it was Siddique’s turn to stay with him in his village.
“We feel blessed when we see brothers spending the last days of their lives in each other's company,” said Nasir, who is an agriculturalist and also deals in the real estate business in Faisalabad.
He said he did not start Punjabi Lehr to earn money from it. “It was a tribute to my father,” he added.
Nasir said his father, Bashir Ahmed Numberdar, had a long dream to spend time in their ancestral village Panjwar in Taran Taran district of Indian Punjab. But unfortunately, he left the world without having this desire fulfilled.
He added he grew up listening to the stories of the united Punjab from his grandfather.
“This kindled my interest in doing something related to reuniting the people across the border," he said.
Nasir said he was fortunate that his business partner, Pupinder Singh Lovely, whose family stayed back in Pakistan after the partition, too shared the same enthusiasm in starting this platform. “We later then added videographers and editors and this is how this platform emerged, he added.
Technology, Kartar Sahib corridor played a vital role
There was a reason why Punjabi Lehr was successful. In earlier times, those interested in bridging a gap between the peoples of East (Indian) and West (Pakistan) Punjab, created by Partition, did not have technology on their side.
Nasir and Pupinder Singh had the advantage of social media when they started Punjabi Lehr. In fact, it started as a social media platform only. Today, Punjabi Lehr’s YouTube page has more than 5.81 lakh subscribers. The video uploaded by Punjabi Lehr of the tearful union of Sikka Khan and his brother had more than 3.3 million views.
Nasir said they keep their process simple. “We record videos of the survivors or their family members and upload them on our YouTube and Facebook pages. We go into the family history and ask them to identify the names of the people left behind. This is how we managed to reunite people across the border,” he added.
He said most of their videos were from the survivors in Pakistan since it is easier for them to meet and record their interviews. “But now that our platform is relatively known, we are approached by people from both sides of the border, who share stories of their separation from their immediate family members, relatives and friends during bloody riots of participation,” he added.
There is another reason for Punjabi Lehr’s success and that is the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor in 2019.
The 4.7-kilometre-long corridor was inaugurated on November 9, 2019, to commemorate the 550th Parkash Gurpurb (birth anniversary) of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. It is believed that the Gurudwara Darbar Sahib is the final resting place of Guru Nanak.
Nasir said once this corridor was opened, it was easier for them to arrange physical meetings of the people across the border. Otherwise, it was a tedious task to manage visas for them.
First success was in 2017
Punjabi Lehr’s first success was in 2017 when they reunited Gulam Sarwar of Fasilabad who was just seven when he left his village Gehri Mandi in Amritsar with his extended family. The latest case was even poignant.
A Pakistani woman, who was born in a Sikh family and later adopted and raised by a Muslim couple met her brothers from India at Kartarpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province last month on May 18.
At the time of the Partition, Mumtaz Bibi, was an infant who was lying on the dead body of her mother killed by a violent mob.
A couple named Muhammad Iqbal and Allah Rakhi adopted the baby girl and raised her as their own daughter, naming her Mumtaz Bibi.
After the partition, Iqbal settled at Varika Tian village in Sheikhupura district of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Iqbal and his wife did not tell Mumtaz that she was not their daughter.
Two years ago, Iqbal’s health suddenly deteriorated and he told Mumtaz that she was not his real daughter and that she belonged to a Sikh family.
After Iqbal’s death, Mumtaz started searching for her biological family with the help of Punjabi Lehr.
Subsequently, the video uploaded by Nasir's team last month was a success as her brother identified her from details she shared in the video. It already had more than 1.28 lakh views.
Mumtaz’s brothers Gurmeet Singh, Narendra Singh and Amrinder Singh, who live in Punjab’s Patiala district, reached Gurdwara Darbar Sahib at Kartarpur and had a teary reunion with her.
Nasir added that this story was very touchy. Mumtaz’s family never made her feel that she was not their daughter. This is what humanity is all about.
Nasir too has a wish. He wants to travel to his father’s village in India’s Punjab and relive his memories.
“I am sure it will happen one day,” he signed off.