Records of Divide

   
Chakan- Da- Bagh crossing Point

Decolonisation of the Indian subcontinent was also accompanied with redrawing of national boundaries. The phenomenon did not just change the course of history but held some of the past hostage as well. TASAVUR MUSHTAQ  reports on the fate of the records of the land people of Poonch on the Pakistani side of the LoC own but papers remained on the Indian side.

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Relationship with land is one of the most lasting ones people can have. But when forces of history and tyranny divide homelands and people, a melancholic, sometimes agonizing time-ambiance envelope personal histories as well.

When Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point on the LoC in Poonch was opened for the divided families to start meeting, no one would have thought about the numerous ways memory chests would receive fresh air and renewed life. People from the two sides of the cruel divide started meeting and began re-establishing connections history had snapped some six decades earlier.

Apart from the intimate family connections, the divided people of Poonch, particularly on the Pakistani side of the LoC also had to suffer in a unique way. Two-thirds of the erstwhile principality of Poonch became a part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK). But their land records housed in an 18th century fort remained on the Indian side.

So, owners on the Pakistani side had the land but records remained o the other side. When the Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point was opened, applications slowly started landing up in the Fort record house or Muhafiz Khana. However, the disputed sovereignty of the Poonch people, like all of the citizens of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, made it impossible for them to obtain their land revenue records.

This record, almost held hostage in the Fort, has become the principle reasons people from the PaK side of Poonch to undertake the journey to the other side, besides of course meeting their relatives. This is one way how relations between New Delhi and Islamabad becomes a variable even for as simple a thing as obtaining revenue records of the land their respective clans own on the PaK side.

The records are hosted inside a dingy dark room inside the fort where people, relatives of those living on the PaK side can be seen in a beeline hoping to retrieve copies of the land records. This houses the entire land record of the erstwhile Poonch principality, a sprawling mountainous stretch on both sides of the LoC, now visible even during nights by the illuminated fencing. The Fort built by Rustum Khan in 1760 had taken 17 years to complete and was later renovated by Moti Singh in 1852 – work carried on for nearly 40 years. It used to house 19 state government departments when it partially collapsed. Most of its 270 rooms are dilapidated and undergoing some renovation at a snail’s pace.

From across the LoC, people have been waiting to reach this dark room for months and even years. “Since the principality was always ruled from Poonch, the records would always stay here and when 1947-48 divided Poonch, people on the other side of the line had the land but not the records that would sustain their occupation and ownership claims,” says a lawyer and a local politician Imtiaz Ahmad Banday.

The process is no not easy for all. “Under the law, we can not deny requests for copies of the record but in case of citizens coming from PoK, we prefer seeking applications and issuing records to their hosts,” said Kifayat Hussain Sofi, the in-charge of the records. He believes the number of applications from across the LoC is significant.  “I may not have the exact number but it is substantial because almost every family in Poonch has relations across.”

The records room that has scores of wooden and iron stands stuffed with ancient clothes pasted with paper hand-drawings is host to records of around 120 years old when the last settlement happened in Poonch belt. Though in dilapidated condition, the entire land records of the four erstwhile tehsils (which are now districts) – Sudhunuti, Bagh (PoK), Mendhar and Haveli (J&K) are still kept there.  “These are actually 486 villages and only 186 of these villages are now in India and the rest are in Pakistani Kashmir,” informs Sofi.

Officials have started realizing the importance of preserving these records. “We are trying our level best to protect the records but there are a number of misls (sheets with the drawings) which have been eaten by moths,” Sofi said.

To safeguard the data, Deputy Commissioner, according to Sofi, has sanctioned three lakh rupees. Currently spending money to hard-bind the records, the officials in the records room believe they will get some chemicals this year that will reduce the moth attacks on the precious record.

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    • اسلام علیکم
      جناب کیا آپ میری مدد کر سکتے ہیں کہ میں اپنی زمیں کا ریکارڈ لے سکوں ۔ ڈوگرہ بندوبست قانونی میں میرے دادا کا نام درج ہوا۔ لیکن وہ ریکارڈ نہ مل سکا۔
      میرا تعلق باغ آزاد کشمیر سے ہے۔

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