Tracing The Roots

It was emotional return for the great grandson of Mistri Yaqoob Ali, one of the top leaders of the then Muslim Conference, to Jammu where he participated in a conference on Kashmir. But his journey has been scarred by the communal polarisation that has taken place and he was left distraught and hopeless, Jehangir Ali reports.

Participants at the cross-LoC civil society dialogue organized by Centre for Dialogue and Reconcillation
Participants at the cross-LoC civil society dialogue organized by Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation

Muhammed Ahmed Shaikh, 40, a practising lawyer in Islamabad, Pakistan, was not even born when his family left to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1947. They migrated following the riots against Muslims in Jammu in which thousands of Muslims are believed to have been killed. On Dec 14, when Ahmed landed in Jammu on his maiden trip, he just asked people where Tawi River was. And from the graphical description provided by his father, he found his ancestral house in Mohalla Mastgarh in Jammu.

“Mostly settlers live there and not the old residents. The demography has changed. Lot of Muslims left and others came and took over the properties. I told the people who lived there that my family used to stay in this house. A few of them were pretty warm. Some were not so warm, not so receptive. I couldn’t enter the house. When I knocked at the door and told them the whole story, they said you have come to the wrong place. ‘Check the next door’. I knew that was the house. But their behaviour was understandable. I understand their feelings. Maybe they have undergone the same misery. Maybe they have some sour memories as my father and I have of those days,” he says.

Ahmed flew to Jammu to attend a cross-LoC civil society dialogue organised by Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation, “My father was 12 when he left Jammu. He has vivid memories of this place. It was my wish to come here to see my family home, to see the city. We heard so much about it. I had a clear picture where my family lived. When I came here, all I wanted to know was where Tawi is. And once I saw Tawi, I simply walked up to Mohalla Mastgarh, to my family home. I wasn’t sure that was the same house. But when I spoke to my father in the evening and gave him a description of where I went, he said you reached the right place. I reached there without having been there. It has been a very emotional journey and an emotional stay. I am glad that I am back in the city,” he said.

Ahmed has historical connections with Jammu and Kashmir. His family migrated to Muzaffarabad when communal riots erupted in Jammu region in which Muslims, who were in a 61 per cent majority, were targeted. Many independent observers have claimed that the killings had “the tacit consent of the state authority” and put the figure slain at 200,000. Ahmed’s family was lucky and they managed to escape. Being the great grandson of Mistri Yaqoob Ali, the leader of the then Sheikh Abdullah-led Muslim Conference, who was one of the first six people arrested on 13 July 1931, one of the momentous days in the history of struggle of people of J&K, it was those roots, he says, that brought him back to Jammu.

“My father always refused to come to his city with a visa. He was invited to board the first bus which crossed through Chakoti into Kashmir. In the end, he was refused because he didn’t have a divided family. We have to understand the emotional aspect of those who don’t have divided families. The government should allow those who lived here before 1947 to visit their home places,” he said.

I asked him whether he wanted to return to Jammu and start his life here, “I will be very candid with you. I don’t want to come back or live in this city. After observing the polarisation, I think I have decided, though of course the roots remain and I would always want to come back and spend some time here, but under the prevailing circumstance, I think I wouldn’t want to come back. I wish I could say otherwise but this is how at least I am feeling,” he said.

“We don’t have religious many religious communities there and even in Pakistan I don’t belong to minority but things are much better for me there. I have seen how sentiments flare up when religion comes up. This is what happened in 1947. I think we need to think about these issues dispassionately to arrive at a midway. A lot of people talked about consensus which I don’t think is possible with so many communities involved in the issue. We all have to be very flexible,” he said.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Ahmed shaikh is my nephew, I was 10 when along with his dad my elder brother) & other family members migrated to the other side of ceasefire line, with my mother , grandfather ,3 brothers and my uncle’s family, My father and uncle migrated later on.
    In fact we were in Srinagar where he used to with Darbar every year in simmer )when the massacre took place in Jammu. So, we crossed from Kohala via Muzaffarabad.My grandfather,father ,my Uncle kept waiting to see when the conditions will be better to go and see their home and the town where they were borne and brought up but it never happened in their lives I was reminded of Aziz Kash’s article,”Jammu Ki Yad mein “ in which he wrote the stone- lined streets of Mohalla Must Garh ,Jammu must have tired in waiting to hear the to hear our foot steps.Once Aziz Kash felt very nostalgic and went on top of hill near the border in Sialkot wher he could the the sunlight shining on the temples of Jammu. I have with me an article written by a famous writer hailing from Jammu,Khalid Hasan who was able to visit Jammu after 33 yrs. In 1983 .he has narrated in details even the hoses of many well known people of Jammu . it was very nostalgic to see the photos Ahmed posted ,And I wish to visit Jammu once in my life time
    I think there should be an easy visa system for those who belong to jammu and who were borne in Jammu or near ones of those .
    Dr.Mubarak Shaikh

  2. Bravo Ahmed Shaikh! how wonderful it is to know that Ahmed has been to the ancestral land.. Tawi river and the muhallah..and even the bitter sweet of repatriation yet repartition…
    Though my grandfather and elder ones of my uncles went through the same ordeal as Ahmed’s, I have not witnessed among my elders the nostalgic longing for Jammu, as one shared by Dr. Mubarak. May be its because I had very little chance to meet the elder ones of my uncles.
    Yet Ahmed’s story has helped me put some of my observations into perspective; for instance, why the parochial pride of our Pakistani hosts over their lineage, ancestral farm lands, graveyards and homes is such a powerful string in their native social fabric, specially as one moves away from the urban centres. Although other forms of social association have made up for most of what our elders gave up, something can never me made up for.
    Most of the people of the world, either around me here in Abbottabad or else where, say in China, identify themselves and others with their ancestral land. I wonder whether I should say that I belong to Jammu and that I am a migrant (but i was born here), or should I say I belong to Muzaffarabad (where i spent just 18 of my 37 yr life, and in my broughtup has little if nothing of typical Muzafarabad) or I should simply identify with my own self…”Mansoor Shahab”..though I dont carry my family name “Shaikh” still name of Mistri Shahab Din of Jammu rings every time I am called upon.
    Since there is no escape from the banks of Tawi, Ahmed’s visit is indicative that over time travel would hopefully be made easy and with that hopefully religious and ethnic rhetoric toned down.. and a small yet inescapable part of us restored some what.

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