I was born in Thang, which was then a Pakistani village on the Karakoram ranges. I was barely six months old when I was separated from my parents. They had gone to a neighbouring village on an errand, I was told later. But my life changed completely that December night, 45 years ago. It was the night the Indian Army moved in and took over our village. My parents were caught on the other side and could not come back. After a few failed attempts to return, they chose to stay back in Pakistani Baltistan. And, I grew up as an Indian.
I grew up dreaming of meeting my parents some day. After several attempts, I finally got a visa to visit Rawalpindi. To go to Baltistan, the permission has to come from the Pak army headquarters and the Inter-Services Intelligence. But in Pindi, I was told that I could not go to Baltistan because I had close links with the Indian Army. I told the officer who interrogated me that as an Indian citizen, it was my duty to help the Army when needed. Finally, they offered to bring my parents to Rawalpindi if I told the Pakistani media that Muslims were persecuted in India, not allowed to keep the Ramadan fast and not even allowed to offer namaz.
I told them that I would not do so. First of all, my parents, who are well over 90, would not survive a trip to Pindi and I did not want to see them in a coffin after waiting for 45 years. Second, I was not ready to lie that Muslims faced persecution in Kashmir. I stayed in Pindi for 48 days not knowing what to do. Finally, an officer, who was moved by my plight, gave me the clearance to go to Baltistan and meet my parents.
In Baltistan, all they wanted to hear was about the plight of Muslims on this side of the border. I told them that the Indian Army had never knowingly hurt Muslims on account of their religion. I even played for them the video clip of our local commanding officer delivering his Independence Day address a couple of years ago, reassuring the Kashmiris. I am sure I made many Pakistanis, blinded by propaganda, see reason. The ISI and the Pak army were furious and a few months later, when my visa came up for extension, they denied it, despite promising me a longer stay with my parents. I still dream about meeting them once again, insha allah.
Ali is from Thang. As told to Ajish P. Joy