Indian man meets Pakistani sister after more than 70 years apart

Many families were separated in the violent aftermath India and Pakistan's partition

Siblings meet after being separated for 70 years

Siblings meet after being separated for 70 years
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For nearly eight decades, Gurmail Singh lived in a small village in India’s northern state of Punjab, completely unaware that his younger sister lived across the border in Pakistan.

But earlier this month the siblings – Mr Singh, 80, and his sister Sakina Bi, 68 – were reunited following decades of separation due to the bloody partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan in 1947.

Mr Singh and Ms Bi met at the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib in Kartarpur – a four-kilometre-long corridor in Pakistan where Indians can visit one of the holiest shrines of Sikhism.

Tears rolled down their faces as they hugged each other for the first time.

“I am extremely happy after meeting her. It was a surreal moment when I saw her. She has eventually found me. I feel lucky that we could meet at the fag end of our lives,” Mr Singh told The National.

“We couldn’t stop crying. We were together for five hours and we couldn’t stop crying for a minute,” he said.

The siblings are among a handful of family members separated by the partition who have been reunited in recent years. The division of the subcontinent by the British colonisers still casts a shadow on the relationship between Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, with diplomatic and people-to-people ties at a minimum.

The partition, carried out as Britain prepared to grant independence to India and the new nation of Pakistan, forced people to swap countries overnight on the basis of religion, leaving behind homes, businesses and possessions, amid political upheaval and violence.

Women, as in most conflicts around the world, were at the receiving end, subjected to abductions, sexual assault and forced marriages.

Mr Singh's parents, Karmate Bibi and her husband Jamu, were Muslims living in Nurpur village in Ludhiana district of Punjab province.

After the partition, Mr Jamu and other members of the family fled to the Pakistani side of the newly created border dividing the province, while Mr Singh, then four years old, and his mother found themselves stuck on the Indian side.

They were abducted from Nurpur and taken to the village of Jassowal Sudan, also in Ludhiana, where they were taken in by a Sikh man who later raised Mr Singh.

As the violence subsided, the Indian and Pakistan governments of both nations agreed in 1950 to track down and reunite family members who had been separated.

The authorities traced Ms Bibi and sent her to Pakistan to reunite with her husband. Mr Singh was out playing at the time when officials came to take his mother and was left behind.

“I was four years old when I was separated from my mother. I had no memory of her and no one had ever told me that I have a sister in Pakistan. I had a difficult life growing up without a mother," Mr Singh said,

His sister Sakina Bi was born in Pakistan in 1955 and now lives in Sheikhupura in Pakistan's Punjab province.

In 1961, she stumbled upon a photograph of Mr Singh and a letter written to her mother by a neighbour in Jassowal Sudan, sparking a decades-long search for her brother.

A local newspaper reported her story in 2016, which caught the attention of Nasir Dhillon, a Pakistan-based YouTuber who helps to find and reunite families separated on both sides of the border.

Mr Dhillon uploaded a video last year in which Ms Bi appealed to her brother to come and meet her.

Jagtar Singh, the village head in Jassawal Sudan, saw the video and tracked down Mr Singh.

“I spoke to old people and eventually found him. It was a year ago,” he told The National.

Jagtar Singh and Mr Dhillon arranged phone calls between the siblings and spent a year helping Mr Singh to get a passport and paperwork for their meeting.

“We first arranged a video call last year. They were speechless, they kept crying the first time they spoke on the phone. We were also in tears. She had fallen sick and he did not have a passport so it took over a year,” he said.

On August 7, Mr Singh walked to the Sikh shrine across the border, where Ms Bi arrived with her daughters and sons-in-law, among 16 other relatives. He came with fellow villagers from Jassawal Sudan.

The siblings exchanged gifts. Mr Singh brought his sister five kilograms of home-made biscuits, while Ms Bi gave him a watch.

They now talk in video calls every day, but Mr Singh wants to visit his sister’s home.

“I was lucky that I could still meet her at this age but I would want to continue meeting her. I want both nations to unite again," he said.

"People across the border love each other; it is the governments that have divided us.”

Updated: August 15, 2023, 8:34 AM