Gurpreet Singh: The children of a common mother, India and Pakistan, remain divided
Whereas Canadians and the Americans continue to crisscross the route that passes through the Peace Arch border every day, Indians and Pakistanis settled in Vancouver wonder when the unnatural border dividing their neighbouring countries will open?
Much like Canada and the U.S., the two South Asian countries were connected before 1947, the year India got its independence from the British Empire.
At that point, it was divided on religious lines: a Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
As the 63rd anniversary of the independence and separation of the two nations is coming this weekend, there is a mixed feeling of celebration and despair among those who lost their loved ones in the religious violence that followed the division of India.
Thousands of people migrated to each side of the border, leaving behind their ancestral lands to restart their lives as refugees when Hindu-Muslim riots broke out.
The Sikhs had to leave behind their properties and the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of their religion, in Pakistan as their leaders voted to go with India.
Among them was my father’s family. Though he is happy about his country’s independence, like the rest of the Indians he still bears the ugly memories of the partition.
Born in Khanewal, which is now in Pakistan he was eight years old when he migrated to India along with his mother and siblings.
My grandfather was a police officer and had opted to serve in Pakistan when the partition was announced.
Little did he realize that the Hindus and the Sikhs would soon be targeted by the Muslim fundamentalists, and likewise, the Muslims would be attacked by the Hindu and the Sikh extremists on the other side of the border.
According to my father, most people felt that the riots will be over and things would be normal within days.
However, my grandfather faced hostility from a few Muslim police officers who came from the Indian side of the border, and was advised by his well wishers to leave as the situation was turning ugly.
My grandfather had then sent his family to India, and joined them later. He remembers how the Hindus and the Muslims were offered drinking water and tea separately at the railway stations. On way to Lahore, their train was attacked by the mob.
My father heard the exchange of fire between the soldiers in the train and the rioters. He also saw severed limbs and dead bodies lying in a pool of blood.
Fortunately, they all reached safely to Lahore and later went to Jalandhar, where his eldest sister lived.
My father has always wished to travel to Pakistan and visit his old house. Although he has served with an oil company in Amritsar, a city close to the Indo-Pak border thath is now sealed, he never got a chance to go to the other side.
After all, the two countries, which can also be described as children of a common mother, have fought two wars and the visa regime between them has not been very smooth, except on some occasions.
My father was happy to see the Peace Arch border when he visited Vancouver. He wished that the border dividing India and Pakistan also open one day and he could visit the birthplace of Guru Nanak and his native village.
The Indians and Pakistanis who live in Canada can at least try to bridge the gap between the people of the two countries.
Last year, two progressive groups held a candle light vigil in the memory of those who died in the 1947 pogrom. Since the two nations were together in the freedom struggle, they can also hold joint independence celebrations and commemorate the unsung heroes who challenged the religious fundamentalists during riots.
Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor, and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.