It is a rainy Saturday afternoon, and Khadija Bibi leads the way down a hill toward her modest living quarters in the Manak Piyan refugee camp, located in Pakistan-administered Kashmir some 40 kilometers (24 miles) from the Line of Control (LoC) with India.
This camp in Muzaffarabad district is one of nine in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and it houses over 4,000 migrants. She tells us about her family on the other side of the border.
Bibi originally comes from India-administered Kashmir’s Kupwara district. In 1996, she was part of a wave of an estimated 40,000 migrants who fled a crackdown in the 1990s by Indian forces on Kashmiri freedom fighters. Bibi said she fled with her husband after he was beaten and tortured by Indian army troops.
After India enacted legislation to end Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status earlier this month, people in the camps have been worried about their families still living in the Indian part of Kashmir. Many of them are reminded of the hardships in the 90s when they were separated from their families.
Khadija Bibi (44) has been cut off from her family in India-administered Kashmir
Bibi’s father died on August 4, one day prior to India’s revoking Kashmir’s status. She said after India cut off communication to Indian-Administered Kashmir, she couldn’t contact her family to grieve.
“I was unable to see my father’s face one last time and I could not participate in the funeral,” she said.
“We are in deep sorrow because we could not communicate with my brothers and sisters back in the village. My other relatives were not even allowed to attend my father’s funeral due to a strict curfew.”
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‘Death was waiting for us’
Alif Din, Bibi’s husband, told DW he was arrested by the Indian army in 1994. He said he was sent without being charged with a crime to Bhalwal jail, along with his three friends who Din said were murdered after their release.
“I was arrested by the Indian military in Kupwara district,” Din said. “I was tortured by Indian troops for 18 months. They electrocuted my penis and burnt my body parts with red hot iron rod. They asked me where my gun was and if I supported Pakistani separatism.”
Din said that after he was released from the jail he decided to migrate to Pakistan in 1996 with his wife and two sisters.
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“After we were released, Indian soldiers in the district killed my friends, but they allowed me to go. It was a terrible scene and it was the point I decided to migrate to Pakistan.”
Din said walked with a dozen people for four days through the mountainous terrain, avoiding landmines until they crossed into Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“If we went back, there would only be death waiting for us,” he said.
Pakistani Kashmiris fear for relatives
Alif Din (50) said he fled to Pakistan-administered Kashmir in 1996 after being tortured by the Indian military
Mehwish Lal Din’s father was a was a Kashmiri separatist fighter who was killed fighting Indian forces in Kupwara district.
After his death, his family fled into Pakistani Kashmir. Today, they are worried about their relatives remaining in India-administered Kashmir. Din told DW that she is proud of her father.
“My father gave his life for freedom. I really miss him and feel alone. I want to go back and meet my uncles and relatives,” she said. “I used to call them, but for two weeks we have been disconnected. We are worried about them.”
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Owais Rajpoot, a human rights activist from Kashmir, told DW about Kashmir’s split families.
“I have been visiting the refugee of split families for the past several years and helping them to lead a quality life as they are still reeling from the trauma of violence.”
“If the United Nations and the international community do pay heed to the Kashmir issue, then it will be difficult to control the youth on streets,” said Rajpoot, who is also a security studies researcher.
Mehwish Lal Din (16) holds a photo of her father, a Kashmiri separatist who was killed before she was born
Finding refuge in Pakistan
Although most of the split families have never returned to India-administrated Kashmir, many say they feel safer on the Pakistani side.
Mushtaq ul Islam, vice chairman at the International Forum for Justice and Human Rights, a civil rights organization working both in Pakistan and India occupied Kashmir, told DW that Pakistan has given refuge to those fleeing persecution in India.
“This country [Pakistan] has given us everything: freedom, education, livelihood and space to live,” he said. “More importantly, it has given us peaceful lives,” said Islam, who migrated to Pakistan in 1990.