M A I N   N E W S

Bridging divide on the Jhelum
Jupinderjit Singh/TNS

Jammu, March 25
For many years, Altaf Mir (50) has stuck to a daily routine. He walks down to the banks of the Jhelum near Muzaffarabad in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and stands there gazing at the gushing waters of the river.

“The water brings with it the fragrance of my motherland, Anantnag, where I was born,” he says, pointing towards the Indian side of Kashmir. His misty eyes have just one dream in them - to travel to his homeland.

Across the border in Tangdhar in India, Mubina Begum (55) looks at the same river, hoping to reunite with her younger brother, Javed, who had crossed over to Pakistan in 1989. “I wish I turn into a drop of water and along with this river flow to the place where my brother is,” yearns Mubina’s elder brother, Izaz Ahmed.

Jhelum, which originates from VeriNag in Srinagar, acts like a natural barrier and a virtual Line of Control between India and Pakistan at many places. But for Altaf and Mubina and many other families separated for decades by the long-running conflict between India and Pakistan, it is also the river of hope. These families want to move freely back and forth to meet their near and dear ones on the other side of the border. This hope and also the suffering of staying away from your loved ones is aptly reflected in VITASTA (another name for Jhelum), a short film made by two journalists - one from India and another from Pakistan.

In a first ever initiative of its kind, the duo - Pawan Bali and Mohammad Urfi - overcame constraints of language, communication, apart from traditional barriers, to come up with the film, which was virtually edited online via SKYPE.

“Jonathan, Director of Conciliation Resources, introduced us in 2010 over phone. As direct calls between Indian and Pakistan were not allowed, we struggled to be in touch with each other,” says Bali.

“Our plan was to travel along the Jhelum. I started from VeriNag, the source of the river in the Valley, and he started from a dam on it on the Pakistan side. The idea was to do shoot some footage on the way and meet at the LoC. I reached there, but Pakistan authorities didn’t allow him to meet me,” recounts Bali.

The scribe said she was struggling to understand Urdu and Urfi wasn’t comfortable with English. “When nothing worked out, we turned to Skype to remain in touch and even edited the film online. It was eventually in August 2011 that we met in Dubai in a conference organised by CR and gave final touches to the film,” says Bali.

Talking to The Tribune, Urfi says the film doesn’t touch upon the causes and reasons of the divide. “We have shown the human side of suffering and hope that things move on between the countries.”

The film shows real-life scenes of divided families meeting each other in Poonch in Jammu and Tangdhar in Srinagar.

“At Tangdhar, people from both countries come on the opposite banks of the Jhelum. They wrap their letters on stones and hurl these at each other. It is pity that in this age of communication, they have to rely on this method of remaining in touch. We hope our film brings the two countries closer,” says Pawan and Urfi.

Funded by a UK-based NGO, Conciliation Resources (CR), the film was screened at a conference of UK parliamentarians in London and in PoK Legislative Assembly early this year. It is yet to be screened in India. However, the film has found its way on the YouTube and already has many hits.





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