Speaking to TOI over phone from Pakistan, Mudassar Iftikhar Awan, who was a former deputy mayor of Muzaffarabad, said that his mother, Aatam Kaur, who hailed from Pattika Sikhan village (now in PoK), had a love marriage with his father, Mohammed Ayub, against their families’ wishes during the onset of Partition. “She accepted Islam willingly and changed her name to Shamim Akhter. However, following the Liaquat–Nehru Pact signed in 1950, which termed forceful conversions null and void, his mother was forcefully taken by the authorities from Muzaffarabad to Jammu, and later, to Dehradun with other refugees from Muzaffarabad in 1956,” said Awan who was just three years old while his brother, Ijaz, was just one and a half years old when the family was torn apart.
The Liaquat–Nehru Pact (or the Delhi Pact) was a bilateral treaty between India and Pakistan in which refugees were allowed to return to their hometowns to dispose of their property, abducted women and looted property were to be returned and forced conversions were nullified.
Awan added, “My brother and I were too young to understand what was going on. Within a year, my father passed away. We were raised by our paternal grandmother. When I was in college, she told me that after reaching Dehradun, my mother converted back to Sikh religion and she gave birth to our sister, Joginder Kaur. She had informed the same through letters sent to our father in Muzaffarabad in 1957, along with their photographs. Since then, I have been longing to see my mother and sister or at least listen to their voices before I die,” said Awan, adding that “I have tried all the possible means including petitioning the governments on both sides to help me to trace them but all efforts have been in vain”.
Awan’s efforts to reunite with his family recently caught the attention of a Pakistan-based social media influencer, Nasir Dhillon, who posted about the same on his Twitter and Facebook accounts on August 11 after coming to know about it from Awan’s nephew, Afnan Malik.
“Mudassar and his brother have known their mother and sister only through photographs. His story of loss and longing must reach the masses,” Dhillon said.
After knowing Awan’s story, Amarjeet Singh, a Dehradun-based Congress leader and state president of United Sikh Federation, too shared the information in Sikh groups in Dehradun and Punjab. “We are doing our best to trace his mother and sister. We just hope that our efforts yield results as it will restore faith in humanity and heal old wounds,” said Singh.
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