“So what if our sister is a Muslim? We’re the same blood!”
After 75 years, a Pakistani woman – separated from her family after the 1947 Partition – reunited with her Indian brothers for the first time last month.
Mumtaz Bibi visited her brothers Gurmukh Singh and Baldev Singh for the first time in April at the Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara in Pakistan, after being separated from her Sikh family during the unrest, according to BBC.
"We are so happy that we've been able to meet our sister in our lifetime," Gurmukh Singh said.
Nearly 12 million people were forced to flee their homes during the 1947 Partition. At least half a million were killed in the conflict and violence.
"The violence ruined us too," Gurmukh Singh, now in his mid-70s, told BBC.
After Mumtaz Bibi's mother was killed in Pakistan during the turmoil, her father Pala Singh relocated to Patiala in Indian Punjab.
"When he came to know about his wife's death, he assumed his daughter was also murdered, following which he married his sister-in-law (as was the tradition during those days)," Baldev Singh, the younger of the two brothers, explained.
Mumtaz Bibi, on the other hand, was found in Pakistan by a Muslim couple who adopted and raised her.
"About two years ago, our sons found out about our half-sister with the help of social media," Baldev Singh said.
Mumtaz had contacted Pakistani YouTuber Nasir Dhillon, whose channel Punjab Lehar had assisted countless families separated during the Partition in reuniting.
Gurmukh Singh approached a shopkeeper in their ancestral village in Pakistan's Sheikhupura to confirm their relationship.
"He connected us with Mumtaz," he explained.
He stated that the family had doubts about her identity at first.
"Could she be someone else? But we gradually connected the dots, got proof and it was established that she is very much our sister," he said. "Our happiness knew no bounds."
"After that, we just wanted to meet her at any cost. But there were visa issues," Baldev Singh added.
The Kartarpur Sahib Gurdwara, the final resting place of Sikhism's founder Guru Nanak Dev was one of the prospective meeting points they discussed.
The gurdwara is around four kilometres from India's Dera Baba Nanak shrine in Pakistan's Narowal district, across the Ravi river.
Indian pilgrims get rare visa-free access to it since India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi established the Kartarpur gateway in November 2019.
Some other families who were separated during 1947 have been reunited at this location.
However, due to the Covid epidemic, pilgrimages to Kartarpur were halted in March 2020. It reopened in November of last year.
On April 24, the brothers and their families arrived at the shrine, where they finally saw their sister, who had brought her own family along.
"We hugged each other and wept," an emotional Baldev Singh recalled. "We just didn't want to separate."
"We promised each other that we will try to get visas as soon as possible. She has filed her papers and we expect that she will visit us soon."
Mumtaz was raised as a Muslim. By the time they met, Gurmukh Singh stated their family had accepted it.
"So what if our sister is a Muslim? The same blood flows through her veins. And that's what matters to us more than anything else."
"It's true that we have slightly different styles of living," he said. "They [in Pakistan] eat more meat while we eat less of it. But as Guru Nanak said 'manas ki jaat sabhe ek pehchan bo' (accept all humans as your equals)."