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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 12:40 GMT
Couple bridge Kashmir's divide
By Zulfiqar Ali
BBC correspondent in Keran

Family relatives
The Pakistani-side relatives wave at separated family members
The families were there, so were the gifts and the engagement ring.

But the tradition of placing ring on finger could not be fulfilled - the bride-to-be was on the other side of a 30-metre wide river.

This is Keran in the Neelum valley, 100km (63 miles) north-east of Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

The Neelum river here forms part of the Line of Control that separates the Indian and Pakistani-held sections of Kashmir.

Mohammad Faizan Khan, 16, lives in the latter, his bride-to-be and paternal cousin, Samaira Bashir, on the Indian side.

Ceasefire

Tradition calls for the mother of the groom-to-be to place the engagement ring on the finger of her son's fiancee.

They were crying across the river and we were crying on this side
Faizan's mother, Malick Zadee

Instead the ring had to be ferried, along with a golden necklace, dresses and gifts, across the river in two bags on a rope.

The ring was then placed on the finger of 16-year-old Samaira by a maternal aunt.

Faizan was not present - tradition also dictates the betrothed should not come face to face at such occasions.

The family members had remained out of touch until Pakistan and India began a ceasefire on the Line of Control a year ago.

Faizan's father and his two uncles, along with their families, had crossed the line from Keran, a border village in Indian-administered Kashmir into the Pakistan-administered section in 1990.

However, the three brothers left behind their four sisters in Keran.

Family members have often stood by the river to exchange gifts. It was here too that Faizan's father and sisters gathered on either side to talk and where he sought to make the match.

"I sought the hand of my niece for my son and my sister agreed happily and today we performed the engagement," said Mohammad Bashir, who lives in one of the refugee camps near Muzaffarabad.

'Helpless'

Engagement greetings were shouted across the roaring river.

Faizan's uncle and relative
The groom-to-be's uncle and a young relative look across the river

Faizan's mother, Malick Zadee, said: "I am happy that I engaged my son with his cousin as per our wish and desire.

"But my heart is also hurting because we performed the engagement away from our homes on the river bank and could not celebrate it together in a traditional way in our village at the girl's home in presence of all our relatives and friends."

She regretted not being able to place the ring or present gifts.

"We are helpless. They are there and we are here. We could not cross the Line of Control.

"They were crying across the river and we were crying on this side. Had we been at our homes we would have celebrated it together joyfully."

Faizan's parents still retain some hope that a solution to Kashmir's problems can be found so they will be able to marry the young couple in their village in Indian-administered Kashmir.

"We expect to wed them in the next four or five years and hopefully by that time the Kashmir issue will be resolved or there will be a bus service so we can marry them in our native village in the presence of all our kin and friends," said Mohammad Bashir.


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