Divided families still suffer 75 years after India-Pakistan partition

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Ali Hasan Baqai and Syed Abid Baqai, brothers separated for 75 years by the partition of India and Pakistan, speak with their families by video call, with words and tears that unite them but without hope of reunion.

Thousands of families like the Baqai brothers remain divided three-quarters of a century after their countries were formed at the break of independence from British-ruled India in 1947.

“I was sorry that I couldn’t touch them,” the younger brother, Syed, told Reuters in New Delhi. It was good to see Ali Hasan in Karachi, but there’s nothing like “a hug, touch, shake hands or talk to them” in person.

Muslim-majority Pakistan celebrates its independence on Sunday, and its Hindu-majority arch-enemy on Monday.

The Baqai families last met eight years ago, when the eldest brother traveled to New Delhi. According to the brothers, repeated attempts to obtain visas by the two families have been rejected by both parties.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence, two of them over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety. Tensions reached a fever pitch in 2019, when each sent fighter jets into the other’s airspace.

Britain’s creation of new nations as its empire dwindled after World War II triggered a massive sectarian migration in both directions, marred by bloodshed and violence on both sides.

Some 15 million people left the country, mostly for religious reasons, and more than a million died in religious riots in the 1947 partition, according to independent estimates.

Among the divided, the Baqai have not been able to share the happiest or saddest moments. Ali Hasan, his older brother, was not allowed to attend the Indian funerals of his two sisters and his mother in New Delhi.

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