The India-Pakistan war in 1999, was fought in the Kargil district of Kashmir and the town has never been the same ever since. High tensions and constant skirmishes have ensured that the region is always on the edge.
However, from among the ashes of pain and strife, comes the heartening story of the union of a couple that has been through thick and thin in the past two decades.
There is a Gurudwara in the Kargil region, that shares a wall with the Hanfia Ahl-e-Sunnat Mosque, run by Sunnis. The two shrines share more than just a common wall; they share memories of a romance between Jaswinder Singh (now Junaid), and his wife, Khatija Bano, in 1996.
It was Jaswinder who made the first move. Khatija would visit the Gurudwara to fill up water, and Jaswinder, who was mesmerised, started writing letters to her. Khatija reciprocated, and the two decided to marry, reports the Times of India.
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The couple had to face severe pressure, Jaswinder recalls how it came down to two possibilities—either he would embrace Islam, or Khatija would embrace Sikhism.
Speaking to TOI, Jaswinder says that he eventually decided to convert and became Junaid Akhtar.
Fast forward several years later, and Junaid today is the proud head of a large clan. He celebrates Baisakhi with his mother and brothers, and Eid with his kids, Mansoor, Shoaib and Tanaz Fatima. As for Khatija, she visits the Gurudwara more often than her husband and has even learnt Gurbani.
The couple works with Jammu and Kashmir’s education department and often pepper their lessons with anecdotes from their own love story.
“The attacks on young girls and boys who break barriers in Hindu and Muslim societies frighten us. We are both liberal parents and have told our sons and daughter to choose their partners from any religion,” says Khatija.
In a region that has seen nothing but conflict, Junaid and Khatija’s love story is a beautiful silver lining. Moreover, in these times, where incidents of violence against inter-caste couples are on the rise, the duo is no less than an inspiration.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)