Too many score stories are about the undoing of human bonds by the power and fantasy of an invisible line drawn on a map. The story of Sikka Khan and Sadiq Khan, two brothers separated in 1947, is no different. In the chaos unleashed by the partition, Sikka and the boys’ mother were left on this side of Punjab; Sadiq and their father in the new nation of Pakistan. It was not geography that separated them, but history. During these years, Sikka’s mother, driven mad by grief over losing her family, committed suicide. He was raised by his grandparents in the village of Phulewal, which still proudly remembers protecting all of its Muslim families during the Partition madness. The boy’s letters to his brother, sent to the wrong address, went unanswered.
Finding the right address took 74 years – and the magic of the internet. It’s hard to remember today, when it’s been so completely hijacked by hate and partisanship, but the global web was once seen as a space where borders would become irrelevant. And so, when a YouTuber in Pakistan, whose stories on Partition have a large audience on every side of Punjab, heard about the brothers’ story, he used his platform to spread Sadiq’s appeal: He was sure his brother was alive. Could someone help them meet? The internet obliged, and the brothers met for the first time — on a screen, via video call. It took another two years and several negotiations with the nation-state bureaucracy before they finally saw each other. Earlier this week, the two brothers met and embraced – albeit for a short painful period – at Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib.
The journey of their respective nations – in many ways, brothers and sisters too – seems to be taking them further and further away from unity. But even if realpolitik disagrees, India and Pakistan can do better. They have to make an exception for Sikka and Sadiq and allow them to visit each other. For once, may fraternity triumph over the intoxication of nationalism.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition of January 15, 2022 under the title “Brotherhood”.