It took them 13 years and a walk through 50 kilometres of rugged mountainous terrain to come back to their homeland. And though they were arrested as soon as they crossed the Line of Control (LoC), this family of eight is happy to be among its own.
Farid Ahmad Geelani and his family walked it from Muzaffarabad and crossed over to this side of the LoC in Uri sector on Tuesday. Geelani, his wife Tahira and six children were produced before the media at Badami Bagh Corps headquarters.
Resident of Kralpora village of frontier district Kupwara, Geelani was forced to cross over to the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 1993. Geelani said two Al Barq militants forcibly took them to Muzaffarabad. "My wife was pregnant at that time. But the Al Barq militants threatened us with dire consequences if we refused to follow their diktat," he told media persons.
"Life proved quite tough for us in Muzaffarabad. We stayed at Mallik Paiyan Mohajir Camp for some time. Later, I worked as an autorickshaw driver in Muzaffarabad".
Geelani said he fled the camp with assistance of one of his colleagues there, as he never wanted to join militancy and desired a peaceful life with his family back in J&K.
His wife Tahira Begum said life was difficult and full of miseries in PoK and "we look forward to lead a happy married life in Kupwara". "Kashmiris are treated as second class citizens and are not trusted in PoK," the couple said.
"Life of mohajirs (migrants) is very insecure. They face threat from Pakistani militants, the ISI and the Pakistan Army. Pakistan militants and ISI forcibly pick up Kashmiri youth from mohajir camps to train and send them across the LoC," they said.
Farid said Kashmiris in PoK were desperate to return to their 'watan' (homeland). "Here in J&K, they have their family, relatives and true self-respect. Kashmiris cannot dream of a secure life and future in Pakistan," they said.