Ex-Navy man upholds century-old tradition of Iftaar at Akhnoor

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz. Updated: 4/4/2024 1:15:06 AM Front Page

Iftaar, Azan, Namaz in Ramazan at Thakur Baldev Singh’s house close to India-Pakistan border

Jammu: Thakur Baldev Singh, a 76-year-old Hindu of Jammu, has maintained his grandfather’s century-old sublime tradition of Iftaar party for his Muslim neighbours and friends at the border township of Akhnoor through the thick and thin of his life. As usual last weekend, Thakur organised a grand vegetarian Iftaar feast for 140 guests at his home in the garrison township, close to the International Border between India and Pakistan.
Nearly a hundred of Thakur’s guests as usual were his Muslim neighbours and friends in Akhnoor area, even as 20 to 30 drove all the way from Jammu to attend the Iftaar party in the middle of the holy month of Ramazan.
Born in months of the Partition and Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India—and in the thick of an armed invasion from Pakistan on Kashmir—Thakur joined the India Navy in 1967. He took retirement at a young age in 1971 when he was serving in the Navy’s Communication Branch. Thereafter, for over 20 years he worked with the private Merchant navy as his vessels navigated through every single country by the sea across the globe.
Thakur revealed to ‘News Now’ that the tradition of Iftaar party had been set up by his father over 100 years ago. It was meticulously sustained by Thakur’s father, Munshi Singh, who was the Sarpanch of his neighbourhood. “My grandfather and father were great votaries of communal harmony and brotherhood. In the communal strife of 1947, when Jammu was burning in a frenzy, my father provided protection to the Muslim community and ensured their safety and security”, Thakur said.
Before the communal displacement in 1947, Akhnoor had a thick Muslim concentration. A neighbourhood in the town is still known as ‘Kashmiri Mohalla’; though no Kashmiri lives there anymore. “Now it’s an area of 99% Hindu population but Azan and Namaz goes on without break and a Hindu still hosts the Iftaar party every year”, prominent advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad from Jammu, said at the event on Saturday.
Speaking about his father and grandfather, Thakur said: “Every year during the month of Ramazan, they would arrange for a grand feast of Iftaar, essentially for their Muslim friends and neighbours who would be also joined by prominent Hindus and Sikhs. For some reasons after my father’s death, I thought of discontinuing this practice but my wife stood firm like a rock. She said this ritual had become a part of our ethos, emotion, faith and reverence. We continued it without break”.
Of late, Thakur has shifted his residence to a different part of the town where he has been hosting his friends and neighbours at an Iftaar party once in Ramazan. However, three of his brothers have been doing it jointly at their ancestral residence at Sungal Morh, Akhnoor. An Imam from UP, who has been running a madrasa and living in Akhnoor with his family, calls Azan and leads the congregational Magrib prayers immediately after Iftaar.
Thakur’s son Hardeep Singh and younger daughter Anupama are settled in the United States of America.
Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal of Jammu, who has retired from the Indian Air Force (IAF) is one of Thakur’s permanent guests at the Iftaar party.
“I am a proud Dogra and equally proud of our great tradition of communal harmony and brotherhood. Thakur Sahab and I were brought up in an atmosphere of love and respect for all faiths and cultures. We had equal respect for Azan, the Rama Navmi and Tazia (Muharram) processions. Our college Principal Sheikh Mohammad Iqbal gave us these values. I believe we Hindus should celebrate Ram Navmi with our Muslim neighbours and they should have Iftaar with their Hindu neighbours”, Sehgal said and concluded with a verse: “Ikshajjaraisamuhabbat ka lagayajaye. Jis ka hamsayakeaanganmeinbhisaayajaye” (Let’s grow such a tree of love which also covers the neighbour’s yard under its shade).
Khuda Bakhsh, the owner of Chowdhary Hospital, who secured more than 20,000 votes as a BSP candidate in the Assembly elections of 1996 and is currently in the National Conference, is another permanent guest at Thakur’s Iftar party. He, along with agriculture scientist Dr K.C. Bhagat, Dr Tilak Raj Gupta and Dr Gafoor are all praise for Thakur’s sentiment of sustaining a sublime tradition of co-existence and religious harmony in Jammu. According to them all, invariably, 90% of the people, be it Hindus or Muslims, strongly believe in tolerance, co-existence and brotherhood and “less than 10%” are victims of hate and prejudices.
“Thakur Sahab invites us every year and we attend it religiously. He is an epitome of communal brotherhood and co-existence. We need to inculcate this value system in our new generation which is exposed to fears, phobias, biases and hatred through politics and social media. I believe it is still a fringe element of our society but, if left free, it can grow catastrophic in the future”, advocate Supriya Singh Chohan, who drove all the way from Jammu, said.
“We are delighted that the end of the holy month of Ramazan, including the last Friday, Shab-e-Qadr and Eid-ul-Fitr are approaching parallel to our Navratras”, she added.

Updated On 4/4/2024 1:17:16 AM

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