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In Jammu, Thakur Baldev Singh carries on 100-year tradition of hosting iftar

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz/Jammu

Thakur Baldev Singh, 76, carries on the tradition of hosting Iftar for his neighbors and friends which was set by his grandfather for his Muslim neighbours and friends at the border towns of Akhnoor.

Last weekend, Thakur organised a grand vegetarian Iftar feast for 140 guests at his home in the town located on the banks of the Chenab River and close to the India-Pakistan border.

Nearly a hundred of Thakur’s guests were his Muslim neighbours and friends; many drove from Jammu City, 28 km away, to attend the Iftaar party. A humble man, Thakur baldev Singh is keen his pictures should not be used anywhere as the even is not meant for publicity.

Guests breaking the fast at Iftar

Thakur was born after the Partition and the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India and an armed invasion from Pakistan on Jammu and Kashmir. He joined the Indian Navy in 1967 and sought a voluntary retirement from it in 1971. For the next 20 years, he worked with the Merchant Navy.

Thakur told Awaz-The Voice that the tradition of the Iftar party was started by his father over 100 years ago. It was carried on by his father, Munshi Singh, who was the Sarpanch. “My grandfather and father were great votaries of communal harmony and brotherhood. In the communal strife of 1947, when Jammu was burning, my father protected the Muslims and ensured their safety and security”.

Before the partition, Akhnoor had a sizeable Muslim population. A locality in the township is still known as ‘Kashmiri Mohalla’. “Now it’s an area of 99% Hindu population but Azan and Namaz goes on without break and a Hindu still hosts the Iftar party every year”, prominent advocate Sheikh Shakeel Ahmad from Jammu, said at the event on Saturday.

Mrs Baldev Singh welcoming guests

While Thakur hosts Iftar at his newly constructed house in the town once every Ramzan, his three brothers have been doing it jointly at their ancestral residence. A local Imam leads the congregational Magrib prayers immediately after Iftar.

Retired IAF officer, Squadron Leader Anil Sehgal of Jammu, is one of Thakur’s permanent guests at the Iftar 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 Iftar with their Hindu neighbours”, Sehgal said.

Guests eating in the lawns of Thakur Baldev Singh’s house in Akhnoor, Jammu

He concluded with a verse: in urdu: “Ik shajjar aisa muhabbat ka lagaya jaye. Jis ka hamsaya ke aangan mein bhi saaya jaye” (Let’s grow a tree of love which also covers the neighbour’s yard by giving it shade).

Khuda Bakhsh, the owner of Chowdhary Hospital, and a National Conference leader, is another regular at Thakur’s Iftar party. Likewise, scientist Dr K.C. Bhagat, doctors Dr Tilak Raj Gupta and Dr Gafoor are always invited to the annual event.

“Thakur Sahab invites us every year and we attend it religiously. He is the 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 from Jammu, said.

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“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.

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