A year of playing hide and seek with death for J&K’s border residents
The year 2016 brought back nightmarish memories of past wars for thousands of border residents in the Jammu region whose lives remained on the edge because of myriad ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
After India carried out surgical strikes across the Line of Control (LoC) on September 29, Pakistani troops have violated the truce 110 times with impunity by resorting to indiscriminate shelling and firing on the international border in the Jammu, Kathua and Samba districts.
Twenty-six Indian soldiers and paramilitary troopers have been killed in Pakistani shelling and firing during the last three months in the Jammu region.
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The LoC in Poonch and Rajouri districts has been no exception to Pakistan’s attempts to de-stabilise the relationship between the two countries.
The army and the Border Security Force (BSF) guarding the LoC and the international border in the Jammu region have effectively retaliated the Pakistani Army’s indiscriminate targeting of military and civilian facilities.
Yet, the brunt of these hostilities has been borne by thousands of villagers living close to the international border and the LoC.
While seven civilians were killed and over four dozen injured in Pakistani shelling on civilian areas, homes were also damaged, crops destroyed and cattle killed in border villages.
Hundreds of villagers migrated out of their homes and took temporary shelter in panchayats, community halls, schools and religious places away from the line of fire during 2016.
Such migrations became a norm each time guns roared.
Schools remained closed and villages appeared haunted during the intense shelling and firing in R.S.Pura, Hira Nagar, Samba, Suchetgarh and half a dozen other sectors of the international border in 2016.
Locals said in the affected areas, except for a formal declaration of war, what was happening was reminiscent of the 1965 and 1971 conflicts between India and Pakistan.
People living in these areas have been equally bitter about the state and the central governments for not coming to their help.
“We were promised small pieces of land away from the border to build dwellings to avoid being caught in the cross fire,” Jagdish Kumar, 57, a resident of Suchetgarh sector, told IANS.
“There was a lot of official talk about building concrete bunkers to shelter families during shelling from across the border. Nothing concrete was done to protect us. Governments changed at the Centre and in the state, but our lot did not change,” Jagdish Kumar lamented.
Visit any other affected area and the people’s refrain remains the same. They are also bitter about politicians visiting their areas during border tensions.
“Politicians of both ruling parties and the opposition come to deliver speeches each time the borders are hot. They promise us the sky and after things settle down, these promises are forgotten,” rued Sunil Kumar, 46, a resident of the R.S.Pura sector in Jammu district.
Two main occupations of border residents are agriculture and rearing cattle. Ironically, these two have taken the worst beating due to shelling and firing from across the border.
Dozens of cattle perished due to shells fired by Pakistan Rangers in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts this year as heavy losses were suffered by farmers because of their failure to harvest ripe crops on time during this period.
Given the increase in terror attacks carried out by non-state actors in Nagrota, Uri and elsewhere in Jammu and Kashmir during 2016, thousands of border residents in the Jammu region can only pray for peace between the two countries in 2017.
“The relations between the two countries have touched such a low this year that one can only hope for a miracle to silence the guns in the coming year,” said Bodhraj Sharma, 65, who lives in Kathua district.
Looking for miracles has always been the only hope for these hapless border villagers for the last many years. Unfortunately for these innocent people, miracles do not happen as routine in the lives of human beings.