Tears cloud peace

"Living in the line of Fire"

By: S Nazakat Hussain


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Gul Khan, 50, is a resident of the Michael village, of border district Kupwara, about 90 KM away from the Srinagar City of Kashmir. Before 1999, the man was living a prosperous life, having good fertile land and owner of more then 40 animals. Today, the migrant from the Michael is living a life of nomadic, and is caustic about the fact that his kismet (fate) and future has been hit hard by intermitted shelling between Indian and Pakistan's soldiers.

The Michael village of border district Kupwara, just few miles from the Line of control (LoC) is one of the artillery shelling prone area of strife torn Jammu and Kashmir.
There are hundreds of such villages in the state, facing the burnt of their unknown faults on both sides of the 440 Km long Line of control (LoC), dividing Kashmir into two zones. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir, and have several others military clashes since 1947. Means: these two neighboring countries have never lived in peace, and understandably the whole sore of this conflict and border tension have been faced by the people living in these countries, particularly by poor people living on LoC.

Though the relations between Indian and Pakistan remained volatile since their independence but particularly, after 1989, when Muslim guerrillas started armed insurgency against India in the Indian held Kashmir, which is the only state of India dominated by the Muslim community the relationship which was already sore turned more worse and volatile.

India is repeatedly blaming Pakistan for supporting militant groups and for helping them
in infiltrating into Indian side of Kashmir which Pakistan is out-rightly denying. India upholding that Kashmir is its Integral part while Pakistan termed the Kashmir as its jugular's vein. Four years ago, these two countries was very close to a full flagged war when Islamic militants tried to infiltrate into Indian side of Kashmir in heavy numbers
from Kargil region.

This never-ending hostility between these two neighboring countries has led the discomfort of people living in border villagers to great dimension. The every wall of house in Michael area of Kupwara is revealing what life means there. The artillery shelling has left bullet holes that perforated the walls and merchandise of several shops.

"Few weeks ago, there was heavy artillery and motor shelling from other side of border
which continues for six long days. We were hiding in our house without having food and water," said Gul Khan.

With every bang of shell we were seeing our death, added frightened Khan.

For the people living in this frontline area of Kupwara, artillery shilling has become
a routine, an order of a day. The people, mostly farmers here are not able to cultivate their fields to earn their living. Their fields have been coming under direct shilling
from the other side of the border.

Ironically, hundred's of people living in these 'death zones' have lost their lives in artillery shilling and thousands have been maimed during last 13 years of unrest in the Kashmir. The villagers living in frontlines of Baramullah, Kupwara, Kargil, Rajouri,
Poonch and Jammu areas of LoC have lost everything in this shelling. Their homes, shops, livestock, fields, householdings, family members, joy and above all the hope that Indian
and Pak will ever live in peace and so does they.

After the 13 December terrorist attack on Indian Parliament last year, for which India blames Pakistan and a militant group active in Kashmir valley, the situation became more worse for these border people. Terrorised by the heavy buildup of forces at borders left them with no option but to migrate to safer places, places away from the Pakistani mortar and artillery shelling.

According to the official information more then 130,000 people fled from these border villages to for their safety a one year ago.

Though people living in Kashmir range of LoC returned back to their homes after the government constructed shell-proof community bankers for them. But the people living
in borders villages of winter capital Jammu, 300 KM away from summer capital of Kashmir, Srinagar city are still much away from their homes, and living a life of itinerant in various places.

Officially, the government accepts that Akhnoor, Pargwal, R.S Pura, Samba and Pannawalla sectors are the worst hit by Pak shelling in the recent months.

Pannawalla Town, which is only few KM away from Pakistan side of Kashmir, for instance,
is almost empty. The 11,044 families, which moved, are now living in relief camps in many places near Jammu city. Earlier, men used to stay back and women and children were sent off to safer villages. However, as the situation became more and more dangerous, men too began to move. There was none left in the villages to take care of the animals and the houses. Most perished either due to hunger or in the shelling while other just wandered off. Some houses are locked while most are left open by the residents. Rightly so, because they did not find too much time to lock them and take out house holding with them. The shops are closed down and some are totally destroyed by artillery shelling.

The town is presenting a deserted look, a picture of a ghost town.

In one another border area, R.S Pora sector, dozens of carts and taxes can be seen carrying away men, women and children.

As evening falls, people who decided to stay there despite they are exposed to naked death, begin to overwhelm by apprehension and fear. Aptly, as the clock struck eight, the booming of shells began. As the night grew darker people saw shells being exchanged from both sides. Just a day before a shelling had wreaked havoc in the village. Nest day, the Indian guns start answering.

" Pakistani soldiers fired more then four thousand motor shells during last night. And all were targeted towards civilian population," said an Indian army officer at R.S Pora sector.

The one more reason for the mass migration of villagers from border villages of Jammu region is the lying of landmines, which Indian army has planted to 'tackle Pakistani soldiers if they do any mischief'. These evacuated people have taken shelter in schools, tents, bankers' means whatever and wherever they found, and some are still spending cold night of winter under open blue sky.

"We have nothing to warm ourselves.  It was batter to die by Pakistani shells then to be live in this condition," said Retu Davi who along with her 10 member family has been living in a small tent near Jammu city.

The health care facilities exist only in name. The condition of expecting mothers in these relief tents is shocking and scandalous. They are deprived of basic facilities that expecting women otherwise need. In this serve cold, they are sleeping on hard floor.
They have been provided one blanket to beat the chill, and torn and cement bags to use as cushions.

Despite India, Pakistan too has started de-escalation from some areas a sense of uncertainty still hunts these migrants. They do not know how long they would have to live this life in these conditions.

"I want to die in my village, a village where I have spend my whole life. But I don't see
it happing," said eighty year old, Abdul Aahad of Rajouri village of Jammu division. Aahad is presently living in the Jammu city along with his family.

Same is the story of the people living on the other side of the LoC. They are undergoing
the same pain and suffering which their counterparts in India are face to face with. So it is the people of the both countries who are suffering for the faults they have not committed. The only difference is that one group of people suffers from Indian bullet and other from Pakistani bullet.

So perhaps, it is easy to talk of 'Once for all' siting in New Delhi and 'Will we teach
them a lesson' in Islamabad. But not so as to the people living in both the countries particularly those living on the line of fire.



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