Arjun Sharma | Mar 26, 2019 | 5 min read
Arjun Sharma and Jamsheed Malik
Jammu: Shakuntla Devi (78) of Arnai town along the Indo-Pak International Border in Jammu vividly remembers the day last May when a shell from the Pakistani side exploded in front of her two-storey house, piercing the iron gate. That was the time when ceasefire violations went on for days and more than 50,000 locals were forced to flee from their homes.
“We heard a loud explosion at the gate and rushed out to see what had happened. It was all smoke, and splinters had pierced the gate. Had it been just a few metres in, it would have landed on the house and killed us all,” says Shakuntla, who then took her family to her relatives' house to escape the fury of shelling.
She wasn’t the only one. It’s become a sad way of life for border town residents, who are forced to leave their homes and cattle when the two rival countries exchange fire. It’s so common that even the state government sets up schools, temples, and other government buildings as temporary shelters for civilians to take refuge in.
However, from the looks of it, this is how far the government seems prepared to go for residents ‘safety’, considering it hasn’t fulfilled its promise of relocating them to safer areas.
Arnia, a bustling town of Bishnah tehsil in Jammu along the border, bears all the scars of Pakistani shelling, and even gets new ones every time there’s a ceasefire violation. Most homes here still have splinter marks of the shells that burst near them.
Before, and even after, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had promised border inhabitants that plots would be allotted to those who were displaced due to the ceasefire violations.
As per government records, there have been 3,327 ceasefire violations along the International Border and Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from 2017 up till January 2019. In 2018 alone, 28 civilians and 15 army and 12 Border Security Force personnel were killed and 170 were left injured during ceasefire violations.
It’s no wonder then that Arnia residents are furious with BJP’s “betrayal” — not only have they not got those promised plots of lands in safer areas, but the government allegedly hasn’t built individual bunkers for every family in the area either.
Davinder Kumar Saini, a contractor and resident of Arnia, says, “We have to leave our homes for 20-25 days every time there is a ceasefire violation. Schools in border areas are shut down during such times as well, impacting students.”
As a precautionary measure, district administrations of areas close to the International Border and LoC shut down schools within 0-5 km of the Pakistani side.
Bishnah, RS Pura, Suchetgarh, Kathua, and Samba, and Rajouri and Poonch on the LoC are among the areas that bear the maximum brunt of the shelling.
As per official records, government had paid an ex-gratia of Rs 35 lakh to victims of ceasefire violations in J&K till July 2018. The ex-gratia paid in 2017 and 2016 also was Rs 35 lakh, whereas the amount given in 2015 was Rs 15 lakh.
Evacuation of critically injured a major problem
One of the major problems residents face during ceasefire violations is evacuation of the critically injured. There is only one Community Health Centre in Arnia and that too isn’t well equipped. Locals claim that while a bunker has been constructed on the hospital premises, doctors generally flee when the firing starts.
RS Pura resident Rohit Choudhary, an activist who provides free food to border residents forced to leave their homes, says the health sector along the border is in a deplorable condition. “There is an urgent need of a bullet-proof ambulance in which injured can be evacuated when firing from Pakistani side starts. A blood bank also is required in RS Pura, so that evacuated patients don't need to be rushed to Jammu city, which is nearly 30 km from here,” he adds.
Choudhary says that if the government cannot provide land in safe zones to the residents, the least it can do is ensure better medical facilities for them, so that “they can somehow survive during such testing times”.
Tall promises, no fulfillment?
The situation is no better in Kalal, a village along the LoC in Nowshera tehsil of Rajouri district, having nearly 213 houses with a population of around 850. While connectivity to the village through a road is fine, ceasefire violations, nonetheless, are critical situations, as the residents have nowhere to run.
Ramesh Chaudhary, Kalal sarpanch, says aerial distance of the village from Pakistan is not more than 500 metres, and many times, mortar falls on houses here. “Home Minister Rajnath Singh had visited Nowshera two years ago and promised locals’ safety. Both state and central governments have failed to ensure that. While bunkers have been built for villagers to take refuge in during ceasefire violations, these are scattered and not along the entire border belt,” he adds.
A woman and her two children in Jhulas village of Poonch district became the latest casualties to Pakistani shelling on March 1 — the shell that landed on their house killed the trio and critically injured the family’s male head.
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