Jammu & Kashmir: The hardest hit border residents along the fatal fence 

The proposed ‘multi-tier security ring’ along the LoC is likely to have a multiplier effect on border villagers—who already find themselves boxed in

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Getty images
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Ashutosh Sharma

Jasmin Akhtar (15) is neither the first nor the last teenager whose life has been snuffed out by shelling on the Line of Control (LoC)—a disputed border that divides the region between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. But she would possibly have lived if she had a watch to tell her the time; or if she had a bunker or bomb-shelter to spend the night on the LoC. She would have lived if she had returned to the fence-gate just half-an-hour early.

But on September 30, she, her father, a few other villagers and their livestock returned a little later than the stipulated 6 pm to the fence gate.

It was 6.30 pm, the gate had been locked and the sentries of the Indian Army had returned to their barracks, forcing the group to spend the night in the open and close to the fencing. Early next morning, she died in shelling from the Pakistani side.

Her village Degwar Maldalyan in Poonch district, is sandwiched between the LoC and the Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System, a fence erected by India after the Kargil war.

Every day, the family, armed with special passes known as the Red Card, crosses the fence with their livestock to work on the family’s farmland and to allow their cattle to graze.

On September 31, just before the gates were opened at seven in the morning, a shell fired from the Pakistan side killed Jasmine and injured her father, Mohammad Sadiq, and their livestock. On December 30, 2016, amid deafening roar of guns and mortar shell explosions, a rickety loudspeaker perched atop the village mosque at Degwar Maldalyan had blared out an impassioned plea: “Stop the gunfire for a while...for God’s sake...you’ve killed our boy...now allow us to perform his funeral, please!”

In fact, threats and uncertainty, have made life extremely tenuous for border residents. They are sitting ducks in cross border firing. Almost every family in fenced out villages has lost a family member either due to cross border-shelling, firing or by stepping on a concealed landmine.

Many conflict-affected villagers have been struggling with psychiatric disorders due to prolonged trauma resulting from losing close family members, and loss of limbs and livelihood.

22 civilians have been killed along the LoC & IB during the last one year

In addition to this, social and customary subdivision of land from one generation to another, has also meant that present generation of farmers and shepherds own smaller pieces of land, which they are neither able to sell or cultivate profitably.

In another case, on September 31 morning, Siraj Ahmad (9), a resident of Mohalla Kasba in the same district also died of the splinter injuries after a Pakistan fired mortar shells left 14 people injured.

Pictures sourced from villagers 
Pictures sourced from villagers 
Jasmin Akhtar (left), the tail fins of one of the mortar rounds that exploded at Haneef’s village, protrude from the ground (middle) and Siraj Ahmed 

“My mother, Reshma Bi (70) and younger brother, Mohammad Rashid (38) are undergoing treatment after four shells exploded on the roof which collapsed,” recalls Mohamad Haneef (42), Siraj’s uncle. He laments that the shells damaged the house as well which sheltered three families of three brothers. “Without some financial help from the government, we will not be able to overcome this tragedy. For us life means survival. We are used to shellings and firing. Due to poverty, we can’t think of relocating elsewhere, ” he adds.

After the surgical strikes on September 29 last year, according to defence ministry sources, as many as 78 security men (including 58 this year), have been killed in ceasefire violations and in militant attacks in Jammu & Kashmir.

The 12-month toll is the highest in five years. According to data compiled by the J&K government, 22 civilians were also killed and a hundred more injured along the LoC and the International Border during this period. Additionally, 210 houses and other structures of border residents were damaged in shellings from across the border.

Incidentally, the Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, declared a few months ago that work on installing a ‘smart fence’ along 3,323-km-long Indo-Pakistan border would begin soon. But instead of inspiring confidence, the government’s decision has only fuelled worries for border residents, who have been demanding that the fence be shifted to the Zero line.

The ‘multi-tier security ring’ is likely to have a multiplier effect on border villagers for whom each day survival is nothing short of a miracle in one of the oldest conflict zones.

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Published: 10 Nov 2017, 8:02 AM