Erasing A Village

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The roaring Neelum river on the banks of which once lived a village eventually separated them forever. Then a new situation reunited the two halves of the same hamlet briefly. Then division revisited them. But the Bore village, listed No 1 hamlet of Kashmir, does not exist anymore as it walked into the oblivion of history and ceased to exist in 1990, reports Saima Bhat

Bore migrants protesting in Srinagar to demand their rights including rehabilitation. KL Image Bilal Bahadur

It is village 000001, Kashmir’s first village, as per the Census records. People know it as Bore, one of the remote Kupwara villages that touch zero line in the Keran belt.

“Bore is a small village located in Kupwara tehsil of Kupwara district, Jammu and Kashmir with total 130 families residing. The Bore village has a population of 130 of which 129 are males while 1 are females as per Population Census 2011,” the Census of India reveals on its website. “In Bore village population of children with age 0-6 is 0 which makes up 0.00 % of total population of the village. Average Sex Ratio of Bore village is 8, which is lower than Jammu and Kashmir state average of 889. Child Sex Ratio for the Bore as per census is 0, lower than Jammu and Kashmir average of 862.”

India’s national enumerator does not stop there. “Bore village has higher literacy rate compared to Jammu and Kashmir. In 2011, the literacy rate of Bore village was 100.00 % compared to 67.16 % of Jammu and Kashmir. In Bore Male literacy stands at 100.00 % while female literacy rate was 100.00 %.”

The fact is that Bore has ceased to exist as early as 1990. There is just one structure that is still standing, as all other houses, cowsheds, grain-stores and entire physical infrastructure is history. Nobody lives there. It is one of the many ghost villages, which are on official records but not on the ground, courtesy the conflict.

The last genuine census took place in 1981. Then, there were 25 households living in the village spread over 36.42 hectors. There were 76 men, 71 women. Incidentally, Bore bears no mention in 2001 census because it had ceased to exist. It made a grand re-appearance in census records in 2011 official records, despite its literal permanent disappearance.

The Bore was a major village living on the two banks of the Neelum river. Bore Bala, the upper Bore lived and continues to live on the other side of the river. This side’s Bore was Bore Payeen, the lower Bore, which does not exist now. Its population is scattered on either side of the divide, some living the life of paupers who even do not get a decent burial. Frustrated by the destitution, they are now insisting they are facing an identity crisis. “Who are we? Where do we live? We do not have answers to these questions,” one of the residents said while protesting in Srinagar.

The village has an interesting, tragic history that started with partition and it is still taking their toll.

The Divide

Abdul Razak Bhat is 75. He says he was around five years of age and remembers certain things that happened in the dusky village where most of the wails lay buried  under the noise of the river. That day, he said, two officials from UNO reached in the two areas of  Bore. “After discussions and deliberations they decided to divide the river and they gave one part to the Pakistan and another to India,” Bhat said.

The two sides implemented the division quite fast. All of a sudden, Bhat said they couldn’t meet their relatives and friends living in Bore Balla, now part of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK). “There were daughters who got separated from their parents or some people who had gone for work could not return,” Bhat said. “That division meant the division of humans, which was the worst part.”

The only solace was they could see each other. They had no verbal communication but that generation could still identify their relatives and friends and wave at each other.

“Many agencies of CID and police were working in the village who did not allow us to get closer to the line, so we preferred to communicate by waving at each other and it continued till 1964,” Bhat said.

A year later, India and Pakistan got engaged in skirmishes from April 1965 that eventually led to the war in September. As the armies stopped fighting and war was officially over, Bore Payeen had reunited with Bore Balla, to its pre-partition position.

“It was a reunion of a village after 17 years,” Bhat remembers. “After the disbelief was over, we could hug our relatives for real and we started jointly living with our relatives again. The old bonds revived.”

But the joy was short lived. In 1971, India and Pakistan were again in the battleground. After Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign country, there was Shimla agreement. The two sides directed their armies to go back to the pre-1965 position. It divided the village again.

Bhat said while the two armies took over the territories, the people remained defiant against the division. Bore Payeen residents, Bhat said, preferred to live with the people in Bore Balla.

Interestingly, Bhat became representative of Bore Payeen residents and soon he met local Sadar captain Khursheed with various demands. “He was generous enough to understand our problems that all of our property including houses and land, was on the other side of the divide so he ordered for our free ration and relief,” Bhat remembers. Soon, Bhat married a local girl in Bore Balla.

But the situation did not last long. After Captain Khursheed died, his successor, Sadar Captain Mian Qayoom stopped all aid and relief to the natives of Bore Payeen. Bhat met the new Sadar but he did not do anything for them. Around 150 people, they held a silent protest from Neelum Valley to Athmuqam. But it moved nothing.

Home Calling!

This triggered a quick change. Bhat and many others finally decided to return to their homes in 1973.“My wife had delivered our eldest son a few days back but we decided to walk up to the borders in Jammu and we reached home in two days,” Bhat said. They inhabited their village again. They moved back to their earlier routine: waving at each other.

There were many changes in the inter-village customs but the basics remained unchanged. “When our relatives used to get married in Balla area, the newlywed couple used to come closer to the river so that we could see them and give our blessings,” Bhat said about the tradition that is still in vogue. “In case of deaths, they used to shout to inform us.”

With this normalcy, the twin village divided by the river and politics managed to thrive within the limitations of geopolitics. “By all means, it was a normal life,” Bhat said. “But then, destinies are pre-decided.”

Divided by the river: Residents of two either sides of Kashmir meet on the opposite banks of the river.

The Tragedy

It was December 08, 1990. The Army posted on the LoC approached the village and suggested them that in wake of the new security situation; they will have to migrate for three days. It is the same principle that the governor Jagmohan allegedly used to convince the Kashmiri Pandits. He, however, suggested them three months. Soldiers on border sought three days. More than 27 years later, Bore villagers are still wandering in different parts of Valley. They have not seen their “home” since then. Memories make them cry.

Septuagenarian, SarwarJaan and her husband Muhammad Payer, were once Bore’s prosperous residents. They owned more than 50 kanals of land, orchards and a huge herd of cattle. Overwhelmed by her “sweet memories”, Sarwar talked about her ‘best days’ when the couple was living a ‘royal’ life, being respected for what they owned. Their only concern was that they were childless.

Three decades ago, Sarwar said they were at least 60 households in Bore. When Kashmir started getting engulfed in the gun battles, Bore was the first village to have an impact. Half of the village residents simply crossed over to the other side of Kashmir, leaving it visibly half-populated.

But the destiny of this picturesque hamlet changed forever. Marching orders to the residents came after weeks of ‘harassment’. There was no much of the time. The villagers assembled and by consensus, they decided to move. It was evening, they all remember.

Their destination was Keran, the major village coded 000002 in the census records. Sarwar remembers her last journey with her husband, a dirty foot track almost 7.5 km to Keran, leaving everything behind.

“Our village is high on the mountains. It is quite beautiful with the roaring Neelum flowing towards Muzzafarabad,” Sarwar said. “There were no metallic roads.” She remembers the difficult migration with the crowd of villagers, men, women and children, in the dead of night with no belongings.

Keran embraced them with open arms. For exactly three days, the displaced insist, the hosts fed them well. The feelings were warm.

Three days later, the situation changed. Payar and few other villagers decided to visit home. They said they had left their herds in cowsheds and not fed them. They wanted to quench their thirst and get them some feed.

Simpletons, they were unaware of what had happened to Bore after their midnight emigration. Payer was the first to step into the village. It led to a blast. Payar’s leg was injured seriously. Well before the group could make sense of things, another villager stepped in, there was another blast. In the next few minutes, two more villagers were injured. In an attempt to get back home, they had stepped into a minefield. The army was not around but mines were everywhere, they later came to know. Quickly, they shelved the plans. Instead, they had now many injured to evacuate to the hospital.

All the four injured were shifted to district hospital from where they were referred to Bone and Joint Hospital. Payer’s limb was amputated. Soon, he breathed his last in the same hospital.

The death of Payer was the first major crisis for the migrants. With the arrival of his coffin to Keran, Sarwar lost her world. But she had no time to grieve over the loss of her partner. She was face to face with a serious crisis; perhaps no other woman has been in recent days. Once a proud owner of 50 kanals of land, she had no land to bury him.

“I was crying in pain requesting Keran residents to give me some space where I could lower him in a grave,” Sarwar said. “Finally, I offered them Rs 15,000 and only then they helped me.”

After 27 years of Payer’s death, Sarwar is seen as insane by her fellow migrants. “Don’t let her talk much, she will repeat all these things again and again,” a young migrant, who is a labourer, says. “That incident had negatively impacted her mind.” Sarwar lives with one of the wandering families and is dependent on them for everything.

Tragically, the Pagal Sarwar is dead for the administration. As per order number tk/0q/mig/2011, dated January 13, 2011, she is listed dead in the long list of Bore migrants.

Tired of the wait in Keran, when villagers approached the local administration, they were responded by the silence. As the government had resigned and the state administration had passed into the hands of a few led by Jagmohan, the death of a village was no priority. Then, there were feeble responses: ‘your return to home may take slightly longer, but you will have free rations.’

As per the report of IG CID, dated August 28, 2017, the migrated families of Bore couldn’t return home because “Indian Army planted IED in their agriculture land as well as residential land.”Villagers said they could have attempted going home despite the IEDs but “Army had erected a check post 2kms ahead of Bore to bar any movement.”

Sarwar’s neighbour Muhammad Rafiq Bhat, 55, was a contractual teacher in 1990. His family owned 37 kanals of land.

“How can I forget the day when we fell from riches to rags. In a couple of hours we lost our address, our ancestry and our identity,” Bhat said. “Almost every family had two houses as we lived in as joint families. My family comprised of 19 members and soon after I lost my job as well.”

Initially, the residents started living in tents for around a year. After Payer episode, Bhat said they once found smoke coming from the direction of their village. “Panicked, we rushed towards our village. We did not reach there but we went closer and found the village was on fire.”

Migrations to PaK were not Bore specific. Various families in main Keran had also crossed over. Some Bore families started putting up in some of these abandoned houses. But once the relatives of migrated families started seeking rent, Bhat says they preferred to leave those houses because “we could not afford it”.

Bhat said security situation, the idleness, no work and no income created a situation for them that some of them started begging for survival. This state of helplessness continued for a year. One day, Bhat said, they decided to meet the Governor, Girish Chander Saxena. The situation of the Bore migrants led him to sanction a relief on the pattern of Kashmiri Pandits: Rs 1000 per family per month with rice, flour and sugar and free accommodation in the hostels with free electricity and water supply.

A July 1993, report by the Additional Commissioner, Kashmir has mentioned that there were 13 families comprising 61 souls, who were displaced by the army for ‘security reasons’. The state aid to the families continued till 2001.

Why the relief stopped, the villagers do not know. This led families to lift loans from banks, according to Bhat.“We had no source to feed our families and to fund the education of children,” Bhat said. “Every one of us is indebted to the tune of Rs 6 lakh.”

As the new generation of officials’ took-over, they failed to appreciate the crisis of these families. Bhat alleged that smaller officials like Pathwaris used to ask them for a cut to sustain relief and eventually it stopped. “When we go to these officials for certificates like that we belong to the LoC, they refuse the same saying you do not deserve it now,” Bhat, who now lives with his relatives in Keran along with his five daughters, said.

Gulmar Jaan, a mother of three daughters and two sons, was allowed to live in one abandoned house for five years. She said she was working as a domestic servant in different houses. Once she stopped working, she was asked to vacate. The stay had a cost, she still repents.

Jaan’s eldest daughter, Kabal Jaan was a class 11 student, then. She was quite beautiful. One of their neighbour’s desired to marry her and approached Gulmar and her husband Gulistan Mir, for her hand. Reluctant, they started getting threats. “For the security of my husband and my sons I had to take the decision and marry her to the same person,” Gulmar said. “Once married, they prevented our meetings with her,” Gulmar said she has never seen her elder daughter, though she is reportedly the mother of five daughters.

Gulistan, according to Gulmar took the situation of his daughter, to his heart. “One day, he died of cardiac arrest and the crisis for me was where to bury him,” Gulmar said. For two days, Mir’s coffin remained as such for lack of space, enough for his grave.

“After two days I made a public announcement from a Masjid loudspeaker and asked fellow villagers to meet at one particular point where it was decided that Mir will be buried in a no man’s land,” Gulmar said.

After Mir’s death, Gulmar had a tough time living in Keran. “Every night, soldiers on night patrol used to knock at our door and throw stones on the roof, asking the ladies to come out,” Gulmar said. “I was the mother of two more daughters so I used to remain awake whole night protecting my daughters. It was same for other villagers as well. Nobody was molested or raped but we used to live under immense fear.”

Gulmar struggled to migrate again. With her four kids, somehow she got the job of a cook in an orphanage in Silikote, Kupwara, in 2001. In exchange for her services, they kept her four children.

Residents of Bore, displaced by the security situation in 1990, explaining their case. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

Her son, Saddam Hussain Mir, 23, is a class 10th drop out. He decided to take care of his family and got a job at a local hotel in Kupwara in 2005. For five years, he would earn Rs 5000 a month. Then, he shifted to Srinagar. He sells vegetables in Dalgate where he lives in a rented room with his mother. His youngest brother, a class 9th student is still in the same orphanage and his two sisters, class 9th and 12th student, are in a separate orphanage in Channapora (Srinagar). Separation seems to be their destiny. “Despite living a few kilometres away from my sisters, I can’t meet them,” Saddam regrets. “We all siblings are together on just two Eid’s.”

The Bore migrants, now 19 families, claim they face a plain denial in getting what should have normally come to them. “We have lost our identity,” Raziya, 25, said. Born two years after her parents were rendered homeless, she says she wants to see her home, at least for once. “I don’t have any good memories of my childhood as I always saw my family struggling every second of the day,” she said. “We cannot afford a long court case but we can go to Delhi and protest outside the Parliament.”

Independent lawmaker Engineer Rasheed, who is less vocal now, said he visited Bore Payeen in 2016 winter. “I used chains on the tyres of my vehicle to reach the village,” Rasheed said. “The whole area is damaged. We had to walk for at least two kilometres to reach the village. Just a few abandoned houses, which have been occupied by Army.”

Rasheed during his overnight stay said he was surprised to hear the sound of buzzing vehicles. “When I went closer to the noise, I could see the other side was abuzz with life. Just at a stone’s throw, I saw a big hotel, picnic spots, metalled roads. It was a complete city.” He was referring to the Bore Balla.

The Wish

Shattered by the last three decades of roaming between the pillar and the post, these homeless villagers demand a respite now. They have four demands: registration of 19 families as Kashmiri migrants, restoration of relief package, compensation for their houses and property and the allotment of land in lieu of the land they were dispossessed from.

Recently, a high-level meeting under State Chief Secretary of met and decided to fulfil the demands of the villagers. The local administration in Kupwara acknowledges their problems. Kupwara Chief Planning Officer says the state administration has schemes exclusively for all border areas in the state. “Presently there are two schemes going on, a central government sponsored scheme and a state government scheme. I know the demands of Bore village, that include around 50 households, who were living under one kilometres of the LoC, are genuine,” the officer said.

“Only 12 families of Bore were displaced in my entire district and they were informed about the purpose that army had to go for fencing of the area,” Deputy Commissioner Khalid Jehangir said.“It is an old issue I don’t know why they were not allowed to go back.”

Besides, Bore Payeen, four families of Kanthawali were also displaced. “I checked all documents where I came to know the relief was stopped in 2002 because they wanted to have one-time settlement,” Jehangir said. “Government ordered a compensation of Rs one lakh to each family and they were asked to identify land in Keran for building their houses. Most of the families couldn’t identify land so we have paid them Rs 30,000 as the compensation. Most of the families have accepted the compensation. We have just three or four cases pending with us which are awaiting verification.”

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