J&K’s ‘Alienated Borderlands’

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A general perception that unlike Kashmir, Jammu has survived unscathed by the overall instability and security situation of the state is incorrect. This write-up prefacing a study Border And People: An Interface by Prof Rekha Choudhary for the think-tank Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation (CDR) offers a bird’s eye-view of how the instability has militarized border belts and kept guns rattling for decades. While these populations have their very survival threatened every time Delhi and Islamabad get into bad diplomacy, their movement, communication and utilization of the resources they otherwise own remains affected even during peace time.

The borderlands in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) represent a case study of ‘alienated borderlands’. Elaborating this model, Martinez (1994: 6) notes that such borders operate in ‘extremely unfavourable conditions’ defined by various conditions including warfare, political disputes, intense nationalism, ideological animosity, etc. Such conditions lead to ‘militarization and establishment of rigid controls…’ Neither there is any possibility of routine cross-border interactions nor of normal lives of people.

To say the least, such a tension-filled climate seriously interferes with the efforts of local populations to lead normal lives. International trade and substantial people to people contacts are very difficult if not impossible to maintain. The ever-present possibility of large-scale violence keeps these areas sparsely populated and underdeveloped. (Martinez, 1994: 6)

Caught in the hostility between India and Pakistan, the people in border areas of J&K are constantly caught up in the situation of instability. As residents of borderlands, they face the kind of challenges which people in the mainland do not necessarily face. Though ever since 1947, the whole state of J&K has been caught up in the situation of conflict and has faced violence generated by numerous wars between India and Pakistan and armed militancy, the situation in border areas has always been more precarious. People living on the International Border and the Line of Control have been the victims of almost continuous war-like situations. Due to the ongoing hostility between India and Pakistan, borders have generally remained volatile here.

While multiple wars (1947–48, 1965, 1971, 1999) created havoc in the border areas, even peacetime did not provide relief to the people here. The borders have continued to remain hostile even during the so-called peacetimes – actually the times between and after wars. As the history of the borders in the state shows, guns have actually never fallen silent. There has been intermittent firing and shelling, generating a situation of unpredictability and uncertainty. The situation during last two and a half decades has been more precarious. With the onset of militancy, the border became more active. The infiltration bids by the armed militants have been accompanied by the firing and shelling adversely affecting the normal conditions of life.

In 2003, a formal ceasefire was declared and the border people felt some relief. But this ceasefire has often been violated and the uncertainty of the borders has not ended. There have been numerous ceasefire violations in last few years – 28 cases of ceasefire violations in 2009, 44 cases in 2010, and 51 cases in 2011 (Kashmir Times, 8 December 2012). More than 50 cases of ceasefire violations were registered in 2012 (Times of India, 9 December 2012).

The ‘border’ context of conflict, however, has remained out of the gaze of political analysts and researchers. The conflict situation of the state has been the focus of numerous studies but most of these studies are centred upon the ‘Kashmir context’ of conflict and have not analysed the areas and issues beyond Kashmir. There is no doubt that the issues related to Kashmir form the core context of conflict whether seen from the internal or external dimension, yet it is pertinent to emphasise the complex and multilayered nature of conflict. ‘Beyond Kashmir’ there are many layers and dimensions of conflict which remain invisible due to the national and international spotlight on Kashmir. ‘Border’ is one such dimension which has not been given due attention by the political analysts.

On its own, border represents an intricate and complex subject demanding nuanced analysis. To begin with, border is not a simple, straightforward and uncomplicated phenomenon in this state. Border is also not necessarily fixed and settled – in many ways it remains uncertain, problematic and contested.

The difficulty about analysing the border in J&K starts from the fact that apart from the relatively settled border touching a few districts of the Jammu division of the state, known as International Border (IB), there is a large part of unsettled border now known as Line of Control (LOC). Drawn in 1948, initially as Ceasefire Line, this line ‘instead of being only a line of cession of hostilities … [has]led to four wars and more than two near-war situations between the two countries of India and Pakistan’ (Samaddar, 2004: 79). And rather than being recognised as the settled border, it remains ‘merely a line of control functioning as a border, but lacking its sanctity’ (Samaddar, 2004: 86).

Continuous volatility of both the kinds of borders has resulted in the militarisation of borderlands with its own kind of implications for the people residing there. There is such an overwhelming presence of security forces that many towns in the border areas like Akhnoor, Sundarbani, Nowshera, Rajouri and Poonch almost seem like military towns. Apart from the excessive visibility of army with its paraphernalia, there are other implications of presence of army in these areas. Huge land area under the control of the army is generally out of bounds for the local residents; there are various kinds of restrictions including restriction of movement.

The very process of ‘bordering’ has been violent in the state and has resulted in huge material, economic and human loss to people. Whether it was the formation of the IB or the border via the Ceasefire Line/LOC, it resulted in the disruption in the normal lives of people. While new boundaries were created due to the partition of the country (as well as of the partition of the state) people became prey to the communalised violence on both the sides of these boundaries. Many lost lives and many more were uprooted and lost their homes. With the exception of the valley of Kashmir and its adjoining areas in the Doda belt which were spared the trauma of being ‘bordered’, all other areas of the state went through the anguishing ‘partition’ spectacle enacted in many other parts of the Indian subcontinent. It was the same story of communal frenzy, looting, killing, abduction and dislocation. However, for the rest of the subcontinent, the ‘partition’ was soon to acquire the status of history as the people despite their anguish came to settle in India or Pakistan. However, for J&K, the trauma continued. Partition was not a settled history, but a living problem that continued with unsettled and contested borders.

The ambiguous position of the Ceasefire Line / LOC gets reflected from the continuous movement of the people across the ‘border’. It is not only that people moved in large number in the 1947–48 period, but they continued to move after that.

In 1965 there was a huge migration of people from the Indian side to the Pakistani side. Many of these people returned later on. Despite the stringent controls, the movement on both the sides continued till very late.

It was in this process of bordering and movement of people that families got divided and blood relations came to acquire different ‘national’ and even religious identities. Worse consequences were to follow as these ‘divided families’ across the border could not communicate with each other.

Being part of two antagonistic countries, they had to bear the burden of the mutual hostility and suspicion between these countries. While the whole of the state of J&K was impacted by the phenomenon of divided families, the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri were more intensely affected. Almost every family in these two districts has relatives across the LOC. For generation, these relatives could not meet due to stringent visa requirements. However, the opening of cross-border routes and the plying of buses on the Uri–Muzaffarabad and Poonch–Rawlakot routes since 2005 has made it possible for the divided families to meet. However, very few people have been able to avail this opportunity.1

Apart from the ‘divided families’, there have been various other border-related issues confronting the people, particularly the issue of displacement. A very large population of the state has suffered one or the other kind border-related displacement.

The division of the state in the 1947–48 period resulted in vast migration of people from both sides of the state. While a large part of the Muslim population migrated from the Jammu division towards Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, the Hindus from the Pakistan-administered Kashmir, particularly from Mirpur, Kotli, Muzaffarabad, migrated to Jammu. Displacement, however, did not stop with the 1947 ‘disturbances’, but continued in the later period. During every subsequent war, the people residing in the border had to move out for longer periods of time. In the wake of the 1965 war between India and Pakistan, a large number of people had to migrate from the areas closer to borders. But one of the larger migrations took place in the twin districts of Poonch and Rajouri.

Here many people feeling the pressure from the army crossed the LOC. Many of them managed to come back later but many others could not. The area of Chhamb was also affected by the

1965 war and many people were forced to flee to safer areas in the Jammu region. In fact, the ‘Chhamb refugees’ were relocated a number of times. Many of them were forced to leave in the

1947–48 period, but a larger number were forced to evacuate during the 1965 war. However, the largest displacement from this area took place in 1971. After the 1971 war, there was delineation of the LOC under which Chhamb was ceded to Pakistan. As many as 4,300 families were dislocated.

Referring to their plight, Jamwal (2004) notes, ‘The displaced families had to be kept in tented camps at Manwal, about 60 Kilometers from Jammu. The government did provide them with some land and cash doles in 1976 but their demands of adequate rehabilitation are still pending.’ They were resettled around the international border. This further added to their problems.

The volatility of the border made them vulnerable not only to firing, shelling and mining but it also continued their trauma of displacements. Even after settling in their now ‘homes’ after 1971, they were forced to relocate to safer places whenever tensions built up on the border.

Border-related displacement continued in the later period. More particularly, during the Kargil war, as many as 1.57 lakh people were displaced from various border areas (Mandal, 2009). Though actual fight took place in Dras and Kargil areas, the mobilisation of army took place all around the border areas and hence civilians were evacuated from these areas. Again there was a massive mobilisation of armed forces in 2001 after the attack on the Indian Parliament and again there was a large evacuation and dislocation of people. As per news reports, around 1 lakh people were displaced from the border areas of Jammu alone (Kashmir Times, January 13, 2002).

Life in borderlands is not very easy. The people in the border areas are generally insecure because of the uncertainty of the situation. They have to face a number of hazards, including stray bullets and shells coming from across the border, or minerelated accidents. Almost every war or war-like situation leads to the mining of large areas and though there is a process of de-mining, yet a lot of mine-related accidents take place leading to loss of life or injuries. Apart from that, the process of mining leads to the loss of control over the cultivable land for a large number of people. The last time the forces were mobilised around the border in 2001 and the border areas were mined, it took four to six years for the demining process to be completed and all this while a large number of people could not use their land for cultivation. Besides mining, it is the fencing which has kept a large portion of the cultivable land out of bounds for the border residents. As a fallout of the armed militancy and the infiltration of a large number of militants from various routes of the porous border, a project to fence the whole border area was undertaken. However, due to the resistance from across the border to the process of fencing, the fence at many places was constructed much inside the zero line, bringing the cultivable land of many people inside the fence. This land is not only now ‘fenced’ but also ‘gated’ – allowing people access through the gates that are opened for a restricted period during the day time.

 In the conflict zone, where there is no sanctity of ceasefire and where guns have actually never fallen silent, there is no meaning of ‘normalcy’. What can be described as normal life – the children attending school, the farmers cultivating the land, or even people living in their own homes – can be disrupted at any moment. Almost everyone who has grown up in the border areas can narrate numerous stories of disrupted education, of agricultural fields being mined or coming under fencing, of having to leave the village in a huff and having lived in this or that ‘camp’. Apart from that, there are a lot of stories of ‘accidents’ – a stray bullet/shell from across the border hitting a person sitting in the safety of his/her house or a person losing a limb or, worse, losing life while touching a live mine. These issues apart, there are other problems faced by the people in the border areas. The securitisation of the border generates its own kinds of problems. Referring to the plight of the border residents, Jamwal (2011: 75) thus notes:

“On both the sides of the dividing line, people in these border areas have borne the brunt of the hostility between the armies of India and Pakistan, during wars and the so-called peace times. These border areas are too heavily militarized for any semblance of normalcy and normal life. The levels of violence are not always visible, often not reported but felt psychologically due to the build-up of troops, excessive restrictions, fenced and mined areas. The huge military presence imposes restrictions on their movement, often ends up in harassment and keeps the civil administration away, forbidding any development to penetrate.

 (The 2012 study has investigated the life in Arnia belt besides the crisis and rehabilitation of the West Pakistan refugees and the Displaced persons in Jammu.)

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