Shelled Life

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In the aftermath of the tensions between India and Pakistan, serious insecurity has overtaken the populations living near the Line of Control, Faheem Mir reports

A view of Kamalkote village. KL Image by Faheem Mir

In Uri, it is again the state-run girl’s higher secondary school which became the shelter for people of Kamalkote, after February 19, 2018. It is home to more than 10 families now even though almost 600 people were evacuated from the belt.

Mohammad Rafiq Lodhi, 60, is living with his family of nine members. He said many people who took shelter in the school felt it unsafe and are living with relatives.

“The forces started trading artillery fire at around 9 pm on March 2,” Lodhi remembers. “The entire family started crawling in frenzy to move to the safer side of the house.”

On the other side, Dr Bashir Ahmad Lone and his team took positions in an underground bunker in the primary health centre in Kamalkote’s Ghundi locality. A native of Rafiabad, Lone is posted in Kamalkote for last eight years. “Our team took some first aid with us for an emergency,” Lone said. “I have witnessed several cross border shelling but this one was different.”

Three years ago, a girl child of Mohammad Rafi of Kalsi (Kamalkote) became the victim of a mortar shell and died on the spot when she was going to school. “Somebody got her here but she was already dead. The condition of her body still flashes before my eyes.”

The cross border firing effects education of the children. Fareed Hussain took back his two children from the relief camp in Uri. “I want to educate them and for that, we have to move back to our village, even though there is a high risk of life,” Fareed said.

The residents have domestic animals worth millions. In the panic, when everybody had to flee, some lost their cattle. In extreme cases, some women sometimes stay back home to take care of their belongings.

Uri has a vast network of villages like Silkote, Charunda, Bhatgran, Balkote and Tilawari and many other hamlets located near the LoC, not far away from the Pakistani gunner’s positions, which have to face the brunt whenever the tensions between India and Pakistan erupt.

Reaching these habitations is difficult because of the security concerns. One has to follow a strict listing procedure before he is permitted. One of the most affected place in recent shelling is Kamalkote’s Ghundi Barjala hamlet. A person has to make a temporary route permit (TRP), a special identity card in this border area. The most frequently asked question is: who and why are you visiting this village?

The situation was quite normal and calm before March 2. But things turned ugly for the residents when some mortar shells and bullets hit the hamlet late evening. There were no losses of life though a resident Fakeer Ali received serious injuries and was shifted to SKIMS Srinagar.

Unaware about the worsening situation, seven special siblings were busy playing Panje Geettay a game, which means five stones. The three deaf and mute sisters and their four brothers are the children of Wazir Hussain and Hasan Fatima. They were unaware about the facts till a bullet passed through the window of their kitchen and pierced into the timber ceiling making a big hole in it. They started crying and fled from the kitchen to the cowshed where their parents were looking after a new born calf.

M. Rafiq Lodhi. KL Image by Faheem Mir

The family later found three bullets in the house, one in the kitchen, two in the bedroom. In the locality, almost every household has received more than two bullets on an average. “Thank God we are safe, the bullets didn’t hit anybody,” Wazir Hussain said.

The locals said that they didn’t eat properly ever since the episode. The fear is still in the minds of people and the situation is not good yet. “If we hear any sound outside we take positions immediately,” Fatima said.

Villagers along the LoC say they do not have emergency bunkers for shelter. Wazir said his children have been urging him to take them to a safe place. “They are ready to leave,” he added, pointing to his deaf and mute daughters.“The government should make underground bunkers that will at least help us to take shelter during the cross border shilling,” Hussain said.

In the neighbourhood, Fareed Hussain, 45, lives with his family including a deaf and mute daughter. The day when the shelling started they were having their dinner. More than 12 residential houses were affected by the bullets and mortar shells but most fell in open field near the residential structures.

“The sound of bullets was as the sound of rain hitting the ceiling,” Fareed said.

People seeking war must visit these hamlets. While the firing catches them in life threatening conditions, the areas are otherwise strewn with landmines, making the human and animal movement risky and vulnerable. Mine explosions caused deaths and made hundreds of handicapped. The exchange of artillery on LoC also leads to the destruction of property.

“I want to tell all those, who bark in TV studios for war to please come here and stay a few days with us,” a resident Mumtaz Ahmad said, “and then only they give their suggestions.”

For the residents, things were different before the area became the border. People used to trek the distance to Muzaffarabad for commodities, employment, and medical help.

Mohammad Rafiq Lodhi said that a Kamalkote resident, Satar Ali Mir was nicknamed Rail Chacha because of his superfast walking abilities. He used to visit Muzzafarabad by foot and come back the same day. “But the partition changed everything, the way of living, social life, behaviours and other things”, Lodhi added.

Lodhi’s father late Fakir Mohammad worked in Military Engineering Services (MES) in Muzaffarabad for many years before partition. “My father used to share his experiences that he was interrogated and torched by security forces soon after 1947”, Rafiq said.

In 2013, Lodhis’ had a friend of their father as their guest for a fortnight. He told them that life on the others side of the border is the same. “People live miserable lives in the region on both sides as he has experienced,” Lodhi said. “Hundreds of people, who crossed the LoC to find their beloved ones, lost either their lives or limbs while crossing the LoC.”

A resident of Bhag in PaK, Inayatullah Khan, 65, visited Kashmir to meet his aunts in Baramulla. He said there are thousands of hidden stories of victims of the conflict on the other side as well. One day, a medical assistant in a hospital witnessed 20 injured civilians being driven to his centre for medical help. They were injured when a shell had landed in their house. “The condition of the victims was very bad and later few of them succumbed to their injuries,” Khan remembers.

Muneer Ahmad with his daughter. KL Image by Faheem Mir

Uri is perhaps a major address for the people rendered lame by the landmines. In 2003, Noor Mohammad, 50, went to bring some feed for his cow from his land alongside LoC. As he started collecting fodder, he felt some explosion and was unconscious. “I opened my eyes after 28 hours in a hospital in Srinagar to see my left leg nowhere,” Noor recalls.

After a few years of this incident, Noor’s elder brother Shafi Khatana met with the same fate and lost his leg too. He was busy near his house when a bullet hit his leg. Doctors later removed the bullet and amputated the infected leg.

Akbar Bi, 35, another resident got critically injured when a mortar shell exploded near her kitchen window that took away her leg. Lateef Khatana lost his right leg in 2003 when he was working in his land alongside LoC.

There are more than 35 people who have lost their limbs during violations of ceasefire in this village. In 2001, Mohammad Rafiq Awan, then 20, a resident of Charunda and his friend Dullah Khatana were busy in agricultural activities, near the LoC, when they heard some gunshots in which Dullah received a bullet on his chest and died on spot. “I remained with the dead body for 15 hours,” Rafiq remembers.

A view of Ghundi locality. KL Image by Faheem Mir

“Whom to blame now, we have become victims of bullets from both sides,” Awan said. “I have my own brother residing on the other side; they are also feeling the same heat.”

The conflict has devoured the social life of the people. “My wife is so scared to come back to Charunda from her parent’s place even after six years of marriage, tell me how I can leave my place,” Awan said.

Muneer Ahmad lost his mother when he was just 10 years of age. “I still remember the pain that my beloved mother has gone through,” Muneer said. Residents said more than 30 people became victims of bullets and mine blasts from 1992 to 2018 in Charunda village alone.

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