IN THE NEWS
A temporary respite?
What's life like along the Line of Control now that there is a ceasefire? LUV PURI talks to residents of the border villages to find out.
No need to scurry for cover while taking a walk.
JUST a fortnight back Thakur Suram Singh started thinking about disposing off his land in Pargwal sector of Akhnoor tehsil near the Line of Control (LoC) but could not get a purchaser. Reason, he lived in an island, which was frequently fired upon from across the LoC and nobody was willing to buy property there. The prospects of peace after the guns fell silent have almost changed his mind. His eyes are now set on the coming sowing season. For the lakhs of border residents, the ceasefire heralds a new era and has given them a reason to dream of a peaceful and secure life ahead. Without doubt, border residents have been the biggest beneficiaries of the ceasefire being observed along the 198 km International Border and 740-odd km Line of Control from Kathua to Kargil. People who were pushed indoors in the twilight are beginning to enjoy the evening leisure walk. Harbans Singh of Nai Basti village in Suchetgarh sector says, "For the first time in 10 years, my daughter and I took a stroll outside my house, which is some meters away from the IB." The area is famous for Basmati rice and the farmers recently had a bumper crop due to good monsoons. Another windfall is expected as they can now reclaim their lands up to the Zero Line adding to their acreage area. Displaced not once or twice but at frequent intervals since 1947 is the distressing tale of millions of families living in this belt. Some people living in the migrant camps or temporary shelters are looking forward to going back to their native places on the border. While the men searched for work, women were forced to live within the suffocating environment of the camps. They also suffered lack of medical facilities. Other casualties in the recurrent dislocation were children's education and health. Children were denied conducive environment for physical and intellectual growth.
There were also some special problems faced by the mostly Gujjar and Pahari communities living along the LoC. The Gujjars in the State are Muslims but have closer ethnic affinity with the Hindu Gujjars of Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana than with their co-religionists in Kashmir. Similarly, the Paharis both Hindus and Muslims are a distinct ethnic community, a part of which is in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Unlike the Kashmiri speaking community, which has remained intact after the ceasefire line was drawn in 1948, the Pahari community saw many families being divided.
Children play with empty bullets in Nai Basti Suchetgarh sector...
Earlier to facilitate infiltration, the Pakistan army provided covering fire from across the LoC sometimes leading to civilian casualties particularly in the Rajouri-Poonch stretch of Jammu region the major route for terrorists. The intense shelling along the LoC invariably resulted in daily causalities. Escape routes along this hilly tract were less compared to those on the international border. The underground bunkers were insufficient. As part of army tactics, the LoC is strewn with anti-personnel mines. Often, innocent civilians, especially children, have been maimed. De-mining the areas remained a difficult task as it is a hilly tract and mines slip quickly. A senior army commander in Jhangar area of Noushera sector in Rajouri district said, "At some places even we do not know where exactly are the mines. The ceasefire would help us to properly de-mine the areas as we can carry our activities during the day time without the risk of being fired upon."
On the social scene, the freedom of women living in this belt was curtailed. Women living along the LoC, particularly among the Gujjars, have been equal economic partners with their men and enjoyed much freedom. Since the outbreak of militancy, the terrorists tried to impose social curbs on women in the name of religion. There was also pressure from some quarters not to send girls to schools. Hafiza Bi of Mendhar area says, "They have pushed us backwards by decades with their diktats." While the residents along the LoC get a respite from bullets and shells, it is still not certain whether they will get relief from the gun-totting terrorists.
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