Looming war fear pulled life into totally out of control at ‘Line of Control’

Silikote (Uri), Oct 5: For Bibi, the memories of cross-border firing are still fresh and echoing even after three years. Bibi, still leading an agonising life at Jeora village on the India-Pakistan border, lost her husband and son during the last attack.

She is just a representative of lay-man hailing from a village nestled among walnut trees, where they live in fear of the cross border conflict for about last 4 decades. Unlike any other rural parts of India, the villages lined up in the LoC precinct have special security force suspecting each and every villager.

Now, as India has conducted ‘surgical strikes’ on terrorists launch pads in Pakistan, these villagers are on the verge of bearing a brunt of hostilities.

Silikote, the last village on the LoC with Pakistan, appears lifeless. The houses are being emptied and they keenly watch the bunkers set up in their neighbourhood.

The villages in the Indo-Pak border are surrounded by mountain ranges and separated by a stream named ‘Hajipir Nallah’ that follows Pakistan to Uri. As many as 55 border villages are settled.

Hashimuddin, a resident is one among the survivors of heavy firing across the border, believes that war is better than  a  living life of in constant fear of death. Many of them have started fleeting to the nearest safe  haven  for leading a better life.

“The news  on getting into war are echoing in our ears on  daily basis  and this make our life instable,” said Hishamuddin. Cattle rearing and farming has been the main source of income for the villagers in the areas.

“We are forced to leave our cattle and crops and even our settlements which were build with a huge struggle post the 2003-2004 ceasefire agreement. We are left with no choice,” added he.

Even the other businesses have come to halt. Due to the existing uncertainty, schools have been remained closed in the border areas.

A flashback

This is not the first time the villagers have had sleepless nights in Silikote, Churanda and the other border villages, as fears that the guns might begin roaring continue to haunt them.

Irshad Ahmad remembers the hazy morning of November 2001 when the day-long calm was broken by heavy shelling from across the border. One of the shells hit his leg, which was later amputated.

Two years later, in September 2003, Ahmad lost his mother Saja Begum when she was hit by a bullet while grazing cattle in a nearby field.

“The tragedies left us devastated,” said Rubeena, Ahmad’s younger sister, adding that in those days, guns would roar almost every day along the 720-km LoC. The ceasefire agreement was a much needed initiative for people living in the border villages – one they were desperate for – but the killings didn’t stop.

In 2012, Churanda and Suljawadi, the two villages divided by a deep gorge from the PoK ridges, bore the brunt of the hostilities between India and Pakistan. Three civilians, including a woman, were killed on an early November morning in shelling from soldiers of the rival post after accusations and counter accusations over the violation of the agreement from both sides.

“We have suffered the most in the past,” says Muhammad Latief Koli of Churanda village, which comprises around 195 houses that were mostly constructed with tin and ply following the devastating earthquake in 2005 in which around 35 people from the village were killed.

Unlike Silikote, Churanda is situated in the open, facing the forward posts from across the LoC, which makes it more vulnerable to border skirmishes. The fear that war could break out at any time has kept the men away from the ‘zero line,’ where they would often go to cut grass for the cattle. “We haven’t even picked the maize crop yet from the fields… you never know when the lull will be broken,” said Lal Din, a local sarpanch from the Congress party.