“There are only snakes and insects in the bunkers along the defence canal and they (the government) are creating war hysteria,” says 91-year-old Harbans Singh, a resident of Chinna Bidhi Chand village, close to the border. Singh has not only witnessed four wars between India and Pakistan but has also faced evacuation every single time.
As people living in border villages are being evacuated once again, Singh doesn’t shy away from voicing his anger against the Centre and state government, especially when there are no signs of a war between the two countries till now. Born in 1926, Singh holds a Bachelors degree and has been a member of the panchayat for 10 years before being elevated to the post of sarpanch, a responsibility he shouldered for 15 years.
He was also an active member of the Congress and made several efforts to make Giani Zail Singh see the destruction of the 1971 war when the then Punjab chief minister had visited the village two years later. With that war still etched on his mind, Singh has preserved pictures of Zail Singh’s visit so that he could explain the young generation how destructive a war could be.
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“Evacuation in itself is a painful process. I first faced it in 1947, then in 1965, ‘71 and ‘99 wars. Every time troops from the Army would take position in bunkers along the defence canal. This time, however, the evacuation process has turned into a joke as there is no Army but only snakes and insects inside the bunkers. This evacuation is not for war but for other reasons,” said Singh. Living with his children in Amritsar’s Ranjit Avenue, Singh claims the defence canal, which covers the border surrounding Punjab, creates a huge obstacle making the entry of the enemy into the Indian territory extremely difficult.
“Our village was an exception as it was seized by the Pakistani Army in 1971. They damaged many houses. I was the sarpanch at that time and initially the district administration was not ready to accept the fact that our village was in Pakistan’s possession. I had to run from pillar to post to meet Zail Singh and urge him to come to our village and witness the destruction. He then announced Rs 8 per ft compensation for kachha houses and Rs 16 per ft for pukka houses,” recalls Singh.
In a strong message to the government, he says it takes years to put together again one’s life after evacuation. “The government gave us Rs 30 per person per month as compensation during our stay in relief camps in 1971. There was a cap for each family and no one was allowed to avail more than Rs 57 per month. This time, the government is not even giving that Rs 57,” he says. “I want people to see these pictures I have. War is always destructive. And now you have been exposing people to consequences of war when there is no signs of a war on the border at least.”