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GHAGNIYAN IS the last border village in Saujiyan sector of Poonch district. Located on the Line of Control (LoC), with Pakistan border posts in clear sight atop the surrounding hills, it has a population of about 8,000. All of them now face the threat of losing their homes and livelihoods, in the wake of the escalating tension on the India-Pakistan border.
The district administration has asked the villagers to vacate the area, but they are reluctant to do so. “This village is our motherland… We prefer to die here than to live on the roadside like refugees,” said Ghulam Rasood, 80, the “nambardar” (village head).
“Poonch Deputy Commissioner (DC) Haroon Malik sent his officers to the village about a fortnight ago. The district administration wants us to vacate the village. The tehsildar, Akhtar Abbas, conveyed the DC’s orders. The DC also came to the village and told us to vacate our homes within seven days. But we refused to obey the orders… We told them that unless the government provides a better and safer area, we will not move out,” he said.
The increasing instances of shelling from across the border have taken their toll. During the last major incident on October 3, 27 shops were damaged and a few vehicles were burnt. There was more shelling on November 1, but it did not cause any significant damage.
Rahina Praveen, a villager, had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh to build her shop, a general store which is the only source of income for her family. On October 3, the mortars demolished her shop, and, with it, her hopes. “I still have to repay Rs 1.64 lakh to the Gramin Bank in Mandi, from where I took the loan. The insurance people came and surveyed the area, but I haven’t received any compensation yet,” she said.
Gulzar Ahmed too had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh from the Jammu & Kashmir Bank for his shop, which was also damaged in the shelling on October 3. “I don’t know how to pay back the remaining amount of Rs 40,000. I have been reduced to working as a daily wage labourer to earn a living for my wife and two children,” he said.
There are at least four Pakistani posts located on top of the hills surrounding the village. While there are Indian border posts too on this side of the fence, the Pakistani posts have the advantage of height.
“We are in their direct line of fire. The BSF’s oil dump was located in the middle of our market. Pakistan targets BSF, and the mortars hit us. The BSF has now moved their mortar posts away. But we are still within their firing range, as the Pakistani posts are located on three sides of our village, on top of the hills. They can demolish us within minutes, whenever they want,” said Mohd Ibrahim, another villager.
It is not just their houses and shops that are damaged. Last year, Mohd Ashraf, a villager, sustained a splinter injury due to which his leg had to be amputated. He later left the village, and now lives in a village near Poonch district headquarters.
Zohra Begum, the 12-year-old daughter of Manzoor Ahmed, another villager, was killed in the shelling last year. “Our children are dying but the government is not bothered. The only solution they have for us is that we should vacate our village. What kind of a system is this,” asked Mohd Aslam.
Offering an explanation, Gulsher Khan, an intelligence officer of the J&K Police posted in Saujiyan sector, said: “The district administration wants these villagers to move out because the village is within close firing range of Pakistan’s posts. The villagers should understand this.”
“Asking the villagers to vacate the area is part of our disaster management plan. What if shelling resumes and people die? Then they will run for cover. They are raising their voice now because the situation has been relatively peaceful for the last couple of days. We told them that we are ready to provide relief,” said Deputy Commissoner Haroon Malik.
“As per the current norms, in case a person is killed during shelling, the affected family is given Rs 4 lakh or a government job. The central government is revising these norms, but it may take some time,” said Malik. J&K Panchayat Minister Abdul Haq Khan and local MLA Shah Mohammed Tantray visited the village on Friday. But that did not help the standoff between the villagers and district administration.
“They came here, stood for 15 minutes, looked around, spoke with us and went away. Neither of them bothered to promise any help or assurance that we will not be attacked in future,” said Ghulam Rasood.