On the ground, LoC: ‘It is like living in a firing range’

Troops on either side have been trading fire ever since India announced its surgical strikes on terror launch pads along the LoC on September 29.

Written by Varinder Bhatia | Mendhar | Published:November 4, 2016 4:56 am
kashmir, jammu, pakistan, ceasefire violation, pakistan ceasefire violation, kashmir mortar shelling, jammu mortar shelling, india news, indian express news, indian express The damaged roof-top of a house in Basooni. Kamleshwar Singh

In Basooni, a village barely 5 km from the Line of Control, Mohammed Ramzan is both angry and fearful. He points to neighbour Mohammed Majid’s house, damaged in Pakistani shelling two days ago, and says, “If India and Pakistan want to have a war, they should make their armed forces stand against each other and have an open war. Let us put an end to all this. Pakistan has started attacking civilians here. What if they fire more mortar shells? How can the government ensure our security?”

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And that’s the question everyone’s asking in villages along the LoC, from Basooni in Mendhar to Jhanger in Nowshera. As the 2003 ceasefire between the two countries starts falling apart and diplomatic ties nosedive, these villages find themselves in the direct line of fire. Troops on either side have been trading fire ever since India announced its surgical strikes on terror launch pads along the LoC on September 29.

The peace that came with the ceasefire had brought stability in villages like Basooni, allowing Ramzan and others to build new homes, lead normal lives like people in towns far from the LoC. This quiet was interrupted on August 15, 2015 when Pakistani shells landed on Basooni, killing five persons. Two days ago, the shells started raining again, returning panic to Basooni.

Travelling through villages along the LoC, The Indian Express came across people fearful and uncertain of what lies ahead. “People say the shelling is an attempt by Pakistan to divert the attention of our troops so that more terrorists can be pushed in. If infiltration happens, we will be the ones to suffer most,” says Kehar Singh who lives in Pukhri village of Rajouri.

J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is likely to tour Friday the areas affected by shelling. But that’s small consolation in Mendhar town, hit by Pakistani shells for the first time in many years. One of the shells landed at the doorsteps of the two-room house of Javeda Begum, barely 200 metres from the town’s busy market.

As her daughter Rukhsar battles for life in a Jammu hospital, Javeda and her eight-year-old son Arbaaz sift through the debris of what was their home. “How can anyone live here? People keep looking at the sky, scared that the shells will fly in again. Our children cannot go to school. We don’t even let them play outside. We are living a nightmare,” Javeda says.

Other families have started moving out of Mendhar and several shops have downed shutters. Rishi Gupta, a shopkeeper, says “people are too scared to return to their shops… it is like living in a firing range”. His family has already moved to Punjab. Another businessman has moved with his family to Jammu city.

SSB personnel now guard the highway from Rajouri where Army trucks are on the move. At the Mendhar police station, Inspector Daleep Singh agrees with what people in the town say: “The shelling has brought back memories of days in the past. It also raises the possibility of infiltration. But we are maintaining constant vigil. It is natural for people to move to safer places in a situation such as this. We just hope things get back to normal soon.”