There is a relative calm along the Pakistan border in the stretch between Kathua and Pargwal near Akhnoor in Jammu & Kashmir for the last few days. But people who had fled from their homes in the wake of shelling by Pakistan are not willing to return as reports of odd incidents of cross-border firing keeps pouring in at frequent intervals.
Two days ahead of Diwali, the bazaars in Arnia — the biggest town in the region — look deserted. Though some shops have reopened, but there are no customers for Diwali shopping. “After keeping our shops closed for 10 days, I reopened it on Saturday keeping Diwali in mind. But since then, I have not sold even a single item,’’ says Kailash Chander Saini, who runs an electronic store.
With the existing uncertainty over the border situation, people are not prepared to purchase anything, says local photographer Vijay Kumar who has shifted his family to his in-law’s house.
Over 30,000 people had moved out from dozens of villages — dotted along the border in Jammu, Samba and Kathua districts — either to the camps set up by the government in school buildings or to their relatives’ houses. Some of the families tried to return, only to move back to the camps after few days.
“We had returned home last month only to migrate back after few days as Pakistan resorted to shelling while we were busy performing puja on Karva Chauth,’’ says ex-serviceman Rattan Chand. He and his family are camping at Government Higher Secondary School in Salerh, one of the camps set up by the government.
In the absence of any peace talks between India and Pakistan, one cannot say that there will be no firing from across the border once we return home, he goes on to add.
On Sunday, Pakistan fired at three BSF border outposts in Pargwal sector for nearly three hours.
On October 11, a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of India’s strong retaliation “silencing the Pakistani guns”, there were mortar shelling from across the border on the civilian population in Arnia and R S Pura, injuring two villagers. On October 17 and 18 too, Pakistan fired at border outposts in Makwal and Allah Mai De Kothey areas of R S Pura sector.
Officials say the occasional incidents of firing by Pakistan have led to various rumours; among them of possible shelling during Diwali.
“We will stay here for some more days before deciding to return home,’’ says 40-year-old Pummy Devi, who and her minor daughters has been sleeping on the floor of the government school in Salerh for nearly three weeks.