Pictures of Narendra Modi adorn virtually every house in this village on the International Border (IB) with Pakistan. The Prime Minister is everywhere — even children’s bicycles are decorated with his pictures.
This village voted en masse for the BJP in the J&K Assembly elections, and residents are proud of the way the armed forces have dealt with Pakistan’s continued shelling of border areas. But they are also tired of the pounding that has shredded their lives — and desperate for the government to find a “permanent solution”.
“All of us voted for him (Modi) in the last two elections (Lok Sabha and Assembly). Since he has become PM, our forces are giving a befitting reply to Pakistan. But what about us? Our children? They cannot go to school, and are missing out on education. How will they compete with children in the cities?” contract labourer Angrez Chand said.
On Tuesday, Pakistani forces fired mortar shells and gunshots at over 60 villages and scores of forward posts in the Kathua and Samba districts. Nearly 10,000 people have fled from the border areas; 7,500 have taken shelter in camps set up by the government since the shelling began on New Year’s Eve, officials said.
Most of Baingalar’s 2000-plus residents depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Those who don’t own land work as contract labourers or at dairy farms.
“We have been asking the government to build bunkers into which we can run whenever there is shelling. We now depend on luck to stay alive,” Balak Ram Sharma, another resident, said.
Sharma said that when shells landed in the village on January 2, they could save themselves only because of an abandoned bunker that the Army had built in 1971.
“I was boiling milk when the shelling began. All of us rushed to this bunker. The shells kept falling, and we spent the night in the bunker. Later, all of us left for the relief camp set up on the premises of a temple 20 km away.”
Shivpal, another resident, said, “When the shelling starts, we don’t have time to even put on slippers. We run for our lives, dodging death every day.”
For the past two years, villages along the IB in Jammu have come under fire from Pakistan, sometimes aided by militants. The latest round of ceasefire violations by Pakistan has left four jawans and a woman dead. Five Pakistan Rangers have been killed in retaliatory firing by India.
As many as 50 villages and many border posts were targeted in Kathua up to 11 pm on Monday, and the shelling resumed around 4 am on Tuesday, Kathua Deputy Commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary told PTI, adding it was so intense that mortar shells landed up to 4 km inside Indian territory.
82mm shells landed in Sherpur, Chakra, Lachipur and Londi areas of Hiranagar sector deep inside Indian territory, he said. The BSF retaliated, resulting in exchanges until 7 am, Choudhary said.
In Samba, shelling continued until 10.30 pm Monday, targeting 10-12 villages and several border outposts, SSP Anil Magotra said.
BSF D-G D K Pathak, who visited the Samba headquarters on Tuesday, said, “There have been umpteen attempts (by militants) to infiltrate, but we have thwarted them. It seems the firing and shelling will continue at least until Republic Day, when (US President) Barack Obama is scheduled to visit India.”
“We cannot go on taking their (Pakistan’s) bullets,” Pathak told reporters after paying floral tributes to Jawan Devinder Singh, who died in the shelling at Khawara post in Samba sector on Monday.
“We want to restore normalcy along the border, but we are forced to retaliate because Pakistan Rangers resort to firing on us,” Pathak said. “Pakistan Rangers are not accepting protest notes over ceasefire violations. There is no communication between the two sides,” he added.
In Baingalar, Raj Kumari, the head of the village panchayat, said children were the worst sufferers of the shelling. “This keeps happening every two months, and we are forced to go to relief camps. We cannot leave our village, because we have nowhere else to go,” she said. Their land is extremely fertile, and moving out would make sense only if the government rehabilitated them on similar land, Raj Kumari said.
A civilian resident of the village called Major Ram Sharma said the stress had become part of the children’s lives. “They cry and tremble with fear when the shelling takes place, but next day, we just have to carry on with our lives,” Major Ram Sharma said.