Cross-border skirmish in Jammu kills 5: Civilians living along LoC face constant threat to life as India-Pakistan ties deteriorate
The recent skirmish in Jammu between soldiers of India and Pakistan left four civilians and a BSF constable dead on the Indian side and nine others wounded.
The exchange of fire between soldiers of India and Pakistan along the working International Border in Jammu started at 4 am on Friday morning. After eight hours, the skirmish left four civilians and a Border Security Forces constable dead on the Indian side and nine others wounded, initially.
Meanwhile, one woman and three children were killed across the border in firing in Sialkot, Pakistani media reports quoting the army's media wing said. The reports, quoting the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) of Pakistan, said at least 10 people were also injured in the firing.
As the Pakistani shells started landing in Arnia, RS Pura and adjoining Samba sectors, residents, comprising mostly of elderly, women and children, started escaping in droves.
A few male members stayed back in Arnia to watch over the houses and livestock in the village located along the International Border in Jammu, but they said they were under constant threat.
Tilak Raj, a resident of Treva area of Arnia village, said over the phone that they were woken by thuds of shells landing in the village at around 4 am in the morning, forcing his family, including three children, to run towards an unfinished cement bunker, 200 meters away from their house.
"The firing is still going on," Raj, 37, told Firstpost from his village, where Jammu and Kashmir police has launched an operation to rescue people, moving them to safe locations in bulletproof bunker vehicles.
"I am sitting, along with three other neighbours, waiting for the police vehicle to arrive and take us to safety. You can't walk in the open... the firing from Pakistani side continues," Raj added.
In total, 10 persons, including a BSF officer, were injured in the firing. The firing, continuing into the third straight day, came ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Jammu and Kashmir on Saturday.
Ram Upadhyay, 28, a resident of Paliganj, a BSF Jawan from Jharkhand deployed at a post in Arnia, was injured along with another BSF officer. He succumbed to his injuries on the way to the hospital.
The diplomatic relations between the two nations have worsened in recent years and India and Pakistan troops have often traded fire for months now; each side blames the other of violating a ceasefire which has been in place since 2003.
One recent incident in Jora Farm village in January reduced much of the residential houses to ashes. In other border areas, a similar tale of tragedy is being written by roaring machines guns. Hundreds of residents, including new mothers and aged people, have been forced to abandon their homes due to the continuous shelling from across the border. The village is mostly inhabited by the nomads who supply milk to Jammu city.
"We thought they had declared a ceasefire inside and the guns will fall silent on the borders too," said Charan Singh, Sarpanch of Chandu Chak, RS Pura sector on phone, where two civilians Tarsem Lal, and his wife Manjeet, were killed on Friday morning.
"But there is no end to bloodshed in the courtyard of our house... it is helplessness, we have to live with this for our entire lives," he added.
Gun barrels on either side of the Border and Line of Control have been unusually hot for the first four months of this year. In the 740-kilometre long boundary that India and Pakistan share in Jammu and Kashmir, the residents living in the vicinity of this demarcation in the state have been living a life of fear and uncertainty. So far, around 1,200 ceasefire violations have been reported this year, the highest in almost a decade.
Farooq Ali, a resident of Jora Farm village in RS Pura, who also sustained injuries in firing and was rushed to the hospital, told reporters in Jammu's Medical College that mortar shells started landing when they were busy preparing Sehri on the second day of Ramzan. He said after their houses were burnt in shelling in January, they were trying to rebuild new ones. "But for what, we will build... they will destroy," Ali, 43, who sells milk in RS Pura, said. Ten civilians injured in cross-border firing were admitted in GMC.
Border Security Forces official said more than 15 outposts and an equal number of villages were affected by the shelling and firing. The Jammu and Kashmir government was forced to close more than a dozen schools in the radius of five-kilometre from the border in view of shelling. Many others along the five-kilometre radius from the border are likely to be shut for some days.
Recently, in more than a dozen villages in north Kashmir's Uri, which was relatively calm since 2012, Pakistan disturbingly used heavy artillery for the first time to target the civilian population, according to officials.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose tenure has been marked by violence both inside and on borders, expressed her frustration over the violence.
"Continued firing on the border in Jammu is a cause of pain and worry. Sad that while our country took the lead in starting peace initiatives with cessation of operations during Ramzan, Pakistan has shown no respect whatsoever for this holy month," Mufti tweeted.
"Pakistan will have to reciprocate and contribute to efforts for lasting peace. Everyone must realise that violence is a zero-sum game. My deepest condolences to families of victims," she said.
"It is unfortunate that our every effort to bring peace in the region is met with violence by Pakistan," Sat Pal Sharma, a senior BJP leader from the state, told Firstpost on phone from Jammu.
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