Incessant ceasefire violations by Pakistan derail life in Kashmir's border towns as India struggles to protect locals
As ceasefire violations by Pakistan become more frequent in Kashmir, India is still unprepared to protect its locals who keep running for their lives.
Jammu: As ceasefire violations by Pakistan from across the international border (IB) and Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu become more frequent in the last three to four years, India is still unprepared to protect its locals who keep running for their lives without even an ambulance.
Villagers along the border in Jammu say life has become so miserable for them that neither can they carry out agriculture activities for livelihood nor can their children study as schools have been shut down. All this despite a ceasefire agreement signed in 2003 between India and Pakistan.
Temples, schools and colleges have been converted into makeshift camps to save border residents from Pakistani bullets and mortar shells being fired on the villages for the past nearly two weeks.
A visit by this correspondent to one such camp at Chichi Mata Temple in Samba district, where at least 20 families of border evacuees are residing, brought to light the living condition of these border refugees.
Surinder Kumar, 47, a resident of Ramgarh in Samba, points out that infants in the camp are not provided with even milk. "While the authorities have evacuated us from our village where Pakistan was firing indiscriminately, there is no arrangement of milk for children. Most of the people who have come here are daily wagers and cannot afford to buy milk when they have no work," says Kumar.
Villagers migrated four times in three years
Shanti Devi, 78, another border resident who had taken refuge at the temple-camp, says that migration from border areas has become so common that residents of Chapri village in Samba sector had to migrate four times during the past three years.
People had to be evacuated from at least 102 villages on IB in Jammu but most of them took refuge at the homes of their relatives. While the IB in Jammu region is nearly 185 kilometres long, the LoC is nearly 734 kilometres long and runs across Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions.
Jammu's additional district magistrate Arun Manhas says that at least 80,000 border residents from different villages along IB have taken refuge at safer places.
Over 150 schools that are situated within five kilometres of the IB have been shut down due to frequent shelling. The worst-hit areas are Arnia, RS Pura, Samba, Kathua and Akhnoor sector located close to the IB. Bullet holes in the walls of houses are reminders of the tragedy which turned the settlements into ghost villages. Not just humans, cattle have also perished.
Bullets know no religion
Muslim-dominated villages along LoC in Nowshera, Sunderbani and Manjakot in Rajouri district and Krishna Ghati, Mendhar and Balakot sector in Poonch district have always remained under Pakistan's firing range.
More than 4,500 people migrated to relief camps from such villages in Rajouri district in May 2017 due to heavy shelling which left more than 170 houses damaged and eight civilians dead.
Victims don't even get an ambulance
During the recent spate of firing in which an eight-month-old child was killed by Pakistani bullets, the timely presence of an ambulance could have saved many lives.
Philanthropist Rohit Chaudhary, also a resident of Arnia sector, recalls that on the first day of firing by Pakistan, the injured were taken to hospitals on tractor trolleys.
"There is a need for a bulletproof ambulance in the area so that people can be evacuated during an emergency. We need a trauma centre with specialist doctors to save lives," says Chaudhury.
After receiving several complaints Jammu and Kashmir health and medical education minister Devender Kumar Maniyal visited the affected areas on 25 May and directed the civil administration to follow standard operating procedures (SOPs) for evacuating people using bulletproof vehicles.
Ceasefire violations increasing
As per official records, 152 ceasefire violations took place along LoC in 2015 that increased to 228 in 2016 and inflated to 860 in 2017. Till February this year, 432 ceasefire violations took place.
The number of ceasefire violations along IB in 2015 was 253, which reduced to 221 in 2016 and further to 111 incidents in 2017. However, till February this year, 201 incidents were officially recorded.
At least 300 civilians have been killed by Pakistani firing along LoC since 2015.
What the state government is doing
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who visited the relief camps to take stock of the situation, has appealed Pakistan to respect the religious sentiment of Ramzan. She reminded the neighbouring country how India has announced a unilateral ceasefire in counterinsurgency operations during the festive month.
Mufti said the local hospital at RS Pura would be provided with more equipment and manpower and the local veterinary unit would be provided more facilities.
Along the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch districts, the state government is building bunkers where locals can find a safe refuge during ceasefire violations.
Rajouri's deputy commissioner Shahid Iqbal Choudhary says a total of 102 family type bunkers have been completed in various villages. Each bunker has the capacity to accommodate 10 persons for a long-term stay while 12-16 people can take short-term shelters during shelling from across the LoC.
London-based social activist Manu Khajuria Singh, who hails from Jammu, says there is an immediate need for an overhaul of critical care facilities provided to victims of ceasefire violations.
Singh, who led a protest by a group of Indians outside the Pakistan embassy in London, also demands that the authorities should take care of the education of children whose schools are forced to shut down due to shelling by Pakistan.
The author is a Ludhiana-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.
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