LIFE ALONG THE Line of Control — the de-facto border between India and Pakistan — bears the marks of violence, and those who live here wage daily battles of their own. Houses with bullet-scarred walls, dead livestock and the injured restricted to their beds testify to the extent to which life along the border is marred by war.
These remote villages of Jammu and Kashmir often remain isolated from the rest of the world due to harsh weather conditions as well as military regulations. And India-Pakistan tensions play a crucial role in the people’s lives.
The physical scars are evident in the form of landmines, bullets and splinter shell injuries. The emotional scars are invisible, and run deeper. Fear, uncertainty and the pain of separating from one's relatives on the other side of the LoC are a constant.
Mohammad Jalil Lone, 95, has been separated from his brother for 72 years now. They may never meet again. Lone is a resident of what is famously known as ‘refugee village’, official name Gulshanpora. His nephew visited him from Pakistan last month completing a journey of 4,000 kilometers, which would have otherwise been a journey of a few kilometers if the roads were opened.
Across: Watch a documentary chronicling aftermath of the 1971 War, and the families it tore apart
And just like Jalil Lone's there are many such stories in the villages of Hundarman, Badgam, Karkechue, Baktoor, Lato, Hardass, etc. These villages have been impacted by the wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999; and that led to the demography of the region changing multiple times. Longing to meet their relatives for years, these villagers hope for the parts of ancient Silk Route — Gurez-Astoor-Gilgit — to be opened soon. Similarly, people living in Drass-Kargil hope that the Kargil-Skardu route, which once used to connect Srinagar to Kashgar (now in China), would be functional again .
Above: Kaksar was among the most severely affected villages during the Kargil war. The whole village was turned into ruins, and there was a heavy loss of cultivating land and live-stock. The villagers left Kaksar for 4-5 years before gradually returning in 2003. The walls of the houses still carry the bullet marks on their surface.
Mohammad Ramzan Mir and his family moved out from Tarbal village due to safety concerns. Very close to the Line of Control, shelling in this village is very frequent and was occurring as late as last year. Mohammad says, “We had no choice despite the fact that my father didn’t want to leave his home in his last days. He didn’t like the water of this new city so I used to fill the water from here as much as I could when he was alive”.
Hundarman was part of Pakistan until 1971, until it was captured back by the Indian Army. Hassan Sumrangpa, 80, is one of many people to be separated from family; his brother is still in Pakistan.
Students in Mushku Valley in Drass. The schools do not have any kind of protection or bunkers in case of an emergency shelling.
The village of Hardass was divided by a natural water stream after the Partition of India and Pakistan. After 1971, it became part of India in entirety. The villagers still refer to each other by their previous nationality.
Fatima Bano, 95, was separated from her husband in her early 20s. Her husband, who had gone to drop her sister-in-law to the neighbouring village, became a Pakistani citizen overnight. Even with continuous persistence from her husband and relatives, she refused to accept the divorce for many years. She had been hoping that her husband would return from Pakistan. Fatima lost all hope when her husband died 20 years ago. Now she and her differently-abled daughter are the sole caretakers for each other.
There is one particular village (Gulshanpora) which is still referred to as ‘refuge village’ in Gurez, as the inhabitants belonged to the region that would later become Pakistan. At the time of Partition, each family was given two acres of land to settle; however, they didn’t have any land for agriculture. They are still waiting for more land and to have means and ways of earning money.
Porters earns up to Rs 500 a day, for loading supplies and walking to some of the most remote terrains to deliver them to Army personnel. There are many porters who have lost their lives in times of war and peace. Most of their efforts go unrecognised by the Government. Abdul Rahman Lone has been a porter for 20 years — a profession he continues despite his advancing age. All three of his children have a neural disease and are dependent on him.
Tahir Ali is a porter who lost his leg in a landmine blast, while working with the Army. The family's only breadwinner, Tahir went through an extremely tough time over the last two years, trying to make ends meet. He hasn’t received payment for his treatment from the Government, let alone expect another job.
Barbed wire is among the most noticeable features of the landscape as one traverses across bridges in the area. On the one hand, it provides safety, and on the other, it restricts the movement of people and livestock.
Baktoor is among the sensitive villages of Gurez, not far from the LoC. Many villagers have shifted to the lower regions to find a safe haven for their families. Most of the older generation, however, finds it difficult to leave their land. There isn’t any proper hospital service, just a few government First Aid sub-centres. Khatija Begum is blind, and stays in Gurez throughout the year, despite the lack of treatment and appropriate facilities.
The people of Gurez have been demanding a tunnel from Gurez to Bandipora — similar to a tunnel which has just been inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a 360 MW hydel project — so that they can easily commute to the lower regions in case of emergencies.
Mine accidents are common in the region. These long-buried mines earlier often skid down to residential areas during snow avalanches. There have been numerous accidents involving livestock, and parents also fear for the safety of young children as they wander around in the mountains.
Seen here: Girls play volleyball at a school in Cherwan.
Even today, Gurez does not have a regular supply of electricity. Generator power is available only for a few hours every day. The roads are recent phenomenon for most of the villages in Tulail valley. Wi-Fi and internet are still alien words for most people of the tribe who have never been out of the Valley, but the younger generation is keen to get educated and work for their land and people.
— All photographs by Deepti Asthana