POONCH: Every year, around the Independence Day, flags, kites, attires, bangles, graffiti – coloured in the beautiful saffron, white and green, become the trend all across the country. Indians across the country flock to stalls and vendors to buy national flags to show their patriotic fervour.
The colours of freedom are celebrated all over the country except for one state, where August brings with itself not celebrations but the blood-stained memories of the partition. The northernmost Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir has always seen tough situations around the Independence Day.
Every year, escalated incidences of ceasefire violations are reported during July and August. This year also there were 19 ceasefire violations along the Indo-Pak border in July in which four persons, including three jawans, were killed and 14 others injured. August has seen a similar trend till now.
As one moves closer towards the border in remote villages of Jammu and Kashmir, the human face of the ceasefire violations start getting more heart breaking. Life is unimaginable in areas caught between the barbed fence put up by the Indian security forces at the border.
In the aftermath of the Kargil War, the fence was erected to combat the heavy shelling from across the border. However, the fence was erected several kilometres ahead the zero line virtually cutting –off areas in between from the rest of the country.
It is like this – their houses lie inside the fence but for basic facilities like health, education, meeting relatives or chores as small as making a phone call to someone has to be done after crossing the fence. And the movement too is restricted with continuous surveillance being done by the security forces. This isn’t the sort of freedom one would like to celebrate.
Poonch is a border district located two hundred and fifty kilometres from Jammu in the Pir Panjal range. Often in the news for ceasefire violations, this district has number of villages that are sandwiched between the barbed fence and the actual LoC. An hour long journey takes one near to one such Village Keerni.
To enter the village one has to cross a huge gate – the only point of entry and exit. No civilian other than the villagers, who too have been issued identity cards by the security forces and the forces themselves, can enter the village. That too with a restricted movement – gates open at six in the morning and are shut at seven in the evening.
If one misses the deadline, spending night under the sky is the only option they have as going back to the town requires money and transportation which presumably isn’t available in this wilderness. “If someone falls ill at night, we have to first take permission of security forces. Situation is tougher for pregnant women and senior citizens as in case of emergency no one can help them,” shared Shamshad Akhter, a local.
In Balakote, another block that is confined within the limits of barbed wire and a gate, the villagers have to walk four-six kilometres to reach the nearest market to make a phone call. Student studying outside the village have to go through strict checking at the post every time they have to cross the gate like any other villager.
This is the reason many villager do not prefer sending their girls to schools for higher education located beyond the confines of the wires.
“During shelling, we are the first ones to stand along with the security forces. Our houses, livestock, agriculture fields all get affected by the violence that transpires at the border. Yet the development scenario is very poor. There are no roads, healthcare, schools, water – anything that can help us lead a better life,” said Shaheen, a seventeen-year old girl from Balakote’s Dharati village.
Villagers have time and again knocked the doors of various politicians and civil authorities to free them from such pathetic lives but no one has been able to provide them with the solution. Undoubtedly, such life is unimaginable in times when rest of the country is on its path of becoming a super power.
Like every year, Prime Minister will address the nation from the Red Fort on the Independence Day with promises of a better future. Charkha Development Communication etwork hopes that voices from these villages are also addressed. ‘Jammu aur Kashmir ko insaniyat ke daire mein (within the ambit of humanity) dekhna hai’ were the words of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee while setting the tone for development of J and K. Let us hope that the current government will be able to revive that dream and help the innocent villagers lead free lives in their own country.