GALARD (IB-JK): An uneasy calm prevailed in this last Indian village along the International Border in Samba district in Jammu and Kashmir with residents reluctant to return fearing cross-border firing from Pakistan.
The residents here say that every time there is firing from across the border they become the real targets.
Since incidents of ceasefire violations from across the border have gone up, villagers in almost all areas along the international border in Samba, Kathua and Jammu district have been forced to leave their houses and cattle behind to take shelter in safer locations.
"We don't sleep in the night as we fear that a shell fired by the Pakistani side might anytime land on our house and kill us. Our children suffer the most...their education is hampered. They also become victims of psychological trauma," Maninder Singh, a resident of Londi village, said today.
Shankar, a resident of Galard, said, "People living in safe cities don't know what we are going through. We literally die everyday."
Shankar, who along with a handful of villagers returned early this morning to the village to give fodder to their cattle, said they were forced to move to safer locations.
"Even though we want that Pakistan must be taught a tough lesson for targeting innocent villagers, we also pray that peace must return so that villagers on both sides can lead a peaceful life," said Vikram Mehra, a resident of Bobiya village of Kathua district.
Deputy Commissioner of Kathua, Shahid Iqbal Choudhary told PTI that the villagers are scared to go back to their homes until a flag meeting is held and both sides agree to implement a ceasefire.
"We are not in a hurry to send them back to their villages until the situation on the border becomes normal again. The residents say they will return only after a flag meeting between the two sides takes place," he said.
Choudhary said, "The firing continued from 7 PM to 9 PM yesterday. After that there was no firing, but people are living in fear."
He said following the heavy firing from across the border, 11 villages situated along the IB were evacuated. "A total of 1,841 people from 491 families living in 11 villages have taken shelter in 10 relief camps set up the district administration. Besides providing them with essential commodities, round-the-clock security has been provided to these camps," he said.
Two army jawans and a woman were killed while 11 people were injured when Pakistani troops targeted villages and security posts at various places in J&K yesterday.
A total of 562 incidents of ceasefire violations by Pakistan occurred in 2014, the highest since the truce came into force in 2003, along with the Indo-Pak border witnessing the worst such escalation during August to October which left 13 people, including two security personnel dead.
A total of 19 people, including 5 jawans, were killed and over 150 injured in such incidents last year. Over 32,000 border villagers were forced to evacuate and take shelter in camps set up by the government in August and October due to heavy firing and shelling by Pakistani troops along the IB and Line of Control (LoC).
"Last year has seen the highest ceasefire violations by Pakistan, targeting civilian areas and forward border posts along LoC and IB in Jammu and Kashmir during last 11 years of its existence," Col S D Goswami, PRO of Northern Command said.
Farming and cattle rearing is the mainstay profession of villagers living in areas along the IB in Samba district.
"This is the farming season and before Pakistani side resorted to firing on civilians, the agricultural fields were abuzz with activities," said Premlal Mangotra, a resident of Galard.
Another villager, Balvinder Kumar said, "When everyone was busy welcoming the new year, the border residents were struggling to save their lives."
"Many villagers are scared to return to feed their cattle. The cattle will eventually die of starvation. We cannot risk our lives to go close to the border to feed them," he added.
In Samba, the district administration has set up 16 temporary shelters for the border villagers.
"Sixteen temporary shelters have been set up in the district at various places for the affected families. These shelters have been made fully functional and all basic necessary arrangements have been made for the people," Deputy Commissioner of Samba, Mubarak Singh said.
The border villages, that are otherwise abuzz with activities, today wore a deserted look with a majority of villagers abandoning their houses to take shelter in camps.
"Majority of the villagers here are farmers and their fields and cattle are their only source of livelihood. Every time Pakistani side fires at these people they are deprived of their livelihood as well," newly elected MLA from Vijapur, Chander Prakash Ganga, said.