August 15: Independence or fear?

Independence Day brings joys to millions across the country, but for me, it is a day that brings painful memories of death, mayhem and bloodshed

Earlier, August 15 meant the same for me like any other child from the rest of the country: freedom from school and freedom from homework. I used to wake up early in the morning and grab my cricket gear before dashing out to meet my waiting friends or watch, along with my father, the Prime Minister speak from the ramparts of the Red Fort on our black and white television.

Those were the happy, good times.

But as turmoil engulfed the valley in the 1990s and killings and more killings became the order of the day, August 15 changed its connotations. And it changed for the worse.

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Mini-partition along LoC as fence closes borders

Divided villages rend families, creates identity problems

URI, KUPWARA, KASHMIR, Abdul Rahman, a villager of Silkot, Uri has to walk seven kilometers up and down the mountains and ask permission from soldiers at PP post in Uri to meet his daughter Haja Begum who lives on the other side of the barbed fence erected by the security agencies to seal the line of control against infiltration. A village of 29 families, Silkot, has been divided into four halves by the fencing which has cost the central government a whopping $300 million.

“First in 1947 then in 1965 and now in 2004. How many times will our villages be divided. If the security agencies are so concerned about preventing militants to come to this side of the border why don’t they increase the number of their troops to prevent infiltration rather than divide our villages,” says Rahman adding ordinary people are always crushed in the games of the big players.

Exactly a year ago Greater Kashmir carried an exclusive story on how fencing along the LOC threatened to partition many a village in Uri. Fencing is complete now. So is the partition.

A year later, the 300km long, 12- foot-tall, barbed-wire fence has not only divided into nearly dozen villages along the Uri into two but has also cut into half as many villages along the LOC in Keran Karnah sector.

The fencing, which though had to be originally constructed along the LoC to seal the rugged frontier against `infiltration`, has been constructed 10 kms inside the Indian territory due to impending fear of Pakistani shelling thus resulting in partition of the villages

While Tilawari, Chrunda villages along LOC in Uri have been cut into two, Badgran finds itself isolated on the Indian side of the border. Hatlanga, on the other hand has fallen on the other side of the border.

The same story has been repeated in dozens of villages in Keran Karnah sector where Amrohi, Chelikad, Sothgipora, Seenari (to name a few) have either been completely divided or have gone to the other side of the border.

This has left villagers fuming but for the security agencies the fencing is a ‘necessary evil’.

“To prevent few militants crossing over to this side of the border they have cut a line through our hearts” says Ghulam Qadir , resident of Silkot.

The villagers refuse to buy the argument that fencing is a necessary evil and lament the partition has destroyed the very identities of the villagers.

“Every Kashmiri has a predicament about his identity, but the people living in these villages face a peculiar situation. We don’t know whether we are Indians, Pakistanis or belong to no man’s land`” quips Ali Muhammad of Tilawari.

Another villager sitting besides Ali adds “Tell me who am I.. In the morning when I am at home I am an Indian. By the time I reach my fields on the other side of fence I am a Pakistani,”says the villager.

Emotional issues aside, for the villagers the dividing line projected as “guarantee to good times”, has become a death knell. The 300 km fence is dotted with thousands of mines on either sides putting the lives of hundreds of villagers in grave danger. ” I couldn’t help but watch helplessly as my cow along with her calf was blown to pieces when she came into accidental contact with the barbed wire” says Nazir Ahmad who incidentally has lost his right leg to a mine blast in 1965.

He added people of the area had already suffered much due to the mines planted by the troops earlier. “Nearly 2000 villagers have already been killed or maimed by thousands of mines planted along Keran Karnah sector,” says Muhammad.

Though villagers can move to the other side of the fence by declaring their identities at various gates manned by the troops, the same facility according to villagers would be withdrawn to commoners once the ongoing ceasefire between India and Pakistan ends.

“The Indian and Pakistan honeymoon can’t go for ever. Once hostilities resume villagers will become sitting ducks to fire from both the sides” says Ghulam Qadir whose wife Saja (mother of seven) included 20 other inhabitants of the village who were killed in last two years due to the shelling from across the border.

Qadir’s neighbour, Saqib says the excessive mining and the electrified fences have affected the farming in the area, ” Our farming has suffered due to the fear of mines and fences” says Saqib adding villagers were seriously contemplating mass migration from the villages,

“If the government fails to relocate us or remove the fencing altogether the villagers would be left with no option but to migrate from the area,” he added.

The article first appeared in Greater Kashmir on July 24, 2004

Dardpora: Where communal harmony prevails

While religious hatred continues to hog the headlines across country, Dardpora, a hamlet in the tehsil Pattan presents a heart warming picture to every visitor

About 35 Sikh families and over 100 Muslim families live in close camaraderie for centuries now, “We don’t see ourselves as Sikhs and Muslims, but fellow villagers who are born to share each others joy and sorrow,” says Harmeet Singh adding the villagers have been sharing the happiness and suffering for centuries together.

These harmonious sentiments are echoed by majority of people living here, “These sardars are just wonderful people, we have been living with them for centuries and will continue to do so as they have become part and parcel of our lives” says Fayaz Ahmad, villager of Dardpora.

The last turbulent decade has seen Dardpora losing quite a number of youth, which has seen both communities coming even closer. Estimates put the number of deaths in the village at about 13 that include five from Sikh families.

“Our family bore the brunt of violence as we lost two young boys to the violence.” says Sujan Singh adding his nephew Harpal Singh was killed on 27th April 2003, when he was asked by security personnel to accompany them in a search operation.

Sujan points out that the Muslim brethren arranged wood for his nephew’s antim ardas (last rites). He added the Muslim villagers had also supported the Sikh colleagues when the two Sikh girls and Sikh boy were killed in a mine explosion on 21st January 2000.

Both the communities make it a point to participate and celebrate each others festivals and marriages. ” For us marriages and festivals are events to strengthen our resolve to be together and live for each other,” says Mohammed Ashraf, adding whether it is Eid or Guru Parab, the villagers celebrate each others festivals with fervor and gaiety.

The article first appeared in Greater Kashmir on November 23, 2003