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

Bandipore residents to boycott polls



Having been deceived time and again by the mainstream politicians, the people of this picturesque Tehsil of Varmul district appear determined to boycott the coming parliamentary elections to register their protest.

They have every reason to feel cheated as none of the promises held out to them by the powers that be were never kept. The main town which used to be connected with the surrounding villages and towns beyond through four bridges are yet to be constructed after these were damaged or washed away years ago.

The commuters are forced to take trouble of getting down from the buses and cross the makeshift bridges on foot and board the same. Then the condition of roads leading to various villages of the Tehsil are in a dilapidated condition. The rulers are expecting to vote even after taking us for a ride for decades together, lamented one Manzoor Ahmad of Quil Muqam.

There is no denying the fact that the Srinagar-Bandipore Road has been repaired after it was devastated by a government agency in the name of widening it for the so called KishenGanga Hydel project, but it took the government more than fifteen years to listen to our woes caused by the damaged road, said Farooq Ahmad of Aloosa.

The continued indifference shown by successive governments towards our problems has made us to lose faith in the politicians. They have been feeding us on empty promises and are now expecting us to vote for them, added Farooq. Why should we vote when our demands are not being fulfilled, lamented Irfan, Farooq’s neighbor.

According to Ghulam Rasool Zargar of Ajar, most of the water supply schemes in the Tehsil are existing on papers of PHE and the Dy Commissioner’s files. Most of the schemes were either never executed or if executed these did not work, added Zargar.This is why in most of the villages you will find people forced to draw waters from Nullahs and contract diseases like hepatitis, explains Zargar. As you move from Srinagar to Bandipore you can see how women are carrying waters in pitchers etc.

One of the long pending demands of the people is setting up of a college in the town to meet needs of the growing population which has not come up even though it stands sanctioned. Similarly services from the sub district hospital in the town have not improved despite commitments from the politicians. The hospital has the services of a qualified surgeon specialist available, but he cannot deliver as there is no anesthetist to provide the much needed support service. There are hardly any medicines available. To add insult to the injury of the people it is the paramedics, who have been there who run the health services in the hospital.

The people are equally alienated from the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, the two main political parties which enjoyed some representation in the area before 1996 Assembly elections in one or the other form.

In 1996 the NC promised the people that it would ensure a check on human rights violation by the security forces.

Instead they were given the shock of their lives when the party installed one of their tormentors, Javed Shah, as an MLC,says Bashir Ahmad, an elder from the Tehsil. The late Shah was the most hated person in the whole area for the atrocities committed by him, yet the NC chose to elect him as the MLC, lamented Rafiq Ahmad from Madder village.

Then there was no change in the situation during the six long years of NC rule as the ordinary souls continued to be killed, maimed, tortured, humiliated and harassed all through the period, said Dr Abrar from the neighbouring village of Aragam. And when the PDP came to power we were promised peace with dignity, instead we saw the worst of the times during the coalition rule as is evident from a chain of incidents that made headlines.

One could have a feel of the mood of the people from the recent incident in which Umar Abdullah was given a chase by an irate mob when he visited the families of the victims of the Chittibandi carnage. The CM, Mufti Sayed, had to cancel his visit to the town after the intelligence agencies counseled him against the visit given the mood of the people.

No politician worth name from the pro-India political parties has been able to make it to the Tehsil in recent past. The area is yet to see any poll related activity even as the poll schedule for Varmul constituency stands announced.

The article first appeared in Greater Kashmir on April 05, 2004