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