Young Mohammed Imran Khan sits on the steps outside his school with a bandaged foot and crutches alongside watching kids younger than him play in the open area overlooking villages in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC).
The LoC is an imaginary line that divides people on the two sides of Jammu and Kashmir and the area has been representing a war zone for some time now.
Sixteen-year-old Imran is disabled for life after he got injured three months back in shelling from across the LoC at Dharati village. The village lies ahead of the fence that has been put up by India just short of the LoC.
The continued conflict at the LoC has left many like him severely injured. Some even died.
Imran’s mother Phooljan Begum has been terrified since the incident. “We have nowhere to go. Can’t take shelter anywhere. I have two more sons, what if anything happens to them?”
2019 was a harsh year for the civilian population as the hostilities peaked in many years.
After the Pulwama attack in February when over 40 troops of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed in a suicide car bombing followed by an aerial strike by the Indian Air Force on terror camps in Pakistan, it’s been a war-like situation along the LoC.
Both local and army officials say there has been no peacetime here.
Ceasefire violations at the LoC in 2019 doubled and half of these accounted for the period since August 5 marking a sharp increase after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gave special rights to the Jammu and Kashmir as a state that has now been converted into Union territory.
“I got hit in shelling. There were two others with me, my uncle and a friend. We were working on road construction when the shells landed next to us.” He says there are many who suffer from such injuries for life but there is little help.
“There is no help from the government. We have to fend for ourselves. I can’t go to school or do any work,” Imran adds as he still looks terrified from what happened a few months back. He hasn’t been attending school since the incident and has spent most of his time in hospital in Rajouri.
EDUCATION WORST HIT
Young students live in fear as even schools are not spared in the escalation initiated by Pakistan.
There are other kids in the village, much younger than him, who are also unsure of their future. “The school remains shut for days when shelling continues. Our parents don’t let us go out,” says 10-year-old Shabnaz Kausar.
While most kids speak shyly about their experiences, seven-year-old Mustafa prefers to nod his head covered with a green skull cap to answer and speaks only when absolutely necessary.
On an extreme corner of the government school is a shabby looking building that is a semi-constructed bunker next to the playing area for kids that has swings and seesaws.
In another village, kids are better off studying in a school run by the army. For these young children, the sound of booming guns and shells falling even close to their schools has become a routine but their aspirations are the same as children their age living in the mainland.
Here most girls want to be a doctor or journalist while the boys look to join the army.
The army carries out mock drills to ensure the kids are taken to the safety of bunkers whenever shelling starts.
“We continue with our classes in the bunker even if there is shelling so our studies don’t get affected,” says Class 12 student Afiya Naaz who says she wants to be a doctor. In a packed bunker, there are nearly 100 children at a time who try to go about their studies normally if shelling starts.
With a lack of development and little employment opportunities for the population here, it’s a matter of survival for the families.
There have been infiltration bids all across continuously from the Pakistan side. The pattern has been similar where these attempts have coincided with ceasefire violations and heavy shelling.
Lt Gen Harsha Gupta, the General Officer Commanding the 16 Corp based in Nagrota says, “There has been an increase in the effort by Pakistan to push in terrorists after Balakot airstrike and then Pakistan heightened activity post abrogation of Article 370. The number of terrorists south of Peerpanjal range has increased to 250 according to estimates.”
Terror movement and activities are being picked up at short intervals by the surveillance system and cameras day and night.
For those living in villages that fall ahead of the fence of the LoC, life is even more difficult. They are most prone to shelling from Pakistan.
One of the residents such a village Mohammed Arif Khan says the bunker scheme is good but it will take time.
“The numbers are still less and those in most forward areas are yet to get it. Whenever work starts they again get damaged with a fresh round of shelling.”
In such a situation bunkers are there only hope for. While many bunkers are coming up they feel more needs to be done.
Another resident Mohammed Akram says this has been a war zone. “Every moment, be it day or night, is like war here. There is little help from the civil government and we are cut off from the world.”
Most of the population here belongs to the Gujjar and Bakarwal community who are cattle grazers and losing their sheep or cattle means they have to incur heavy losses.
As heavy caliber shelling and ceasefire violations peaked last year, the last few months have been particularly tough for the civilian population as the exchanges have continued even in the chilling winter.
As the higher reaches of Kashmir are covered under snow the focus has shifted to the south of Perpanjal range.
Areas like Nowshera, Sundarbani, Krishna Ghati, Bhimber Gali, Poonch have been have remained tense with frequent shelling and skirmishes.
SITUATION ON THE GROUND
From inside surveillance centres across the LoC, the Indian Army is picking up all suspected movements and activities in civilian homes that are categorised as suspected houses. The number of such suspected houses has been increasing.
“There are many civilian houses used as launch pads. We are aware of these and have identified them. These are used by Pak to assist infiltrations. Villages in PoK are hugging the LoC. Many houses here are used by Pakistan as defence works,” Lt Gen Harsha Gupta, 16 Corp Commander told India Today TV.
What the top army officer responsible for the command of the area told us was visible in the ground.
India Today travelled along the LoC to some of these forward locations to do a ground check on the hostile situation.
In the garb of civil movement in these villages, the Pakistan Army and ISI ensure terrorists are ready to infiltrate. Many of these villages near the LoC also have former Pakistan army personnel residing to aid this plot, officials say.
10 Jan 20/Friday Source: IndiaToday