Thousands across India may be celebrating the army’s surgical strikes against Pakistan but villagers near the Line of Control are upset with a lack of government support in evacuation and say they fear for the safety of their homes and property.
Local residents in Punjab’s Attari sector say they feel abandoned by the local administration with little support in getting transportation or choosing possible destinations, more than 24 hours after the government announced evacuation of villages in border areas.
“No government officer has reached the village. Just an announcement was made. I sent my children and wife. I am staying back to ensure my house is safe,” said Angrej Singh, a resident of Daoke village that is metres away from the LoC fence. Two-thirds of the village’s 3,000 people have left.
The evacuation was ordered as relations between New Delhi and Islamabad nosedived following the army’s announcement of surgical strikes against “terror launchpads” in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, amid fears of retaliation by the neighbouring country.
But people in the vulnerable regions say they are forced to lug around luggage and call up relatives for asylum as the local administration’s promises of tents, shelters and transport hasn’t come through.
Many families have sent the women and children away but the men are staying back to ward off thieves, often standing in fields with swords to guard their property.
“Anyone can take an advantage of such a situation. People in border villages are under stress and thefts will break them. People are worried of their houses, cattle and crop,” said Saab Singh of Daoke.
“We did not sleep. We stood in the villages with swords in hand all night,” said Kashmir Kaur of Daoke.
In addition, many fear that widespread looting may break out soon if police and officials don’t arrive to direct the evacuation efforts.
“The government says leave but what about our belongings? How much can we carry? Anyone can break into our home and loot,” said Sukhdev Singh of Mode village.
But the administration has rebuffed the allegations, saying it needs some time before informing villagers about the location of shelters and arranging transport.
“We are on the job and have already identified places for shelters that will be operational by Friday evening,” said deputy commissioner Varun Roojam.
“”We are very serious and for transportation 20 buses have been taken. Tie up has been done with the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabhandhak Committee for food.”
Transport has emerged as a major problem and many say people with no relatives in faraway places have nowhere to go.
“People are making their own arrangements to leave. What about those with no relatives in cities? How do they go if they don’t have own transport? Public transport does not reach here,” said Surjit Singh, a resident of Mullakot village, which was captured by Pakistan in the 1971 war.
Dyal Singh, who had gone to evacuate his daughter Baljit Kaur from Daoke, said he had arranged everything by himself.
The Border Security Force said it was on high alert and didn’t let farmers go near the LoC fence.
“We do not know till when this order stays. But till that time, we are asked to stay away from the fence,” said villager Harjap singh in Daoke.