Ghulam Qadir of Balkote village in north Kashmir’s Baramulla district lost his left leg in a blast during the 1965 war and now uses a prosthetic limb.
The village, on a hilltop, is within a few kilometers of the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border between India and Pakistan. On a high mountain top diagonally opposite Balkote and separated from it by a deep ravine, stands a post of the Pakistani army.
“Many villagers used to work as porters for the army in those days because there were no roads. I was also among them and lost the leg during a blast. Those were the days of war…” recounts Qadir. He has not married after losing his leg as a teenager. Does he fear many more can lose their lives or be maimed if an Indo-Pak war happens now? Well, no. “One who has taken birth must die somebody. There is no fear. What can we do? We have suffered whenever there has been a war or intense shelling,” says Qadir.
HT visited the villages near Uri town adjacent to the LoC a day after India announced that it had carried out “surgical strikes” in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir amid rising apprehensions of a full-fledged war.
In Thajal village, Hanifa Begum and her 12-year-old son say the moment they hear cross-firing for an extended period they run out of their houses.
In these villages, young people point to the ‘other’ side and draw outlines in the air to carve out the trajectory of Pakistani shells and indicate where one might land. Residents say all the villages lie in the direct line of fire of Pakistani forces.
Class 10 student Waseem Ahmad, whose home falls on a slope on the hill where Balkote is located, says: “I am scared, that’s all I can say. Often at night, there are sounds of firing. We all – my parents and siblings – shiver because of them and keep an eye on whether any shell will fall on our house.”
Older residents recount the damage caused by earlier incidents of shelling and say that “fear” is “always” there.
Bashir Ahmad, a 50-year-old driver from Balkote, says: “We are in pain over the rising escalation of tension. Our children are scared. We have survived the wars but all this is new for our children.”
“In 2003, a Pakistani bomb fell in this corner of my home during cross-LoC firing and it dug an eight-foot-deep hole here and uprooted my trees,” says Ahmad, pointing to his house.
Abdul Qayoom, a resident of Silikote village who works as a lab assistant at a lab in a government school in Uri, says: “The worst period for such cross-firing across LoC was the early 1990s when militancy rose in the Valley.”
Mohammad Latief, lamberdar of Thajal village, recounts that during the 1965 and 1971 wars, these villages had turned into a war-field. “My own house and those of many others in the village have been damaged many a time in the last 26 years due to bombings from the other side,” says Latief.
Although there is no “panic,” people are anxious to know if they too will be ordered to relocate.
Villagers also point out that in the 1990s they used to have self-made “bunkers” to save themselves during shelling from the Pakistani side. But those were damaged in the 2005 earthquake and villagers did not bother to rebuild them because of the 2003 ceasefire agreement between the two countries.
The “bunkers” were technically sound – with underground rooms topped with layers of wood, mud, stones and polythene sheets.
“Two or three families used to have one bunker for themselves. But today there are none,” adds Ahmad.