With hollow eyes, 12-year-old Shabir Ahmad stares at the empty floor, shaking and barely speaking. His father Nazir says that for the last three days Shabir has refused to eat or sleep. Loud noises force him into a quiet corner in their house in Churunda village in North Kashmir, about 140 km from Srinagar.
“There was firing on the village from the Pakistani side on Jan 6. The rain of fire has scared Shabir who is already traumatised by his elder brother’s death,” says Nazir. Shabir’s brother, Liyaqat, was killed by a stray mortar shell in a similar attack by Pakistan in October last year.
“Shabir saw his brother’s blood-drenched body and has not behaved normally ever since,” adds the father. Army officials say Liyaqat bled out on the ground for half-an-hour, assistance prevented by the mortars. Liyaqat and two more villagers including 18-year-old Shameena Ismail, died that day.
“She went to fetch water outside when she was hit. She just ran in and collapsed,” says her father, Mohammad. Churunda remains cut-off in winter and can be reached only after a five km trek through snow. A village of 235 households and 1500 residents, it has been in the line of fire since October 13 2012. “The village used to be fired upon every second day between 1997 and 2003.
But for ten years we lived peacefully. The firings have started again, for no reason,” says Manzoor Ahmad, a farmer. The villagers claim the Pakistanis fire constantly. “Gunshots are heard everyday and every two or three days there is heavy mortar shelling,” says sarpanch Lal Din.
After dusk, Churunda comes to a standstill. Besides the cracking of frozen snow under army gumboots, any noise makes the residents skip a heart beat. “Raat hamare liye maut hain (Night means death for us),” says Aarbi Begum, a mother of five, reliving the firing which lasted 7 hours.
“My children were crying and I kept thinking our house would be next,” she says. The houses, made of mud and brick, are badly damaged by mortars. Pacca houses, constructed after the 2005 earthquake, have fared no better. “First we feared the earthquake now it’s the Pakistanis,” adds Aarbi Begum.
Nine-year-old Naseema, who lives with her family of 17, was sleeping when her house was hit by a shell. “There was smoke all over and my cousins and siblings started crying,” she says. Asked why the firing happens, she says “Aisay hi (just like that).” While the villagers seem at a loss for reasons, the army says the intent is political.
“Why are civilians being targeted? There would be no report that a Pakistani civilian has been attacked by us. Accidents do happen but these are no accidents. I guess their intention is to make news by attacking civilians and giving an impression of heightened tension on the borders,” says an official posted in the area.
Constantly under threat, the villagers appeal for peace. “Aman chaheya hamey (We want peace between the two countries),” says a large group. Manzoor Ahmad says, “If it was war we would understand. Send our women and children to some place safe, and fight along the army but what can one do in these so-called times of peace?”