In a high school nestled in a breathtaking sweep of lush hills near the troubled India-Pakistan border, children tremble and run for cover whenever they hear an explosion.
To them, it doesn’t matter that the deafening roar is from an unexploded Pakistani mortar round detonated by a crack team of Indian combat engineers in the distant Balakot landscape.
Shaken by ceasefire violations by Pakistan, they fear a fresh wave of mortar and rocket attacks from across the border could see them locked up and isolated in their own school. It had happened on August 15 when they were celebrating the Independence Day, before the area came under an intense attack that killed six civilians in a neighbouring village.
“It was a scary day. Those memories are still fresh in our minds. It can happen again,” says Rabia Koser, a 17-year-old girl who wants to become a doctor at the Army-run Pinewood School, Hamirpur. She was the Class 10 topper with a score of 76%.
Most of the students enrolled in the school come from villages sandwiched between the Line of Control (LoC) and the Army fence behind it, a dangerous strip over which rockets and bombs fly when the two armies trade fire.
“There are 456 students here and almost three-fourths of them come from across the fence. The ceasefire violations are a nightmare for them,” says Captain Aravind R, 26, an army doctor from Kerala who doubles up as the school principal when he is not writing prescriptions for soldiers.
As conflict looms and border villages remain gripped by uncertainty peculiar to the LoC, the students are driven by a passion to carve out a new future for themselves. “I hope to study in a university some day and get a job in a big town,” says Mohammad Ghayas, 16, writing an exam in the open ground below along with scores of other students.
Caught in the crossfire of a highly unpredictable border conflict, there are 14 villages ahead of the fence in Bhimber Gali area. “We never target their civilians, but the Pakistanis follow no rules. And we punish them for that,” says Brigadier HS Sahi, commander, 120 infantry brigade, located at Bhimber Gali.
Nasser Ahmed Khan, one of the 21 teachers here, graduated from the same school in 2005. “As the army improves the facilities here, I am sure these students have a bright future,” he adds.