Thousands across India may be celebrating the army’s surgical strikes but villagers near the International Border (IB) are upset with the lack of government support in evacuation and say they fear for the safety of their houses and property.
Residents in Punjab’s Attari sector say they feel abandoned by the local administration with little support in getting transportation or choosing possible destination, more than 24 hours after the government announced evacuation of villages in border areas. “No government official has reached the village. Just an announcement was made. I sent my children and wife away and stayed back to keep my house safe,” said Angrej Singh of Daoke, which is metres from the fence. Two-third of the village’s 3,000 people have left.
The evacuation was ordered as relations between New Delhi and Islamabad nosedived following the Indian 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 most vulnerable regions say they are forced to lug around their 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 advantage of the situation. People in border villages are worried about their houses, cattle and crop,” said Saab Singh of Daoke.
“We did not sleep. We stood guard all night with swords in hand,” said Kashmir Kaur of Daoke. Many fear widespread looting 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 they needed some time before informing villagers about the location of shelters and arranging transport. “We are on the job and already places for shelters have been identified and will be operational by Friday evening,” said deputy commissioner Varun Roojam.
“We have hired 20 buses to move villages to safer places. The Shiromani Akali Dal will arrange for langar (community kitchen) to provide food to the evacuees,” he said. 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 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 fence. “We do not know till when this order stays. But till that time, we are asked to stay away from the fence,” said Harjap Singh of Daoke.
1,750 REPORT AT CAMPS IN FEROZEPUR, FAZILKA FEROZEPUR
Mass evacuation of women, children, and the elderly is being reported from border villages in Ferozepur and Fazilka districts.
Nearly 15,000 people of 365 villages along the 85-km border with Pakistan in Ferozepur and 10,000 from 125 border villages in Fazilka district have moved to safer places. The administration has set up 40 rehabilitation camps at Ferozepur and 30 at Fazilka. Nearly 250 people have reported at camps in Ferozepur and 1,500 in Fazilka.