Tremors of the cross-border firing along the international border in Jammu and Kashmir are also being felt along the border villages of Punjab.
Though on the surface there are no visible signs of tension in the villages along the border in the Attari sector of Amritsar district, residents keep a daily tab on the situation in J&K through television news channels and daily newspapers.
Any fresh news of firing and casualties does cause some worry among the residents and bring back memories of the two wars with Pakistan, the exodus from the border villages in 1992 during the Kargil conflict and later after the Parliament terror attack in 2001 to their minds.
Despite the worries, the residents go about their daily task in a normal manner, giving the impression that everything is normal here. Many of the farmers who have their fields between the barbed-wire fence and the Radcliffe Line, are busy these days harvesting the basmati crop or getting their fields ready for sowing wheat.
Dyal Singh (72), a resident of Rajatal village, which is about one km away from the border, says “We have seen the wars of 1965 and 1971. At that time also, we had to leave the village and stay at safe locations with our relatives. Now again the news coming from the Jammu and Kashmir about the cross-border firing has left villagers anxious. Each time such news flashes on TV or is seen in a newspaper, it makes the residents worry. I don’t care about myself, but am worried about my grand children and other family members”.
A farmer by profession, he further says, “The BSF troops are on job and patrolling but when the conflict begins, definitely it’s a frightening situation”.
Similarly, 70-year-old Manjinder Singh, who is a resident of Hardo Rattan village, said, “The situation in J&K has definitely added to the worries of the residents of the border area. Uneasy calm is there, as both countries (India and Pakistan) have again adopted an aggressive stance. Although things are peaceful here, living on the border is always risky. No letter will come, just firing will start. We witnessed the 1965 and 1971 wars and had to move to other cities for shelter.”
“Normally what happens in J&K does not have an effect among the residents of border villages here. But this time, there is some concern and a fear psychosis has come to haunt the residents that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is every possibility of a full- scale conflict with Pakistan”, said Rattan Singh Randhawa, president of the Border Area Kisan Sangharsh Committee.
According to Randhawa, the villagers are not afraid of a war with the enemy, but what really worries them is the exodus that will take place if a situation like the one in J&K develops here. “In ’65 and ’71, people understood the realities and were ready not just to move back from the border areas, but even came forward to help the Indian soldiers. However, a war like situation like the one during the Kargil conflict causes more concern than a full-scale battle”, he said.
There was an exodus of about two lakh people from the border villages in Punjab in 1992, when the armies of both the nations came out to face each other. Later, during the Kargil conflict and after the terror attack on Parliament, people were displaced from the border areas.
After the Parliament attack, the army laid down landmines in about 60,000 acres of land in the border area of Punjab. No farmer was allowed to go to his fields, which were acquired by the army”, he said while pointing to the heavy financial losses suffered by farmers as the landmines stayed in the fields for 18 months.
Fifteen villagers in Attari area too lost their lives after accidentally stepping onto these mines, said Randhawa.
The centre had agreed to pay a paltry sum of Rs 18,500 per acre compensation to owners whose agricultural land was acquired for laying the mines at that time.
BSF on alert, ready to counter: IG
With the tension along the J&K borders, the troops of the BSF deployed along the Punjab border have been put on high alert.
“The morale of the jawans is very high and we are prepared to tackle any situation. Although the situation along the Punjab border has been peaceful so far, we are geared up to face any eventuality, said IG BSF (Punjab Frontier) Ashok Kumar.
Although the BSF has not called in any reinforcement as such but it is learnt that additional troops have been added on some sensitive locations. The area of Punjab touching the Jammu border is particularly being kept under high surveillance.
The BSF IG said, “We are very much on the job and troops have been asked to take extra precautions while on duty. Even the farmers having lands across the fence have been told to take extra precautions while in fields.”
He maintained that the gestures of troops continue to be aggressive during the Beating the Retreat ceremony held every evening.“The gestures are already very aggressive during the evening parade and they continue to be so,” he added.
The enhanced alertness is being maintained to thwart any misadventure by the troops from across the border and also by smugglers or intruders.
Bitterness on the border
The otherwise peaceful Punjab border witnessed bitterness between the BSF and Pakistani Rangers recently when the Pakistani Rangers decided not to offer any sweets to the BSF on the occasion of Eid.
Consequently, the BSF also did not offer any sweets to Pak Rangers.
Notably, such a situation has emerged for the first time on this border in the recent years. No matter how tense the J&K border remained in the past, in Punjab troops on both sides had always exchanged pleasantries earlier.
But this time, the heavy exchange of fire between forces of both nations has had its toll on the Punjab border.