Our lives were shattered in the blink of an eye, say Balkote shelling victims
Four civilians and five security force personnel were killed in the shelling on November 13
In the courtyard of a two-storey stone and mud house perched on a hill overlooking the Pakistani posts hidden within pine and deodar thickets, the five children of Faruqa Begum, who was one of the civilians killed in the November 13 Pakistani shelling, look scared.
In the blink of an eye, the young siblings lost their 40-year-old mother when a shell fired from across the Line of Control (LoC) directly hit their house. The children and their father had a narrow escape. Faruqa, who was on the first floor, when the shell hit their home was not so lucky and died instantly from shrapnel injury.
Four civilians and five security force personnel were killed in the shelling, which started in Hajpeer and continued through Kamalkote, Nowgam, Tanghdar and Gurez sectors. All four civilians were killed in Uri.
“We were on the ground floor and our parents where on the top floor when a shell hit the backside of our house. My mother was hit by shrapnel while my father who was nearby had a narrow escape,” says 17-year-old Shaista Bano, as she sooths her 18-month-old sister Aliaza, who doesn’t quite understand what happened to her mother.
Her brother, Irshad Ahmad, a Class-8 student, was taking an exam at school when the shelling started around noon. “Many shells landed in the forest around the village but we went ahead with our exam. When a few shells landed near our school we took shelter. We hurried home at around 5pm when there was a lull in firing. I was surprised to find relatives and neighbours weeping and a portion of our house destroyed. Everything had been well when I left for school but my mother was dead by the time I returned.”
Faruqa was buried, with few people in attendence, late at night. The shelling did not stop for a long time and people were afraid to step out, explains her nephew 22-year-old Naseer Ahmad, adding that the only time the village felt at ease was between 2003 and 2015 when India and Pakistan were obeying ceasefire rules. “Now, there is shelling and firing every month. During shelling, zero-line villages turn into a battlefield. We keep praying for peace,” he said.
Balkote village falls right on the zero line, the houses of the Khawjabandi village on the other side of the fence are visible from the middle of the village.
‘My life’s work went up in flames’
On the same fateful day, two houses belonging to government employee Abdul Gani Shiekh were damaged after shells hit the houses setting them aflame.
“I had built two houses after working in the government for three decades and on November 13 I lost everything. We don’t even have plates to eat in,” he says, showing a heaps of ash that were once all his belongings.
“My wife had saved around ₹50,000 to ₹60,000 and kept it in the corner of the house. However, it too, has turned to ash. Shells have landed in our village earlier too but the houses had always remained safe. Thankfully, our family of seven, escaped unscathed. The neighbours rescued them,” says Shiekh, who was at the office where is works on a Class-4 post. He only saw the devastation when he reached home.
Only 17 families remain in the neighbouring Silikote village, which is right on the LoC. Most families have vacated the area. “Our village used to see death and destruction before ceasefire. Now, it has again become the target. Only people who have nowhere else to go have stay put, the rest of the people have left,” says Sajjad Ahmad, a resident of Silikote.
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