‘Harvest due, hard to leave’: War fear in Punjab, a ground reality
Punjab villages near the internation border (IB) were told to evacuate after the Indian army conducted surgical strikes on terror launchpads along Line of Control (LoC) on Thursday.
Punjab villages near the internation border (IB) were told to evacuate after the Indian army conducted surgical strikes on terror launchpads along Line of Control (LoC) on Thursday. Here is the ground report of the areas affected in Punjab:
Border on the edge, everybody wants full tank
At every village along Pakistan, they are talking about past wars and praising the Narendra Modi government. They are also packing their bags and battling their fears.
After the army’s surgical strikes on terror camps across the Line of Control (LOC), orderly evacuation began in 333 Amritsar villages in 10-kilometre radius of the Pakistan border. Since the message flashed on gurdwara loudspeakers, 20% of the population — mostly women, children, and aged people — has left for safer areas. Showing great morale, the men have stayed back to support the soldiers.
Long queues built up for panic buying of fuel. In Attari, the first petrol-filling station after the border received its biggest rush on Thursday. Buyers carried even drums and any empty bottle they could find. Everybody wanted a full tank.
At Daoke village, people were gathered on the streets and discussing where to go. The bags over their heads and the women in tow reminded them of the 1965 and 1971 wars. “We are not scared,” said villager Suba Singh (70), “but leaving immediately isn’t easy.” Villager Gurdev Singh said: “The crop is ready and, if there is no harvesting, we are finished. We aren’t scared of war but displacement is a concern.”
The district administration led by deputy commissioner Varun Roojam had a long meeting after the evacuation orders came from Chandigarh. Officers are still trying to convince people to flee a possible Pakistani retaliation. But those living close to the fence have only two small concerns — their crop and cattle.
Paramjit Kaur, who had come to her mother’s house was going back to Amritsar. “It is no more safe at the village,” she said. At Naushehra Dhalla in Tarn Taran district, evacuation is moderate though. “I am not going anywhere,” said Hardev Singh, whose house is close to the fence. “Let war come. The Indian forces should have struck back earlier. The young men of my village will support them.”
Police are helping with evacuation and Akali legislator Harmeet Sandhu went to Naushehra Dhallla to ask people to stay vigilant.
14 Pathankot villages 70% empty
Vehicles, carts, two-wheelers, laden with women and children, are speeding away from border villages in this district. “Something wrong is going to happen tonight,” said a fleeing man.
Television news and the administration advisory triggered panic evacuation along the Pathankot border with Pakistan after the surgical strikes in Kashmir. The government deployed transport to get the villagers out. “I had time to grab only a few, handy valuables,” said Surinder Mahajan of Bamyal.
Scores of rural folks who work outside were hurrying back home to fetch family. The evacuation in 14 Pathankot border villages, including the Bamyal sector, is 70% complete. People hail surgical strikes but want the dispute with Pakistan settled once and for all.
The administration will provide them with free food and shelter at Gurdwara Barth Sahib. Hospitals are on alert and the emergency ward of the Pathankot civil hospital has been cleared. Bhoa legislator Seema Kumari, most of whose constituency fall in the border area, was pleading with the villagers to move out. The electricity department has orders to cut the supply for night blackout.
Senior superintendent of police Rakesh Kaushal said crisis management was working fine.
Tarn Taran villagers rushing to banks, ATMs, arhtiyas
Villagers are rushing to banks, ATMs, and arhtiyas, moneylenders, and petrol-filling stations.
The machines ran out of petrol, diesel, and cash in a few minutes. The villagers rushed to Patti and Tarn Taran towns, farmers carrying their goods on tractor-trailers, and the others looking for pick up. Evacuation is on, not only in the 10-kilometre radius of the border but also the entire district.
Panic is natural. The people of this district suffered a lot in the 1965 and 1971 wars. At nearly 150 villages of this border district, people have started moving to safe places again before any new conflict breaks out with Pakistan.
In 1965, Asal Uttar village, scene of a great battle, took a maximum hit. During the Kargil war, too, the villagers had to vacate their homes. They have been displaced so many times that they are almost used to it now.
War doesn’t scare them as much as the thought of losing their business and houses. “We are settled here for decades. Our woes have only begun,” said Tajinder Singh of Rajoke village. “I spent my lifetime of earning in building this house. Now I must leave it. You don’t know how sad I am,” said Daljinder Singh of Bhura Kohna village.
There aren’t enough buses for everyone who needs to move to safety. All of them are overloaded. And the war is yet to start.
Anxiety in Ferozepur, Fazilka, though no major evacuation
There was anxiety but no major evacuation in the border villages of Ferozepur and Fazilka on Thursday when tension between India and Pakistan escalated.
Announcements being made from the village gurdwaras and temples were pressing people to be at least 10 kilometres from the Pakistan border. The administration has created 25 rehabilitation camps for border villagers.
The warnings had little effect. In most border villages, not many people had moved out till the filing of this report. “How can we leave our ripe crop? We’ll be ruined,” Ferozepur farmer Amb Singh said. “We’ll decide to move or not only after harvest.”
More police contingents moved into Ferozepur and Fazilka villages from their respective headquarters. “We have received Rs 1 crore from the state government for the rehabilitation centres. The money is for basic amenities, besides medical, veterinary, and other needs,” said Ferozepur deputy commissioner DPS Kharbanda.
In Fazilka, people have started coming to the 26 rehabilitation camps outside the 10-km radius of the Pakistan border. “So far, we have nothing to panic but we are taking all precautions,” said Fazilka deputy commissioner Isha Kalia.
(Contributed by Gaurav Sagar Bhaskar, Surjit Singh, Aseem Bassi, Vinay Dhingra)