September 2000 News

Borders Of Their Lives

20 September 2000
The Indian Express
Pradeep Dutta

New Delhi: On September 12, in the dark of the night, Mohammad Aslam Moulvi and 12 of his family members used the nullahs that stream past their houses in Nehlini village in Manjakote to cross over to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), allegedly under the protective cover of militants. The family seemed in such a hurry that they didn''t even take along their two children, Razia Begum (14) and Abdul Wasim (12), who are said to be working as domestic servants with a family in Poonch town. The children still don''t know that their parents have crossed over. ''Time will teach them how to live without their near and dear ones,'' says the Moulvi''s mother-in-law. The Moulvi reportedly migrated following pressure from the security forces. It was from his house at Chandimarh that the army had smashed a militant hideout. The Moulvi was released after interrogation, but he moved to a more secure accommodation in Bahrote, before escaping. Migration to PoK is routine in the villages of Tarkundi, Saujian, Khari Karmara, Kirni, Bagya, Nehnali, Dheri and others in the 210km long stretch of the 776 km long Line of Control along Poonch and Rajouri districts. This has been spurred on by incessant firing from across the border. In the past three months, around 700 villages have crossed over. Almost every week, 3-4 families tip toe across, leaving their stacks of hay, livestock and rations which they were storing for winter behind. All they carry with them are the promises of their relatives living on the other side. In several villages, they even set their houses on fire before leaving. ''Under instructions from the ISI, the villagers are asked to set ablaze their house before crossing over so that they are not used by security forces later on,'' claimed a senior army officer of the Bhimber Gali Brigade. Almost everyday an announcement is blared through a loudspeaker from a mosque at Datote, opposite Tarkundi village in Poonch, asking villagers to cross over. Similar announcements can be heard from other mosques opposite villages which are on the LoC, promising good jobs, lumpsum payment and a monthly allowance of Rs 650 for each adult crossing over. Villagers who were working as guides for militants took the call as an opportunity to prevent their families from being repeatedly questioned by security forces. ''Those who have migrated have done the right thing. Why should one stay here? to get killed by shells or face the wrath of the security forces?'' asked an irate villager. For the past several months, he added, the villagers haven''t had electricity. For a pitcher of water, women have to trek several kilometres. Sometimes many of them do not return home as they get killed by stray bullets en route. Schools are closed as there are no teachers, there''s no dispensary around. Villagers complain that administrative officers first visited Tarkundi only to investigate the exfiltration phenomenon, as the crossing over is referred to. ''Till date nobody has bothered to find out the difficulties we face. As if we are not the citizens of the country,'' said Abrar Ahmad. Khalid Hussain, Deputy Commissioner of Poonch, agrees that there are problems. But he claims the lack of development alone is not responsible for the exodus, and that such problems are faced by villagers in other parts of J&K as well. However he conceded that some villagers have migrated following humiliation at the hands of the security forces during search operations. ''Whenever there is an incident like an IED blast almost every house in the vicinity of that area comes under army cordon. People complain that army jawans misbehave with them. These factors act as a catalyst for migration,'' Hussain said. Brigadier Stergen, Commander 93 Brigade Headquarter, Poonch disagrees and claims that allegation of atrocities is an ISI gameplan to malign the Indian Army''s image. Most of the migrating families are either those of militants or their sympathisers, he states, since ''No innocent will abandon his home and heart for which he had struggled all his life.'' Ram Lubhaya, Deputy Inspector General of Police, Rajouri Poonch zone adds that during the past few months they have apprehended militants who told them that Pakistan had asked local militants to get their families shifted to PoK so that they could freely operate in the region. Shabir, a local militant and area commander of the Lashker-e-Toiba in Rajouri who recently surrendered, recorded a statement that he had been asked by militants to make his family cross over. But his family members refused, saying that they preferred dying to fleeing from their homes. ''It is we who pick up the gun, but it is the family members who suffer the wrath of the security forces of our wrong deeds,'' stated Shabir.


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