Collateral Damage? Villagers' Lives Turn Nightmarish As India Takes On Pakistan At The Border

5 December 2015
Debobrat Ghose

New Delhi: The aggressive retaliatory policy of the Border Security Force against Pakistan's ceasefire violations may have won it accolades and even delivered positive results, but it has come as a nightmare for villagers and farmers living along the international border. One may call it unavoidable collateral damage but the loss of human lives, huge loss of property and cattle stock due to cross-border firing, and above all the uncertainty of getting bombed at any time and being displaced has turned it into a continuing human tragedy. Going by the data over the last few years, Pakistan violated the ceasefire agreement with India on 44 occasions in 2010, 51 times in 2011, 93 times in 2012, 347 in 2013, 583 in 2014, and 199 times till June this year. Government policy The policy of the Narendra Modi government to give a befitting reply to Pakistani firing across the border seems to have found favour with the military establishment and security forces. What does the BSF, the agency guarding Indian borders, have to say on this issue? DK Pathak, director-general, BSF said, 'We can't let our personnel and the common man die any further by not retaliating to Pakistan's firing. This was not the case earlier. Due to the new strategy, the injuries and casualties among the BSF have reduced. There has been a desperate attempt (from Pakistan) to infiltrate the border and the aim of the firing from the other side is to try and make it easier. However, after the DG-level talks between India and Pakistan in September, there have been only three cases of ceasefire violations. We are trying to resolve the issue through open communication.' Counter-terrorism analyst Anil Kamboj, who has worked on the international border in Jammu and Kashmir, said, 'If the BSF and Army don't adopt an aggressive position against cross-border firing, Pakistan will overpower India on the borders. Strong retaliation is an important strategy for us.' Collateral damage The result of ceasefire violations has been devastating as a large number of people had to leave their homes fearing death and take shelter in camps. One of the worst ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2003 led to displacement of nearly 30,000 people from villages along the international border. 'Our houses got destroyed, cattle got killed. My family had stored paddy inside a room adjoining my house. A mortar shell landed and the crop got burnt. It was a big financial loss for us. Still, I strongly feel the government's aggressive stand against Pakistan's firing is right - 'Eenth ka jawab patthar se' (tit-for-tat). If pursued strongly, it may someday bring ceasefire violation cases to nil,' said Soudan Singh of Arnia village in Jammu, recollecting the horrors of the 2003 ceasefire violation. Since it's not possible for villagers along the border to move out permanently and rehabilitate in a safer zone, they are compelled to live under constant threat. What could be done? Kamboj said, 'As the firing and shelling occurs at night, the BSF ensures that the villagers are moved at least three km back to safer places like the bunkers, shelter camps etc. Displacement is temporary as they return the next day or when it's safe. Peace is only possible if Pakistan stops ceasefire violation, which they do deliberately.' The sudden firing at night forces the villagers to move livestock to safer places, which is only a temporary solution. The shelling of mortars results into damage of crops in the field and storehouses, and killing of cattle. Dr Ajay Chrungoo, chairman of Panun Kashmir, an organisation and movement of displaced Kashmiri Hindus said, 'Irrespective of religion and caste the people living in the borders are potential guards for the country and due to this cross-border firing, their lives are always in danger. The government's retaliatory policy helped the BJP in gaining seats in Jammu and it's also the need of the hour. But, simultaneously, the poor villagers need to be protected as they can't leave their land and move out. 'They cultivate along the international border to earn their livelihood. Some sort of fortification should be done around the most sensitive villages to protect people for direct attack. Better compensation should be given to affected families to cope with the losses, as it becomes very difficult for the poor get back to normalcy easily.' Some social organisations also demanded a policy intervention to deal with this tricky situation. Raj Nehru, secretary, All-India Kashmiri Samaj, suggested, 'People living in the villages along the border suffer huge loss in terms of lives, property, cattle, crops etc. They should be adequately compensated, because once the firing gets over and damage is caused, they have no other means to recover. We're writing to the government demanding a national-level board for the bordering states, followed by state boards in the particular states. This is a national issue and the board should come up with a policy framework on relief, rehabilitation and compensation to affected people. 'It needs to be seen that issues of the people living in the villages along the international border and LoC do not get lost in the labyrinth of power. We've found out about some families in the bordering villages which have moved out to Jammu or other safer areas, but they are very few in number. It's not possible for all.'