Chowkibal: It was already dark; Nazeer was returning home after concluding his evening namaz from the local mosque. As he began removing his shoes after climbing a few steps of his house, his eyes fixed on the doorway; a huge spark lit his eyes. A shell exploded behind him in the courtyard and he fell, instantly, metal shrapnel tearing his legs.
Inside the house, the loud bang had frozen his wife Zarina, who couldn’t immediately respond to her husband’s cry. As she regained her courage, she rushed outside to help Nazeer—now almost unconscious.
“I was terrified and couldn’t move suddenly,” she recalls.
A resident of Reddi village in Chowkibal, around 125 km from Srinagar in Kupwara District, Nazeer Ahmad Katariya is now battling for his life at Srinagar’s Soura hospital. His 40-year-old wife, Zarina could not see him for the next three days since he was taken to the medical institute.
“My daughters are so afraid I can’t leave them alone. They shiver all the time,” Zarina says.
Nazeer, according to Zarina, lost a lot of blood when he was injured.
The couple has four children including two daughters. The family stays in the house during the day and as the sun sets, they leave their home to stay with the relatives during the nights. No one is the village feels safe in the dark anymore. There are more than 30 families in this locality who stay elsewhere for the night, with their relatives or family friends except a few persons who stay back. “All of us dread the shelling,” says Nazeer’s cousin, who also lives in the locality.
Cross-border shelling between India and Pakistan across the Line of Control (LoC) affects thousands of families living in several border sectors like Tangddhar, Kalaroos, Macchil and Keran in North Kashmir’s Kupwara district. On October 24, however, dozens of shells exploded for the first time in the Reddi village, which is around 70 km from the LoC.
Security officials believe this is unprecedented and one of the most provocative acts carried out by Pakistan in the near past. Tension between India and Pakistan is already high since Articles 370 and 35 A were unilaterally abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir on August 5 and downsized the state into two union territories. Pakistan called it an act of “aggression” and raised the issue at several international forums like United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
In Kashmir, hundreds of Kashmiris including politicians, lawyers and businessmen were detained under preventive measures and massive restrictions were imposed including a severe communication blackout. Following the abrogation, there has been a significant rise in the number of ceasefire violations and attempts of infiltration along LoC. As many as 307 violations were reported in the month of August––the highest this year. This year witnessed the highest ceasefire violations––over 2,317––since 2017.
“Four persons including a women were injured in the area due to the shelling,” Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) AS Dinker told NewsClick.
When the shells hit the ground, Javaid Ahmad Malik was riding his bike. A poultry shop owner, Malik was also among the injured. He was hit by shrapnel in his abdomen.
Another shopkeeper in the area, Javaid Khan was lucky. He had left his shop early that day. A shell exploded right outside his shop. Javaid had bought a used car recently, which was parked near his shop. The shrapnel have pierced the metal body of the car, broken all window panes, damaging the vehicle completely.
Another car parked near the shop across the road also looks like as if it has come under indiscriminate firing from mobsters straight from a Hollywood mafia flick. There are holes, big and small, on each side of the cars.
“I had bought it two months back. I drove to Srinagar twice in this car, but then I look at it now and I look at myself, I got luckier,” Javaid says.
The explosions have damaged dozens of homes in the area, some of the shells exploded in open paddy fields, but affected the houses nearby. Wherever the shells exploded, it has caused a crater in the ground. The locals have been advised by the army not to go near them as some of the leftover shells could also explode.
Villagers told NewsClick that the army advised them to vacate the area, as there could be more such incidents. “It has left us in dread, we are afraid to stay both indoors and outside. Explosions can kill us anywhere, anytime,” says Abdul Majeed.
Many in the area do not want to leave their homes, but have sent their children elsewhere. The entire area of Chowkibal is living in fear and panic.
Majeed, a carpenter, says that he had spent all his savings in constructing his new house a year ago. “I saved money and constructed my house brick and brick. The shelling damaged it instantly,” Majeed says.
The explosion hit Majeed’s a walnut tree in his courtyard bringing others down as well. No one was hurt in his family, but when his kids collected shrapnel from his home, he says, he realised how lucky they were to escape unhurt.
“I do not know how to save myself and my family from the fire. May be the luck runs out the next time,” Majeed says.
In the border towns across the LoC, people use bunkers to save themselves when the cross-border shelling occurs. Even as there is no guarantee and not everyone is lucky to live near a bunker, but they are still a major safety measure.
In Reddi, there are no bunkers.
Yaqoob-ud-din, a former labor in the Indian Army, says he was born and brought up in this village. In his late 70s, Yaqoob says that he has never witnessed shelling in his village.
“We never felt the need for bunkers in this area. Some of the villagers have not even been close to LoC. We never thought it will happen here,” he says.
Meanwhile, Nazeer’s elder son Irshad told NewsClick that he is out of danger. “But, he has to undergo surgery and he is still under special medical observation at the hospital,” Irshad says.
The family does not know how long it will take for Nazeer to recover completely or if he will be able to get back on his feet ever again. Nevertheless, the families in Chowkibal are scarred forever.