Srinagar: In just three days, the residents of Kupwara district, which is close to India-Pakistan Line of Control (LoC), have almost forgotten about the global pandemic COVID-19 as blazing gunfire rattled the area killing three locals including a woman and a seven-year-old on Sunday.
This is the second time the Pakistani artillery fire has hit areas so deep inside the de facto border since October last year. Even as ceasefire violations between India and Pakistan across the LoC happen more often, the fresh bout of crossfire that began on Thursday is leaving a trail of destruction behind.
The youngest victim, Ziyaan, was near the entrance of his single-storey home, playing right next to his mother when the shell splinters hit him. "He was hit in the head and he fell right there, instantly, in front of his mother's eyes," Ziyaan's uncle Saif Ali said.
Ziyaan's death has not only left his family but the entire village of Tumina distraught, as many from the village are also his relatives. His father Farooq Ahmad is among five others who were injured in the attack. His mother has since left the village with her daughter, younger than Ziyaan, to stay with her relatives. The woman who was killed has left four children behind.
A village of about 45 households, Tumina, is about 120 km from Jammu and Kashmir summer capital Srinagar and locals say, many of them work with the Indian Army; others mostly work as labourers. This is the first time this village, over 70 km from LoC, has come under the crossfire and therefore, there are no safety bunkers here, which is otherwise a norm in LoC villages.
The situation escalated after five Indian elite para-commandos were killed earlier last week in a fierce gunbattle with the militants, who were attempting to infiltrate the region. The encounter ended with the killing of all five militants, but a flare-up ensued in the region.
On Friday, the army fired at Pakistani posts from Chowkibal and Panzgam village's army camp for hours. According to a local eye-witness, the army moved heavy artillery close to the villages and began firing at around 1 pm to which the locals objected. "They put up the artillery in Baghat, too close to our village and fired, but later in the evening, moved it back from the area," a local told NewsClick.
Another local from Rawathpora village, who protested against the installation of artillery in the vicinity, said that the army did not inform them about the crossfire. "They told us they had to do some sort of rehearsal until we witnessed heavy shelling. They did not even tell us what was coming," he said.
With the shelling in this area, hundreds of villages in Kupwara--Panzgam, Chowkibal, Rawathpora, Kralpora, Batpora, Mukam and Thindipora are--feeling more vulnerable.
Another local of Tumina, a relative of Ziyaan, now stands on the ruins of what was his home. His car is completely burnt and there is no sign of his cattle. "Me and my family were lucky for our lives but we have lost everything and god knows how we can recover from this," he says.
The official Army spokesperson said the three civilian killings were a result of "unprovoked ceasefire violation initiated by Pakistan in Keran Sector at 5 PM" and that they were now "targeting civilian population" in Kupwara.
An army official told NewsClick that the border flare-up is more likely as the summer approaches.
But, for locals here in Kupwara, the crossfiring has worsened the crisis caused by the global outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
When a nearby village, Reddi, was hit by shells in October last year, many villagers left the area and almost everyone sent their children away for days until they felt safer. But, the villagers say, this time there is nowhere to go.
Kupwara, like the rest of the region, is under a strict lockdown as the fear of spread of COVID-19 persists.
Of the total 270 positive cases in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, 23 are from Kupwara. According to an official statement from Kupwara district administration, there are strict restrictions on public or vehicular movement and so far, 72 FIRs have been lodged against those who have violated the prohibitory orders. Nearly 500 persons in the region have been enlisted for observation and a population of over 38 thousand is living in what have been declared to be ‘red zones’ by the administration.
"It is difficult to travel and not many people are too welcoming this time," a local of Tumina said.
Many, however, were lucky to find refuge in Malikpora village where a family is now hosting three other families. Here, the fear of an obscure pandemic has now clearly been overtaken by the ravaging gunfire.
"My heart shrinks as if it were to stop each time there was a blast and there was no way I can remember coronavirus. When you hear the sound of bombardment, there is no room left for other fears," the local from Rawathpora told NewsClick.
Also read: Fear of Virus, Lockdown and Police Excesses Take Toll on Mental Health of Kashmiris, Say Experts