How the Army Has Turned a Village in South Kashmir to a ‘Pit of Bombs’
“A Mountain That Eats Men” is no longer just about Bolivian mines swallowing up miners. Closer home, a mountain in South Kashmir’s Anantnag (also known as Islamabad) district has killed more than 50 people, injured hundreds and left many more homeless.
The wall of green mountains around the Ranipora Brah in Shangus Achabal looks beautiful from a distance, but the reality is quite different. The mountain known as Shaal Baal (The Mountain of Jackals) was later named as Bomb Khud (pit of bombs) and changed the life of every villager in its vicinity.
Ranipora Brah village is located in the lap of Shaal Baal with almost 300 houses. Once a rich pasture that produced the best quality walnuts and where cattle grazed all day, it has now been turned into a barren land. Forty-five years ago, Shaal Baal was taken over by the Army for blasting expired ammunition. That’s when people began calling it Bomb Khud.
Whenever 15-year-old Amjid Ahmad Sheikh looks at the Bomb Khud, it sends chills down his spine. On January 28, 2018, when Amjid went to play with his friend, Ishfaq Ahmad Kassana, in an apple orchard a few steps away from the mountain, both the friends came across a shining object (they call it “nib”) on the ground that attracted them.
“As soon as we saw it, I picked it up and kept it in my pocket and continued playing,” said Amjid.
After spending around three hours in the orchard, Amjid and Ishfaq were trying to figure out what the shiny thing was when the “nib” fell on the ground and exploded.
“Before we could figure out anything, the small nib had badly injured us,” recalls Amjid. That nib was a detached part of a bomb.
The explosion cost Amjid four teeth, damaged his right thumb, abdomen and rib, and Ishfaq had injuries in his right leg and abdomen. The cost of the treatment was more than Rs 20,000, a huge amount for Ishfaq’s father, Arif Ahmad Kassana, a labourer. It was not any different for Amjid’s father who works as a labourer too.
These explosions have caused serious injuries to locals and have proved to be harmful to the nearby houses too. Every house has developed cracks due to the blasts, making them dangerous to live in as they could collapse at any time.
Explosions Have Become A Part of Life
Every morning at around 10:00 AM, the forces from the nearby ammunition depot located at Khundroo, a 20 minutes drive from Ranipora, come with expired ammunition to destroy it. Loud blasts shake the village sending shock waves to every house in the vicinity.
Something similar happened to the house of Mohammad Hussain Bhat and his family. His father Ghulam Ahmad Bhat has been suffering from heart ailments since the past two decades. Hussain ensures his father lies on his bed in the courtyard till the time the blasting stops, which mostly happens in the evening, so that he cannot feel the shock.
Ahmad’s health concerns were not the only reasons keeping him outside, his house had developed cracks huge enough for a bike to pass through, forcing him to leave his house. “It could kill us anytime,” Hussain said. As a result, in the orchard around 500 meters away from his house, he cleared a small part of land to build a cowshed with two rooms, above which he and his family of seven now live.
Ten days after they moved, one side of Hussain's old house collapsed. “We were lucky that we moved out at the right time,” he said.
Several Complaints Go Unheeded
There are many such families in the village whose condition has been ignored, in spite of several visits and complaints to the office of the Deputy Commissioner at Shangus.
Farooq Ahmad Khan, a 55-year-old, tried the same in 2016 but no action was taken. In 2017, he had to face a tragic event. Khan’s 17-year-old elder son, Omar Kha,n used to help him on the orchard near Bomb Khud. On June 15, 2017, when Omar was carrying packed lunch from home for Farooq in the orchard, the accident happened.
“I took the same route which I usually take, but I slipped on the ground due to cow dung,” recalls Omar.
Farooq, who was watching from a distance, rushed to help his son but before he could reach he heard a loud blast near Omar. It was a part of the bomb that had exploded. Omar got injuries on the face, head, arm, and legs. He had to undergo two surgeries, one on the face and one on the head, changing his facial features permanently.
Cracks in School Building
Even the Government High School in Brah Ranipora, located just 150 meters from the Bomb Khud, is not safe. The school building has also developed cracks, so the teachers have decided to take classes in the ground outside. Students are always scared for their safety. Eleven-year-old Mehreen Jan frequently eyes the clock waiting for school to end.
“Our school shuts thrice a week when the number of blasts is more than usual,” says Mehreen.
The school authorities had moved the school to another location but had to return to the old building after requests from parents, since it was difficult for students to travel the distance due to lack of proper transportation.
Apple Orchards Affected
The main source of income for the villagers are apple orchards, but even these have been affected by the ammunition blasts., as ust and other bomb chemicals in the air damage the fruits.
“Due to ground vibrations, apples fall from the trees and all the crop gets wasted,” said Farooq, adding “It’s very hard to live in such a situation.”
The Bomb Khud and the immediate area around it are avoided by the locals for the danger it poses. Farooq, along with some of his neighbours have tried informing the local police and the Army of the various incidents that take place regularly but have always returned disappointed.
They have also approached many local politicians, including the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti but to no avail. The situation still awaits to be addressed.
The station house officer of Achabal police station has received many complaints about injuries in the village but he claims that the authority rests with the Army.
“People go to Bomb Khud to collect the metal of the ammunition, at times they try to pick up the unexploded parts that cause injuries to them,” the SHO said.
For the past 40 years, every villager has been waiting for justice but all the efforts have been in vain. The life of villagers lies between the vibration of the bombs, cracked houses and air filled with gunpowder.
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