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In the Line of Fire, Villagers in Jammu's Border Village Live Uncertain Lives

The residents of Arnia claimed that the firing in October was worse than what they had witnessed in the past years.
Bulla Chak.

Bulla Chak.

Arnia, Jammu: A village close to the International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan is facing an existential threat. Residents living in small houses in the midst of vast rice fields are stricken with fear, with many looking to abandon life here.

The village, Bulla Chak, in the Arnia area of Ranbir Singh Pura in Jammu, is in the line of fire from Pakistan's Rangers. Since October 27, when a shell exploded in the house of Pawan Kumar, perforating its walls, utensils, and electronic devices, the residents of the village are having sleepless nights. On Thursday, in the second firing incident, a Border Security Force (BSF) was killed, compounding the worry in the area.

According to a statement from the BSF, Lal Fam Kima of the 148th Battalion succumbed to injuries following an unprovoked cross-border firing incident along the Jammu border that the locals now fear will lead to more violence. In the previous incident, a civilian and a BSF soldier were injured as heavy shelling continued for hours throughout the night, triggering the temporary migration of locals living close to the border.

Locals say they are so fearful that their paddy crop, ready to harvest, lies idle. 

"We are afraid to venture out in the fields," a local Subhash Chander says.

Subhash Chander.

Subhash Chander.

Many of the shells fired landed in the paddy field close to the homes, the local says, except one that hit Kumar's home, which has since developed cracks due to the impact.

"The family was saved by a whisker when the bomb hit the kitchen wall. There was so much gunfire that we couldn't even move to somewhere safer," Pawan Kumar's relative Rakesh told NewsClick.

But not everyone in the village has been so lucky. Vijay Kumar was 35 when he heard that someone in the neighbourhood was injured due to a live shell. At the time, the outbreak of the Kargil War had made survival difficult for people living in border areas. As soon as Vijay Kumar lifted his injured friend, he crashed down in excruciating pain, engulfed in smoke and flame.

Vijay Kumar survived the blast, but one of his legs had to be amputated. He continued to live in the Bulla Chak village with little means, and every incident along the border, he says, is a reminder of the past horrors. 

"What worries me is the safety of my two young sons, who cower in fear whenever guns are blazing," he says.

There was temporary relief after breakthrough talks between the Director General Military Operations (DGMO) of both India and Pakistan, who agreed to observe "all agreements, understandings and ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) and all other sectors" in February 2021. 

As many as 5133 incidents of ceasefire violations were reported in 2020, compared to 3479 and 2140 incidents in 2019 and 2018, respectively. The fragile peace, the locals hoped, would last long, but the conflict persisted.

The residents of Arnia claimed that the firing in October was worse than what they had witnessed in the past years. 

"This was heavy shelling, which makes it worse as compared to previous incidents," Rakesh says.

The fear is not limited to Arnia. India and Pakistan are divided by an over 3300 km long IB and 740 km long LoC, the ceasefire line in Jammu and Kashmir beyond Kathua, Sambha and Jammu areas. The fresh violence has alarmed people along the LoC, including in North Kashmir, which also witnessed heightened tension amidst rising incidents of firing that are believed to give cover fire during inflation. In October, a soldier, Saurav Kumar, was injured in a reported sniper fire from Pakistan on an Indian Army post in the Keran Sector of the Kupwara border in Kashmir, where over a dozen suspected militants have been killed during infiltration bids. 

Sai Bullah Chak

Sai Bullah Chak

Back in Bulla Chak, villagers stand on the edge of their locality, looking at the copper sky. They point towards one of the two checking towers to show how close the border is. There is little time before the sun sets behind the enemy lines, so everyone has to be inside their homes. Their walls are the only safety they believe from the gunfire as no bunkers have been built in the village like many other border villages have to save locals.

"The government has always ignored our demands and plight. None of us has ever gotten any compensation or relief. No bunkers have been built here," Subhash laments.

Pawan Kumar, whose house was damaged in the recent shelling, told NewsClick that the local administration visited his house after the incident. Still, he is yet to receive any support or help.

Pawan Kumars home

Pawan Kumars home 

"We have received no help. We haven't even received any compensation for the land we lost in the border fencing 28 years ago," adds Subhash.

Subhash says since the fresh firing incident, everyone from the administration and the local regional parties has visited them. 

"We were promised support by the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders when they came to ask for votes, but since then, they have shown no interest or intent to follow it up," he claims.

Taranjit Singh Tony, the District Development Council (DDC) from the area, says he did what he could for the locals but blamed the ruling BJP government for failing to address the problems of the border residents.

"The government had promised to shift the families and also help them look after cattle and cultivate land close to the border, but it turned out to be merely a jumla, a false promise. Others got the plot, but in RS Pura, which is a hot sector in terms of border incidents, it was ignored," Tony argues.

Back in Bulla Chak, the families have stopped sending children to schools. They are not allowed to play outside. In this situation, many have sent some family members away, including Pawan Kumar, unsure when to return.   

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