The six-year-old ceasefire between India and Pakistan has come as a great relief to lakhs of people living along the Line of Control. But 15,000 people in 22 villages in Poonch district have been fenced off on their own land.
Daily life has become a pain for the residents, especially those from Chaprian, Kerni, Chamber Kinari, Kinari, Shahpur, Salotri and Digwar, what with the Army erecting a fence five km ahead of the LoC.
The measure is meant to curb infiltration from across the border, but it has ended up restricting the movement of villagers after 4 p.m. “We cannot move out after 4 p.m. even if we have to go to hospital,” says Alam Din, a resident.
The villagers are virtually at the mercy of both the Armies: they are the direct target of the Pakistani Army, as the Indian Army has halted their movement. These people have abandoned their routine work.
“Children face difficulty pursuing education. We can’t find jobs,” complains Mohammad Hussain. If someone dies, they have to trek two km to reach the graveyard. “It is a very pitiable condition, and no one listens to us,” says Mr. Hussain.
The Army has, however, been engaging some locals as porters, but that is not enough for them.
“The meaning of our life has changed, as we constantly live under threat,” says Zakirullah. “I want to pursue education, but am mentally disturbed.”
Aijaz Jan, the local MLA, says the residents do not even have a proper road. “Recently the Army stopped the work on a road which I got a meeting of the District Development Board to approve.” The residents blocked the road and did not allow the Army to move.
On several occasions, Mr. Jan represented the problems to the Chief Minister, who, in turn, discussed it with the Army. “But nothing has moved. It is going to be a serious issue in this area,” he says.
The locals are incurring losses, unable to take care of their animals. “The Army has occupied their farmland too, and there is no compensation,” Mr. Jan says.
The MLA proposes rehabilitation of these families outside the area. “We can rehabilitate them in the nearby area, as we have enough land there.” These people can be treated on a par with refugees who migrated from the border areas. “They are ready to leave, but the government should give them alternative land,” Mr. Jan says. Adding to their woes are the mines planted by the Army: this year, four children were injured in mine explosions.
The Gujjar and Bakerwal community could not take their animals, numbering one lakh, for grazing.
An Army official refused to comment, saying: “I am not authorised to speak.”