Having been in the line of fire over the years, villagers along the International Border (IB) between India and Pakistan in Jammu's R.S. Pora said on Thursday that they finally had something to look forward to.
While there has been no shelling from across the border in the past year, Suchetgarh village resident Lal Chand said he didn't expect the lull to last. After the Union government revoked Jammu and Kashmir's special status and decided to bifurcate into Union Territories on Monday, he said the “firing” could start again. While India has maintained that it's an internal matter, Pakistan has responded by downgrading of diplomatic ties.
The Suchetgarh border has been closed to the public by the Border Security Force (BSF) since Monday. The Jammu and Kashmir government's restaurant and tourist centre also remained closed. A BSF official said that while visitors were being allowed on Monday morning, they were stopped later in the day, after Pakistan had closed its gate.
For Lal Chand and many others in the area, the amendments to Article 370 and 35 (A), which allowed the Jammu and Kashmir government to define who was a permanent resident of the State, gave some hope.
“We will not leave. We have no idea when the firing can start and it will, but we are used to it. At least now, our children can get jobs when industries come to Jammu and Kashmir, people who moved here after Partition can get the right to sell their land, we feel azaad [free],” said Lal Chand.
Twenty-three-old Avinash Kumar, also a resident of Suchetgarh village, said he was hopeful of getting a job now. After completing high school studies, he has been helping his family by tending to their farms along the IB.
“There is nothing for the youth here. For months there would be curfew and schools would be shut. Even now the schools are shut,” he said.
For those who have borne the brunt of shelling in Suchetgarh, there was some consolation in the government's decisions. Gurditta and his wife Kanta Devi's home was hit by firing in January 2018. While they have been able to replace the damaged water tank, they are yet to repair the holes in the front facade of their house.
“We are the ones who face the problem. The loss is always ours. And on top of that, we have not been able to get a fair share under the State government. All the funds go to Kashmir. Now, we think things will improve. The biggest benefit is that the state subject system will end. Aadhaar, voter ID card will be all you need,” he said.
In nearby Flora village, farmer Jasbir Singh said a big worry had been lifted. His daughter had moved to Punjab after getting married and would not have been eligible to own land in Jammu and Kashmir under Article 35 (A).
“I always worried if something happens to her husband, how will I be able to take care of her and her two children,” he said, taking a break on his field.
Roshan Lal, another Flora village resident, also worries about his children, but doesn't think anything will change for them under the new status for J&K. Having lost his leg in firing by Pakistan on August 24, 2014, he said he had not been able to get back to work as a ‘mistri’, nor had any substantial compensation come his way. Unable to afford school fees, he said two of his children could not complete their studies. Now, he spends his time sitting outside his house on a plastic chair, watching the rest of the village go about its day.
“There is no help from the government at all and I don't think it will change. It's better to be dead than live like this,” he said.