Jammu: Peace on the India-Pakistan border has failed to end the fear among the villagers living for decades on the International Border (IB), compelling many financially-sound families to move out and settle in safer places like towns and Jammu City while the poor farmers continue to live behind.
The 192 km-long IB starts from Kathua and passes through Samba, Jammu, and ends in the Akhnoor belt.
Those who live in border villages spend their lives in full alertness and never with a peaceful mind although the IB is witnessing a ceasefire between India and Pakistan.
These villagers have always kept a vigil on drone activities, underground tunnels, and border smuggling of narcotics which helps the security forces keep an eye on the anti-national elements.
“The agricultural fields are mostly fertile yet the farmers complain that they usually fail to cultivate the land which is ahead of the fence due to the fear of firing from Pakistani Rangers as the entry gates of the fence are far from one place to another,” Border Kissan Union (BKU) President, Samba, Mohan Singh Bhatti told Greater Kashmir.
Bhatti, a resident of Jerda village near the IB in Ramgarh tehsil, said that life in the border villages of Kathua, Samba, and Jammu was not easy for the people living with families and cattle.
“The IB usually remains peaceful but the situation can turn unpredictably terrible. Recently, Pakistani Rangers violated the ceasefire in Arnia. Fear and peace both have become important aspects of our life,” said Bhatti pointing at the growing incidents of drones flying over the border and narcotics smuggling attempts.
“It has become our habit as border residents to keep a continuous vigil on the situation and note suspicious activities in the fields and our villages,” he said. “If we see any outsider roaming in the border village, we quickly inform the security agencies.”
Bhatti said that while working in the fields they look for underground tunnels and other suspicious things.
“The security agencies and Police are cooperative and they immediately respond whenever we inform them about anything,” he said.
Bhatti said that though most of the time the IB remains peaceful, they are not allowed to work during the night.
“The situation has continuously affected the normal life of the people. Even the studies of our children have suffered. The education level is very poor. The villagers are not getting tail-end canal water in their fields and the electricity is also not available round the clock to run the motors to water our fields,” he said.
Taking into account the risk to their life, Bhatti recalled how the financially-prosperous families moved out of the border villages and settled in Vijaypur town and Jammu City while they continue to live under the constant threat of ceasefire violations.
“Many of the border villages have no bunkers to hide whenever firing or crossing border shelling starts,” he said.
BKU General Secretary and ex-sarpanch, Prem Pal, who lives in Barota Camp on the zero line told Greater Kashmir that fear was part of their lives.
“Once there was a function in our village. The youth were dancing to the tune of music on the rooftop of a house when they noticed a drone. We all alerted the security forces, and, accordingly, measures were taken by them,” he said.
Pal said that the bunkers were urgently required for the border villages.
“My village has no individual bunker but a community bunker is still under construction despite knowing the unpredictability of the situation. Similarly, Kamore Camp, Kesso, Pakhdi, Khanpur, Kajyal, Bajwati, and other villages also have no bunkers although they are also close to the border,” he said.
Pal recalled that the politicians had assured them 5 marlas of land at safer locations but did not fulfill the commitment so far while their families remained dependent on the authorities for emergency exits during ceasefire violations.
DDC Suchetgarh, Taranjit Singh Tonny told Greater Kashmir that fear psychosis had become a part of the lives of the people of Suchergarh and other border villages.
“They have become the first line of defence as they live close to the border but ahead of the Army. They are as good as the Indian Army,” he said.
Tonny said that the ceasefire cannot be permanently ensured as peace is often violated without provocation.
“The farmers, also concerned about their fields and agricultural land, come ahead of the fence where wild grass has grown and the area has become home for wild animals. As they cannot use this land, the government should give them compensation as many of them have become landless,” he said.
Referring to the bunkers constructed in his constituency - Suchetgarh, Tonny said that the bunkers were filled with dirty water and no one could take shelter in them in case of ceasefire violations.
“The bunkers are filled with dirty water and home snakes. These are unsafe and not maintained by the concerned department,” he said.