'Why Don't They Kill Us Once and For All': For LoC Residents, Life is a Perpetual State of War
Terrified villagers broke down on Saturday when government officials visited them. They were begging to be evacuated. The administration has made arrangements to shift some of them to a safer village.
Rakhmat Bibi's house in Poonch destroyed by a Pakistani shell (News18)
LoC, Poonch: Amid deafening sounds of mortar shelling, Rakhmat Bibi sung a lullaby to put her five-year-old grandson to sleep. A sleep from which Faizan would never wake up.
Just as Rakhmat returned to her bed after leaving her grandson in the next room where other members of her family slept, the night skies at the Line of Control near Poonch lit up again. A shell fired by the Pakistani army fell right on top of the house, killing three people. The casualties were Rakhmatâ€™s two grandchildren and daughter-in-law.
Rakhmat, 50, lived in a tin-roofed mud house in Salotri, a hamlet on a hill overlooking green maize fields, over 10 kilometres away from Poonch town. Across the fields and a rivulet â€” also called Poonch â€” is the Line of Control (LoC), the de-facto border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir.
Armies of India and Pakistan exchange fire almost regularly at LoC despite a ceasefire agreement. However, escalating tensions between the neighbours over the past week have heated up things on the border. Long-range mortar shells are being used by both the sides and firing exchanged at nearly 55 posts, spreading from north Kashmirâ€™s Uri to the International Border in Jammu.
Rakhmat has become used to the fact that her village lies in the danger zone. Witnessing skirmishes along the LoC is a part of her memories over the years. Even if she wished to leave, there was nowhere to go.
On Friday evening, shelling on the border increased from its usual. Explosives landing near Rakhmatâ€™s village rattled windowpanes. Surprisingly, Faizan slept, perhaps getting used to the situation too, along with his mother, father and nine-month-old sister Shabnam. Rakhmat slept in another room.
â€œI kept humming prayers as the bombs were exploding, wishing it gets over soon. But the sounds turned more intense and seemed to step closer,â€ she described. â€œSuddenly, there was a deafening explosion and houses begun collapsing,â€ she added.
While the mortar shell killed her daughter-in-law and grandchildren, Rakhmatâ€™s son, 27-year-old Mohammad Younis is now struggling for his life.
Those like Rakhmat and their families live in a perpetual state of war, only to become its victim at some point. At times when there are cries for war in the country, the situation worsens.
â€œWe knew that our area can be hit by shells but we had nowhere to go,â€ Rakhmat said, wailing helplessly in the lawn of her destroyed house. â€œBut we have spent all our life here. We belong to this place. Where will we go? What will we do?â€ she asks.
Her son worked as a labourer to feed his family. Given his injuries, he might not be able to work again and will remain bed-ridden his entire life. â€œThis world is cruel. Why donâ€™t these two countries bring in tanks and kill all of us once for all?â€ Rakhmat cried.
Surrounded by apricot trees, an indefinite uneasiness hangs heavy in the air. The sky routinely lights up because of firing across the two sides, while the possibility of a bomb drop invades the village with a subtle anxiety.
Terrified villagers broke down on Saturday when government officials visited them. They were begging to be evacuated. The administration has made arrangements to shift some of them to a safer village where they will be living in a school building temporarily. But they will have to return back to the village after a few days.
The villagers are irate with the government and the politicians, whom they blame for â€œspilling their bloodâ€. â€œOur leaders boast about war. Do they even know what it means?â€ Ab Razak Khaki, who lives in a neighbouring village, said while attending the funeral of the family killed.
He speaks of the feebleness they are caught in. â€œWe work hard to earn our livelihood. Vote in every election so that our life is taken out of this death trap,â€ he says.
Rakhmat, meanwhile, says she will not move away from her destroyed house. â€œI was born here and will die here,â€ she says, breaking down.
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