People living in Border areas have paid high costs of being at border by losing their limbs and leaving them in the complete disabled life.
Saleema Begum was like any other promising and caring mother of six children. After growing up in abject poverty full of challenges, she was on a mission to ensure comfortable and supportive life to her family. Saleema, 30 years old then, was that time mother of four daughters living at her native place in Tilawari near Line of Control (Loc) between India and Pakistan in Uri sector. In 90’s the village, owing to large scale border and shelling between two countries has suffered enormous damage in terms of human lives.
On a hazy April 6, 2001 afternoon, Saleema was cutting wood for burning Chulha, a wooden cook stove outside her Khotha-house made of mud mixed with grass. While cutting the wood with the Kalbatri, a long heavy axe, Saleema was also engrossed in noticing the scale of destruction caused by mortar shells in her village.
On the fateful day, she didn’t apprehend any trouble as roaring guns had fallen silent for almost nine days. ‘While I was cutting the wood, two army personnel came near to my Khotha and asked for drinking water. I went inside my Dabb, a small kitchen, and came out with two glasses of drinking water and handed them to the Army personnel. All of sudden the silence broke out with heavy shelling again and one of the bullets hit my leg leaving me in a pool of blood and unfortunately it couldn’t be saved. ‘Looking at her amputated leg, Saleema breaks down into loud sobs and says, ‘I have paid the cost of serving water to Indian Army without knowing that I was under observation of Pakistani Rangers who fired a bullet on me and made me disable for rest of my life.’
People living in border areas have paid high costs of being at border by losing their limbs and leaving them in the complete disabled life. The different shades of conflict that have dominated the border region of Uri for several decades now have seeped into the lives of women more than that of men. Their everyday life has been affected in numerous ways. This cross border conflict has unfairly biased nature against women. With no compensation received from any quarters, the women landmine victims continue to suffer the prejudices of an unjust society.
Ghulam Aziz Mir, 90 yr old man narrates the tale of death of his first love and wife, Taaja Begum who stepped incidentally on a landmine in 1905 and lost her right leg. Taaja went to a nearby grazing field with the cattle and stepped on a landmine leaving her unconscious in a pool of blood and her blood drops were scattered on leaves of trees and skin of sheep’s giving a scene of bleeding rain. She was further taken to Uri hospital and later was referred to Bone And Joint hospital Barzulla Srinagar where doctors treated her by amputating her left leg which made Taaja hopeless, heartless and of course lifeless. ‘In order to get my beloved into life, I eyed on compensation from government, I was referred office to office and spent more than Rs 15000 borrowed money on making documents and later received the amount of Rs 1000 from government as a compensation, ‘says Mir with tearful eyes as he was missing his wife whom he lost four years before.
Irshad Ahmad an aspiring boy who was full of life in his teenage met a dreadful situation which halted his future life and everywhere he could see the dark face of his disabled life. Irshad, 15year old then, was a metric pass aspiring student and was a resident of Silikote near Line of Control (LoC) in Uri region of Baramulla district. On November 1, 2001 morning, Irshad was outside his home, sitting under the shade of a tree. He came out of his home after so many days due to continuous and heavy firing between two nuclear armies. During all that time, he along with over 500 villagers were taking shelter in underground bunkers constructed by government with help from Ministry of Defense. ‘In the morning of my unlucky day, I ventured out from the bunker after taking tea. I was having a look over the damage caused by mortar shells, ‘he recalls. ‘All of the sudden heavy exchange of shelling took place and one of the deadly shells hit my leg which left me physically challenged’.
After two years, Irshad-a brother of five sisters lost his mother Saaja Begum who stepped on a landmine when she was grazing cattle in a nearby field. Seventy year old Bashir Ahmad, a native, and village head man of Tilawari reminds the sour history of this mountainous village. He claims that the conflict has consumed scores of lives with majority of them falling victims to the land mines planted in and around the habitation. ‘Rehman joo also died after he stepped over a landmine in 1970. Ghulam Qadir lost his leg same year and there are so many others who died or have suffered fatal injuries in land mine blasts which continued till 90’s,’he says.
Following the rising level of landmine blasts in early 90’s, army took precautionary initiatives and encircled the ‘deadly zones’ with razor wires to restrict the movement of people but still posing the threat to the kids playing in the fields.
The major source of livelihood for the border residents is cattle raising which continues to suffer in various villages. Villagers complain that they can’t graze their cattle independently in the fields with so many incidents in past where they have lost live stock after entering into restricted areas.
Besides humans, animals too have fallen victim to the land mine blasts. ‘Several years ago, a leopard felt victim to the landmine blast. His body was ripped apart and was found hanging on the trees,’ says a villager.
Following the silence of guns which can break anytime, the villagers are demanding the lifting of curbs from army. The landmines and wires installed around the village has virtually turned it into the highly fortified prison and restricted the movement of natives as well as the cattle that are always in danger.
The ceasefire agreement brought paradigm shift in Indo-Pak relations and paved way for historical Confidence Building Measures but still the common people of that remote area are frustrated by their miserable lives.
‘Ceasefire only protected our lives but didn’t promise any well being. We have around 250 kanals of land under army but till now we have never received any compensation. The occupied orchids had walnut, pear plants sufficient for our quality life but unfortunately we are deprived from our own land,’ says Muzafar-a resident of Hathlanga village near LoC.
At present, deforestation has contributed fatally to the menace of landmines. Decrease in the number of trees has led to soil erosion due to which the landmines laid along the border get dislodged from their original position, making it difficult to detect and deactivate them. On border, landmines do not discriminate between men and women. Men can somehow take a step out with the support of crutches but the ramifications have a more marked effect on women’s mental and physical health.