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Nearly 100 hamlets turn ghost towns : Over 76,000 people forced to leave hearths for safer places

Arnia (Jammu), May 23: The bustling Arnia border town and nearly 100 border hamlets along the India-Pakistan border now wear an empty look, with over 76,000 villagers abandoning their homes to escape heavy shelling by Pakistani troops.

The life in the border belt along the International Border (IB) has come to a standstill as farming, schooling, cattle rearing and everything else on which border dwellers survive have come to a halt due to shelling episodes.

In Samba and Ramgarh sectors of Samba district, over 4000 people have migrated besides over 2000 from Hiranagar sector of Kathua district.

Located five kilometres from the International Border (IB), Arnia town, with a population of over 18,500, resembles a ghost town with only a few people and some policemen left each in its adjoining hamlets to take care of animals and guard houses against thefts.

The life in the border belt along the International Border (IB) has come to a standstill as farming, schooling, cattle rearing and everything else on which border dwellers survive have come to a halt due to shelling episodes.

“Arnia town is empty as most of its population has migrated. They have shifted either to their relatives or to shelter camps set up by the government”, Additional District Magistrate (ADM) Jammu, Arun Manhas, told PTI here.

Mahnas, who is leading rescue and relief operation along with civilian and police officials, said people in over 90 villages in Arnia and R S Pura sectors have either been evacuated by the police force in bullet proof vehicles or have migrated themselves.

Over 76,000 people have migrated from border areas in wake of heavy shelling and firing from last several days, Manhas said adding several camps have been setup to house border migrants.

The people, who have migrated to camps in RS Pura and Arnia and are at the forefront of Pakistani shelling, say they feel they are in a war zone with sounds of mortar bombs and rattle of automatic weapons booming in the area and deaths, injuries and devastation seen everywhere.

They say they have never seen such intense shelling and firing since 1971 and urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go for war with Pakistan to sort out the issue once for all.

“I have never seen such intense and heavy shelling since 1971. Even in war, we were not so much targeted by Pakistan. Now they are raining mortar shells on us”, 78 year Bishan Dass on Arnia told PTI.

He says people living in border areas are dying in the shelling every year and it is our demand to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go for a war with Pakistan and sort out the issue once and for all.

Like him, Sattar Din Gujjar, whose Kulla along with 20 other Kullas (grass cum mud house) was burnt in Pakistan shelling at Jorafarm in R S Pura on Tuesday, demanded that “Pakistan be taught a lesson”.

“We want war with Pakistan to teach them a lesson. We are facing shelling for generations. This is the third generation which has lived under the shadow of death”, Din said.

In the hamlets, devastation is visible all around — blood stains on the floor, broken windows, injured animals and splinter marks on the walls.

Dressed in battle fatigues and bullet proof jackets, soldiers of the Border Security Forces criss-cross borderline hamlets and paddy fields to take position to reply to the incoming fire.

Some families that had initially decided to hold on to their homes have finally decided to move after intense shelling for past two days have forced them to flee border homes.

“We wanted to stay back but heavy mortar shells exploded at our house killing our cattle”, said Bobiya resident Tarseem Singh, who has fled the hamlet on his bike along with his wife and minor daughter to save their lives.

Police personnel are also making rounds of villages asking residents to shift to safer places..

On Wednesday night, the situation got worse and shells hit most of the hamlets and damaged several houses resulting in injuries to 23 people.

“I have never seen such intense shelling. It had happened during the 1965 and the 1971 wars. Such a large number of mortar bombs have not since fallen in Arnia,” Ram Singh said.

Sub Divisional Police Officer (SDPO), R S Pura, Sahil Prashur told PTI that the situation is very tense as Arnia town has been vacated along with most of the villages as shelling is going on intermittently.

Sahil, who led the police from the front in carrying out massive evacuation of the border population from R S Pura and Arnia sectors, said houses and cattle have borne the brunt of shelling.

While most of the border dwellers are living with their relatives, over 3000 are camped in boarding and lodging places set up by the government in schools. Over 2000 cattle have been shifted from various border hamlets to safer places.

In Samba and Ramgarh sectors of Samba district, over 4000 people have migrated besides over 2000 from Hiranagar sector of Kathua district.

Over 200 educational institutes have been closed for the next three days along the IB in Jammu, Samba, and Kathua districts by authorities in the wake of tension along the India-Pakistan border due to shelling.

Anguished CM calls for ceasefire

Srinagar, May 23: Expressing grave concern over the painful and distressing situation prevailing along the borders in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of latest spate of killings in cross-border shelling, Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti Wednesday called for immediate cessation of hostilities to safeguard the lives and properties of the hapless people caught in the deadly crossfire.

“It is the life and property and sense of security of the people of J&K which are in the line of fire and every bullet or a mortar shell fired hits only the residents of this state on either side,” the Chief Minister said in a statement while expressing anguish over the killing of more civilians during previous night in fresh shelling along the International Border in Jammu.

The Chief Minister said it was painful to see everyday loss of precious human lives, destruction of properties and large-scale migration in border areas of the State due to the hostile situation prevailing along the borders.

“The terrible images of an eight-month old child with bullet wounds on his body is perhaps not enough to shake the conscience of the humanity in the region and put an end to this senseless bloodletting,” she said and added that both the countries shall have to put an end to this hostility to safeguard the lives of the people.

Stressing the need for building a strong peace initiative from within the state, she said more than a decade and a half back the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee in an impressive display of statesmanship had opened a new chapter in the blood-soaked history of India and Pakistan by responding to the urge for peace and dignified resolution during his historic visit to Srinagar in 2003.

“The people of the state especially those living in border areas had experienced an entirely new-found peace and environment of security after the 2003 ceasefire with Pakistan,” she said.

The CM added that marking a clear departure from the history of hatred and hostility in the region, the peace process initiated in 2003, had yielded momentous dividends in the shape of the ceasefire along the borders from Kargil to Kathua, opening up of cross-LoC routes for passenger traffic and visits by the representatives of the civil society, media professionals, businessmen and ordinary citizens to and from the two sides of the State.

“What is more important is that hope had replaced despair during that period,” she said and added that the lack of follow-up, unfortunately, pushed not only the confidence building measures under the carpet but also put the peace process on the back-burner. “And the result is there for everybody to see,” she said and cautioned against the dangers of slowing down the process of reconciliation and resolution.

Conveying her heartfelt sympathies and solidarity to the families of victims of firing on borders, Mehbooba said there is no reason why the political leadership of our country and the that of Pakistan not employ similar peace offensive as the one initiated by Vajpayee so that the hawks on both side are silenced and the people of J&K get a reprieve from constant war and threat of it.

The Chief Minister said while people in mainland have heaved a sigh of relief due to the magnanimous unilateral ceasefire announced by the Central Government, time has come to extend this CBM along the borders as well for which onus lies with Pakistan also to respond positively in the larger interest of peace and stability in the region.