Caught amid the traditional politicking and hostility of two nuclear countries, not just for the border villagers on either side but the entire population of the two countries, “aar paar ki ladai” would not mean “killing 10 for one” on either side; it would be pressing just a little button by one side and there will be nothing left to retaliate
ANURADHA BHASIN JAMWAL
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hellari, a quaint little village in Samba district, just a kilometer from the border today presents a tale of many paradoxes. Small, humble homes set amidst green paddy fields offer a picture of calm. But hidden in the village’s bosom are multi-layered complex and contrasting churnings – all stemming from the border shelling that caught the village in its grip about a month ago.
A defining image that one carries from there is of pretty but frail looking Surekha Kumari, a student of class 10th, who has almost lost her voice; she uses few words and the shakiness of the tone betrays the unending shock of having lost three members of her family to the shelling and of the bitter reality of 3 others injured in the house. Surekha is the only one who is able to talk about the incident that shattered their lives forever, starting from the crater the shelling created in the courtyard, a relic of a grim and tormenting memory.
Rest of the family members, still recuperating from serious injuries, are both unable to say much, nor seem too inclined to; every visitor seems like an intruder in their privacy and grief. Last week, when I visited the village as part of Pakistan India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy team to assess the impact of firing on the civilian population, the family was in the middle of a fresh mourning. Surekha’s grandfather, who battled his injuries in the shelling for a month, had died of shock and grief two days before our visit. Surekha’s mother and grand-mother died of injuries on the day of heavy mortar shelling by Pakistani army on their village. Her father and two younger brothers have yet to recover from grievous injuries they received. Relatives and neighbours sit around them in mourning. Village women and men walk in and out of their house to offer condolences.
But outside this island of grief that this house has become, rest of the village presents a contrasting picture of robust activity. Nobody talks of tragedies or their personal and collective losses, even less about similar tragedies on the other side of the border. People are busy picking up the threads of their lives after returning back to their homes, weeks after their flight from there in the midst of pounding shelling and firing in the village. Interestingly, more than that they are excitedly looking forward to the coming elections and taking pride in the chauvinistic and militaristic discourse of “aar paar ki ladai” and “we will kill 10 for one”.
Last month’s ceasefire violations in a couple of villages along the international border between India and Pakistan have resulted in almost an equal number of civilian deaths and injuries on both sides. The history of nearly 7 decades of hostility on the borders is a tragic saga of not just 3 wars but also the occasional violence with trigger pressing armies and border forces having retaliated with an equal vehemence to attacks from the other side. The usual story is tit for tat and to blame each other for starting the violence and also the escalation. The sufferers are the people whether they suffer casualties, find their properties damaged, lose their cattle and find no access to their fields due to excessive landmines or fencing.
The last time we heard the jargon of “aar paar ki ladai” was after the Delhi parliament attack, when then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee raked it up and pushed for the biggest ever build up of troops along the borders at the fag end of 2001, carried out the biggest ever mine laying operation on the agricultural fields and built formidable fences that fences out several villages, totally or partially.
The move, of course, saw an equal retaliation on the other side, soldiers on both sides caught in eyeball to eyeball situation leading to skirmishes and escalation of violence. The border villages on both sides were emptied, as people fled their homes, terrified by pounding shells and firing, many for almost 2 years. It was neither war, nor peace but one that impacted the people physically, psychologically and economically for a very long time. No “aar paar ki ladai” happened as the two nuclear countries were compelled due to international pressure to go in for the informal ceasefire agreement in 2003 and de-mine their respective territories to enable some semblance of normalcy for the border population.
By the time the fields were cleared of mines (only on the international border and not along the Line of Control) and compensation, a pittance, began to be paid to the villagers, Vajpayee’s tenure was over and the Congress led UPA government was in power. The Akhnoor border belt which had been worst hit between the Kargil war and ceasefire agreement later received a package of over Rs 70 crore for creation of permanent safe shelters among other things; though the scheme was marred a bit by the usual stories of pick and choose and corrupt system in the government offices.
The militaristic discourse of the previous BJP led government left most border villagers shattered. The 2003 ceasefire brought the biggest ever period of respite for almost a decade, though ceasefire violations became the norm in some of the vulnerable areas on the LoC in recent years. It is strange how public memory is short lived. People who bear the greatest brunt of hostilities, who need no history lessons to learn that wars never resolve disputes as they have survived several wars and skirmishes and continue to live under constant fear, get so easily fooled into believing that renewed militarism would be the way to final peace.
This new found militarism is laced with myths that are much in circulation, especially churned by the enthusiastic youth of the several border villages that we visited in Samba and RS Pura. One among the many is that army did not retaliate to any provocation from Pakistan side during the UPA regime but it is now retaliating after Modi took over reins of power. As if, the soldiers patrolling the borders await the prime minister’s nod for immediate military actions, and take no decisions locally due to immediate strategic concerns. This is a dangerous discourse that tends to undermine the wisdom of the military.
So who is propping these myths and playing up on the ignorance and short-lived memory of a population? Escalation of violence seems to have become the norm ever since Modi took over. Before October’s skirmishes, the borders witnessed days of heavy shelling in July-August last and the scale of damage, according to media reports in both the countries, reveals is on an equal keel. Caught amid the traditional politicking and hostility of two nuclear countries, not just for the border villagers on either side but the entire population of the two countries, “aar paar ki ladai” would not mean “killing 10 for one” on either side; it would be pressing just a little button by one side and there will be nothing left to retaliate. Ignorance, surely will not be bliss here. It would be the most dangerous thing.