Shell-shocked hamlets

Tawqeer Hussain

Those living along the India-Pakistan border find themselves in the crossfire yet again

“Who will take care of us now, why are they killing us?” asked 15-year-old Suman Bhagat, who lost her mother, Pholi, aged 32, and her 68-year-old grandmother Shakuntala Devi when a mortar shell fired from the Pakistani side of the International Border (IB) hit their house on October 7. Four other family members were injured and Suman alone escaped unhurt.

Her village, Chilliyari in Samba district of Jammu division, just 8km from the Line of Control (LoC), bore the brunt of the cross-border shelling from October 1 to 9. Residents moved out of their houses at night, when the shelling intensified, and returned in the morning to assess the damage.

“Our lives have become hell, we move from place to place and spend nights in the open or in temporary shelters despite having homes,” said Sonu Lal.

The shelling has claimed eight lives in all, injured close to 90 and displaced 32,000 people from 113 hamlets in Jammu division, Samba and Kathua districts along the IB.

Meanwhile, at a local school-turned-temporary shelter, Suman is inconsolable while the women around her try to wipe away her tears.

Suman repeatedly cries out, “I want to see my mother, where is my father?” Fearing more shelling, the family has been unable to even bury its dead, locals said.

Besides the loss of life, residents bemoaned their destroyed farms and houses. Many lost their cattle to the cross-border violation. Villages that once bustled with life are now deserted, with only unexploded shells or dead cattle in sight. According to the local pharmacist Mohinder Pal, more than 200 cows and buffaloes have been immobilised by splinter-shell injuries and are dying a slow death in the absence of veterinary care.

“Who will take care of these injured cattle under these circumstances?” he said.

Huddling alongside hundreds of villagers at a temporary shelter, 13-year-old Shanti clutches her school bag — the only belonging she took with her when fleeing. A resident of Chilliyari, the girl who loves to study and write exams is hoping things will soon return to normal.

But 82-year-old Shonal Devi is angry and unwilling to settle for mere hope. “They are striking us again and again, which has made our life hell. We are living under the constant fear of shells or bullets,” said Devi, a resident of Arnia village close to the border. “India should retaliate strongly and teach Pakistan a lesson once and for all,” she added.

Fed up of the ever-present danger, those living near the border want the government to permanently relocate them to safer places.

“We are ready to live as migrants in safer locations,” said Hitanshu Ram, even as an uneasy calm prevailed along the 192km border in Jammu last weekend.

According to widely reported sources, Pakistani forces refused the sweets offered by their Indian counterparts on Eid, a decades-old practice, and resorted to heavy shelling later in the evening on the border outposts in the Samba sector of the Jammu division.

The firing soon intensified and multiple Indian posts were attacked, leading to the largest migration witnessed since the 2003 ceasefire.

Defence minister Arun Jaitley called on Pakistan to stop the “unprovoked” attacks and issued a warning.

The divisional commissioner of Jammu, Shantmanu, said more than 6,000 people were relocated, but other sources put the figure at 18,000.

What next

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah flew to the border areas after Eid prayers and directed the state administration to take all measures to ensure the safety of the people in the affected areas.

Meanwhile, Islamabad summoned India’s deputy high commissioner JP Singh to lodge a strong protest against what it termed “unprovoked firing” from the Indian side.

Even as the firing scaled down on October 10, the people at the temporary camp in Samba are not ready to sigh in relief yet as they expect Pakistan to resume its strikes. A few youngsters braved a visit to Chilliyari village to check if their homes were still intact. “We want to see what has happened to our houses and livestock, after all this is our settlement and we have to live here,” said Sham Lal.

Prakash Kumar another youngster in the group was however anxious to return to the camp: “They (Pakistan) are not trustworthy neighbours, they can hit back anytime.”

(First published in The Hindu )

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Coming up for air

Tawqeer Hussain

An on-ground report from the flood-ravaged towns and villages of Jammu & Kashmir

Underwater: An aerial view of Srinagar from an IAF helicopter

Underwater: An aerial view of Srinagar from an IAF helicopter

“We had just finished dinner, when a local sarpanch rushed to our village to warn us that the water had changed course and had started flowing towards us through a drain. I grabbed my two children and called out to my husband, who was watching television in another room, and we ran out of the house,” says Afroza, 35, now at a shelter in a government school in Dahrun, 15km from the district headquarters of Anantnag. Afroza’s newly constructed home in this south Kashmir village crumbled before her eyes on September 6, even as strong currents took all her worldly belongings and tore through 46 structures, including 18 homes, in the area. Torrential rain that had started on September 3 breached the banks of the Jhelum on September 7, which caused unprecedented flash floods.

With hundreds dead, lakhs stranded and property worth millions destroyed, Afroza’s story is echoed by many across the State. According to official estimates (at the time of going to press), 129 people lost their lives in the Jammu region alone, while over 46 were found dead in the Kashmir valley. As the waters recede, however, the number of rescued — 2.5 lakh and counting — by the Indian Army and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is expected to rise.

No one here has witnessed a natural disaster of this magnitude before. “I’m 72 years old,” says Ghulam Nabi Antoo of Pulwama in south Kashmir, “and I haven’t seen anything like this my entire life. I lost my house… This is divine fury.” Others blame human folly, manmade conflicts with nature and growing encroachments across the region.

South and central Kashmir, where many houses remain submerged even after the rains have let up, are the worst-affected areas. In the south, districts like Shopian, Pulwama, Kulgam and parts of Anantnag, where several villages were completely washed away, face the same challenges as Srinagar and Budgam in central Kashmir. With many parts of the capital city Srinagar, and Bemina and Budgam, still under water, authorities expect to find as many as one lakh people stranded in flooded homes. Several tourists and migrant workers are also among those affected.

Back at the school in Dahrun village, even as someone consoles Afroza and offers her a glass of water, her neighbour Haseena feels faint, and it’s Afroza who gets busy sprinkling water on her face. Haseena, who was preparing for her daughter’s wedding when the waters rose, could save nothing but her daughter’s GOLD ornaments. Once revived, she is inconsolable. Dissolving into sobs, she says, “What will I tell my daughters-in-law? What will happen to my daughter’s wedding? Where will we stay after this?” The latter is a growing concern among families at the shelter, as they fear eviction when the school reopens. The families say they will resist any such move by the authorities until all of them are provided with an alternative.

At the moment, however, the loss of property and dreams are not the only concerns of the flood-hit Kashmiris. “We are worried about the well-being of our relatives, who we haven’t been able to contact due to the breakdown in communication,” says Zafar Ahmed, in downtown Srinagar. After seven days of unrelenting rain, the State’s telecommunication system collapsed and remains largely disrupted even now.

“In the age of technological advancement, this breakdown is a failure of the State government, which hasn’t been able to restore it days after the rain relented,” says Qazigund’s Arshid Ahmed, whose brother was in Srinagar to file a job application and is currently untraceable. Some have told him that he might have been in the Rajbagh area, the worst-affected neighbourhood in the city, but he has no way to confirm this.

While Ahmed continues to live in hope, Bragam Doru’s Mohammad Abass Malik is a victim of false hope. Led to believe that his 25-year-old son Rayees was seen walking on the highway, Malik, who had been unable to reach his son on the phone, was shell-shocked when the police arrived with his coffin the next day. Rayees, who was working with a private construction company and living in a rented ACCOMMODATION IN Lasjan, on the outskirts of Srinagar, was apparently washed away while trying to save his certificates. His body floated up three days later.

Not surprisingly, the State government is at the receiving end of rising public ire. Apparently, ministers were spotted in Delhi instead of their flood-hit constituencies. “Where is Omar Abdullah’s government? What has he done for the people? There’s not a single person from the administration on the ground,” alleges Syed Arshid, who travelled to Srinagar from Doru in south Kashmir — mostly on foot, wading through water — in search of his relatives.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah concedes that the government’s initial reaction was slow and scattered: “We too were hit by the floods. For the first 36 hours, we had no government — there was no contact between my ministers and me.”

Despite the reports of stone pelting, locals have been praising the efforts of the defence personnel, who pressed 84 choppers and 300 army units into service, while NDRF brought in 16 units, to rescue people in Srinagar and Bemina. As the floodwater recedes, relief operation by the army and locals is gathering momentum in many parts of south and central Kashmir. People have been collecting daily utility items, including packed food and drinking water, while authorities have started distributing tents and temporary settlement shelters to families whose homes have been completely washed away. In places where construction of shelters is proving difficult due to large-scale damage, public land is being marked out elsewhere. Many who were stranded in houses that were partly underwater — and are, therefore, vulnerable — are also being asked to MOVE OUT. The State government has also announced the first instalment of the compensation, a sum of ₹80,000, to each family.

But even as the people prepare to rebuild their lives, the State machinery is left grappling with the prospect of epidemics. As many as 350 dead cattle from a government-run milk FARM on the Srinagar bypass are now floating in the Jhelum. Carcasses are surfacing elsewhere too. People who’ve lost their homes, their kin, are far too distraught to worry about the outbreak of diseases, making awareness and medical help even more critical.

With a single kameez on her back, now torn and soiled, at the shelter in Darhun village, Haseena only hopes that help from the local authorities and the rest of the country will arrive before disease does.

(The author is a Delhi-based journalist currently on assignment in Srinagar)
(the story was first published

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Indians Protest Against Israel As Killings Continue in Gaza

Tawqeer Hussain

Hundreds of people belonging to different religious and social organizations on Friday peacefully protested outside the Israeli embassy in New Delhi against Israeli aggression and killings in Gaza. The protesters under the banner of Jamaat-i-Islami Hind demanded that Indian Government to close down Israeli embassy in Delhi and ask its ambassador to leave country.

Hundreds of people after Friday prayers protested outside Israel Embassy in New Delhi on Friday, July 18, 2014

Hundreds of people after Friday prayers protested outside Israel Embassy in New Delhi on Friday, July 18, 2014

Gaza is witnessing serious air and ground bombardment from Israeli forces which has resulted in 228 deaths with 48 children below the age of 17 years.Shouting slogans like, Gaza we are with you, down with Israel, Die Die Israel, The protesters demanded immediate intervention of world bodies to stop innocent killings in Gaza.
“Whole world is aware that innocent lives are being bombarded in Gaza by Israel and still they are tight lipped about the issue” said Mohammad Hussain, a protester adding that “Indian Government too is in deep slumber and even they haven’t yet condemned this deadly aggression”.


Meanwhile Israeli Embassy on Aurangzeb Road has been put under tight security cover as protests over Gaza bombings are escalating in India’s capital city. Police in anti-riot gear and with water cannon are ready for any eventuality.

The protesters demanding boycott of lock down of Israel Embassy in New Delhi

The protesters demanded lock down of Israel Embassy in New Delhi

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As Israel offensive in Gaza Continues, Rights groups protest In Delhi

Tawqeer Hussain

With The Israel offeensive in Gaza continues on Eighth day, the death toll reached 227. According to the United Nations who otherwise have remained silent over the Gaza massacre said that most deceased are civilians.

In India various rights groups have been protesting over the Gaza carnage and have been accusing Indian Government led By Narendra Modi for criminal silence. The protesters demand that India should strongly condemn the Israeli attacks on Gaza. The protesters today shouted slogans against Israel and Indian Government outside Israeli Embassy in New Delhi, which is heavily guarded by Delhi Police and Rapid action Force.


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Ahead of PM Modi’s Visit to Kashmir, Hurriyat Calls For Bandh

Tawqeer Hussain

Hurriyat Leaders in Jammu and Kashmir has called on people to observe complete shutdown ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’d visit on Friday since assuming office.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

On his maiden visit to Jammu and Kashmir, Modi will address both development and security issues hassling the state. He will head a special security review meeting with senior army, paramilitary, police and civil officials at the headquarters of Army’s 15 Corps in Srinagar. The Prime Minister is expected to tell them to go hard against terror modules and their financiers.

“He will take a brief on the security situation. Especially on the border, infiltration and secondly, he would focus on hawala transactions happening in Jammu and Kashmir,” said Kashmir BJP spokesperson Khalid Jehangir.

The Prime Minister will also flag off the train from Udhampur to Katra, the base camp for Vaishno Devi shrine and a hydro-power project in Uri. “The Prime Minister would get informed about the road projects, power projects. He is aware that Jammu and Kashmir is starved of power and will ensure the state gets 24/7 electricity because that has been a long pending demand,” Jehangir said.

The return of Kashmiri pandits to their homes, strengthening cross-LoC trade and restoration of Dal Lake figures high on Modi’s agenda. A 100-man strong Special Protection Group and 20 odd additional companies of central forces have arrived in Srinagar to secure the venues. The valley-based separatists have given a strike call against Modi.

“Nobody is against the return of Kashmiri pandits. The Hurriyat would welcome any such initiative aimed at the return of the Kashmiri migrants and making them a full fledged part and parcel of society as a whole. You have to look at the broader picture or broader message we are trying to convey. There is an ardent political message we are trying to convey through the strike call. I think the steps or the initiatives which they have announced seem to be more divisive than inclusive in terms of approach they should adopt vis-a-vis the Kashmir issue. We have always said that Hurriyat conference would maintain that we are willing to be a part of any process which is aimed at resolving the Kashmir conflict once and for all,” said Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Kashmir has always viewed BJP stalwart Narendra Modi with caution and indifference. But this time as Prime Minister Modi sets his foot in the valley and aims to reach out to the people, it remains to be seen whether they will be forced to think differently and move away from their rooted perceptions


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Indian Army Foils Chinese Incursion Through Pangong Lake In Ladakh


NEW DELHI: Days after China depicts Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Ladakh in its map as official territory, its troopers made another incursion bid, but this time through water, at the Pangong lake nestled in the higher reaches of Ladakh.

According to reports reaching various agencies in Srinagar, the Indian Army had a face-off with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as recently as June 27 in the Pangong lake when their troops tried to enter the Indian waters.

Although the top Army bosses and the Ministry of External Affairs office refused to answer the incursion query, sources close to the developments confirmed that the Chinese troops were intercepted at  the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the lake and sent back after the face-off drill during which the army personnel on both sides wave banners claiming it to be their territory.

Sources added that the incident took place on the northern bank of Pangong Lake, located 168 km from Leh.

The Chinese patrols used to come frequently from the northern and southern banks of this lake, with 45 km stretch on the Indian side while another 90 km on the Chinese side.

However, the incursion was foiled by the Army which has been equipped with new high-speed interceptor boats, that were bought from the US and can accommodate nearly 15 soldiers and are equipped with radars, infra-red and GPS systems. These boats are stated to be as good as the Chinese vessels and are used to conduct reconnaissance and area domination patrols.
Sources also said the Chinese patrol boats were backed by PLA troops from the banks of the lake and the move was apparently to put psychological pressure on the Indian troops who man the area.

The situation along the banks of the lake has always remained volatile with Chinese troops being intercepted by Indian Army patrol several times during a year and vice versa. Besides the three-week long stand-off in the Depsang plains of Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) in May last year, Chinese troops have attempted incursions in various places along the line of Actual Control like Finger-VIII area (Siri Jap) and Aksai Chin area.


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Congress-NC Coalition In Disarray

Tawqeer Hussain

Serious fissures have erupted in the Congress -National Conference coalition in Jammu and Kashmir over the issue of ‘cross voting’ in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections in the state. This can have a drastic impact on the assembly elections later this year.

Many senior leaders of Congress party and NC are accusing each other of supporting the Peoples Democratic Party candidates in three parliamentary seats in the Kashmir valley that can work against the NC candidates in these constituencies.

The differences within the coalition came to the fore after senior NC leader Mohammad Shafi Uri accused Congress leader and Minister for Medical Education Taj Mohiuddin of dividing votes in Uri in North Kashmir to benefit PDP candidate Muzaffar Hussain Baig. Mohiuddin has strongly refuted these allegations.

“The fact is that Shafi has no footing in Uri and the reality is that all NC leaders and workers voted in favour of the PDP” the Congress state minister told reporters in Srinagar.

Additional General Secretary National Conference Dr Sheikh Mustafa Kamal while talking to The Citizen said that NC will think a hundred times in the future before forging any kind of alliance with the Congress party.

“It was shocking to listen from a Congress Minister like Taj Mohiuddin that some of the Congress workers voted for PDP candidate Muzaffar Hussain Beigh. Our workers voted for Congress in Jammu but what they did in Kashmir was shocking and against the terms and conditions of the alliance,” Mustafa said.

He further added that there was no alliance between the NC and the Congress party, just a seat sharing to keep the PDP out of power.

“It was a seat sharing agreement just to keep PDP away from power. We are waiting for the results and only after that our party will decide on a future alliance with the Congress” he said.

This is not the first time, the coalition leaders are accusing each other of cross voting Even on April 24, when South Kashmir cast its vote, Congress leaders admitted that it was difficult to persuade their workers to vote for the NC candidate.

“It is a difficult task to persuade our workers to vote for NC” senior Congress minister Ghulam Ahmad Mir had said to The Citizen earlier when asked to comment about the near revolt of Congress workers against the NC.

Mir added that they did their best to support the coalition candidate in South Kashmir and are optimistic that NC candidate Dr Mehboob Baigh will win the seat.

“After vigorous hard work for at least a month, we somehow managed to make our voters understand that their vote will be a vote for the UPA” Mir added.

Pertinently, NC-Congress coalition had forged a pre-poll alliance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls. Congress contested three seats, two in Jammu region, one in Ladakh, while NC contested the three LS seats in Kashmir.

(The story was first published in The Citizen )

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