- NL Sena
Photos narrate the story of villagers in Silkote and Tillawari ever since the ceasefire violation shattered their peace.
A bright blue sky and narrow “blade” fences divide the village Silkote from the rest of India on one side and the Pakistan border (LoC), which wears an eerie silence. The village falls right inside no man's land between the two nations.
There is a watch on the bunker that reminds you of the uneasy calm since the village was evacuated recently when India’s neighbour burst into gunfire, violating the ceasefire.
In Tillawari village, which falls on the border, an elderly man sits wearing his plastic slippers and holding an old crumpled shopping bag with an advert of a mobile store in Srinagar.
Silkote and Tillawari are both part of Uri district and lie opposite each other on the border fence, also known as the defence line. Unlike the others, the man has stayed back in Tillawari to provide some semblance of civilisation.
The eerie silence is broken by the call of the Asar azaan, as the 80-year-old man walks towards the mosque. This is perhaps the only sign of normal life in a village that too exists almost in no man’s land.
The speaker used for the azaan was brought to a more unnerving use two days earlier, to issue a warning to villagers and to ask them to evacuate after mounting danger of shelling from across the border.
A soldier with worn-out and chipped headgear asks every person, including the local officials, to leave the village as he points at the Pakistani bunker with a Pakistani flag, exclaiming that there are snipers sitting there “watching us; since they are on a higher altitude it makes our side more vulnerable”. Only that morning, his bunker was fired at.
The call to the faithful holds good for both India and Pakistan – the irony of duality.
The entire landscape is vulnerable to orders of firing or attack that might come from somebody completely disconnected from the place, somebody who has most likely never visited the areas. One single act of aggression throws the place into chaos.
The young have been moved to safer areas in the district capital – Uri - one being a girls’ school. There are only so many that the school can accommodate.
Others are trying to find a way to their relatives and families in Anantnag, Srinagar. Some are trying to seek refuge from NGOs, some asking the Army officers if they can just stay home.
While the entire country was wearing the colours of Holi, and basking in a safe environ, Kashmir continues to be far removed from the imagination, with the state’s people struggling to get used to another “normal” that has displaced them from their homes.
The propaganda in the national media about Kashmir does not matter here. In fact, it does not exist for these 7,000 people. They want peace, nothing else.
It was February 22 when heavy exchange of gunfire started between the two nations. The last time people were evacuated from the border villages in a similar situation was in 2003, when India and Pakistan finally agreed to a ceasefire along the 776 km stretch that is the LoC.
The elderly man in Tillawari requested more bunkers for the villagers during attacks. A 60-year-old woman, Mehbooba, who was initially apprehensive about revealing her identity, said “they (politicians) only come here for votes and disappear to Delhi never to be seen again, sitting on their ‘kursi’”.
Politicians at both the state and national level will need to do some serious introspection on the lives of these displaced villagers. Between a media that holds them to shallow nationalist standards each day and an indifferent regime, we as a country have let down Kashmir.
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