Living in shadow of death

Blood splattered compounds, smashed window panes and demolished roofs are all that are left of houses in border hamlets which have been battered in Pakistani firing and shelling in the last three days.
A smell of gunpowder lingers in these villages whose residents are living in increasing fear. “We were living in the shadow of death. Mortar bombs were raining on our houses and we thought we would die any moment but the police brought us out from the Sai Khurd village in Arnia,” Ratno Devi said.
In Sai Khurd, several houses were damaged and some animals killed in shelling, Devi said, adding that a woman, was killed while her husband and son were injured in the village.
Ratno Devi, who along with six family members left home and took shelter in the house of her relatives in the outskirts of Arnia belt, said, “The Government should stop firing from Pakistan.”
The firing and shelling were so heavy that 82 mm mortar shells landed much beyond Arnia town which is 5 km away from the International Border (IB) in Jammu district.
Farmlands have craters due to mortar bombs and have turned into live minefields. In Jeora Farm in RS Pura, nearly 100 kullas or mud houses of Gujjars were burned down in the shelling.
Several bovines were killed and injured due to mortar bombs and bullets in these villages. Police vehicles have been pressed into service and people living in border hamlets evacuated.
“The border hamlets have virtually turned into war zones. Pakistan is targeting civilian areas intensely. There has been huge damage to houses and loss of cattle,” SP Headquarters Romesh Kotwal said but added that all precautions have been taken to prevent loss of lives and property. He added that people are being evacuated from the “danger zones” in bullet-proof bunkers.
SHO RS Pura Inspector Bishnesh Kumar, who led a police team for rescuing and shifting those injured to a hospital, said, “We have also evacuated border villagers to safer places. Pakistan cannot be trusted”.
Chanchalo Devi said the firing and shelling by Pakistan was haunting them.
“Only three months back, Pakistan caused huge damage and again we are facing death. How long will we keep living in fear. The Government should give us safe alternatives,” she said.
Chanchalo Devi said she and her husband had woken by the sounds of mortar shells in Arnia’s Ward number 13 and they immediately tried to shift to a neighbour’s house as their own house is made of mud.
“When we were about to cross the lane to move to our neigbour’s house when a shell burst and injured both of us and our neighbour Darshan Lal,” she said in a hospital.
Des Raj of Vidhipur said his family lived in a room without food and water until they left home to escape the shelling and firing.
Arnia town, which was once considered to be safe from Pakistani firing and shelling, was also hit by several mortar bombs.
Several of the houses in Korotana, Sai Khurd, Mahasha  Kote, Pindi, Suchetgarh and Jeora Farm villages were hit by bullets and splinters of mortar shells which tore through the roofs and walls of houses.
The villagers claimed the Government has failed to construct bunkers despite the tall claims made by it for several years.
“The border people would not have died or been injured had the Government constructed bunkers or given us plot at a safe place as per a promise made several years ago. They have not fulfilled the promise,” Sudershan Singh of Arnia said.
Meanwhile, a  pall of gloom descended on Jeora Farm, popularly known as the ‘hamlet of milkmen Gujjars’, as their hundreds of their ‘kullas’ (grass houses) were gutted and scores of bovines perished in the shelling by Pakistan troops.
The hamlet situated close to the International Border (IB) in R S Pura houses over 100 families and is famous as a supplier of milk and milk products to Jammu, the winter capital of the State.
“We have lost everything. Our kullas have been gutted in Pakistan mortar shelling and animals have perished. They were our source of income. We curse Pakistan for targeting civilians”, Sattar Din, a resident, said.
Din and other villagers were evacuated by the police and they lauded the force for saving them.
Another villager Gujjar Zaffar, whose lost two of his kin, Mohammad Akram and his two-year-old son, in Pakistan shelling in 2014, said firing and shelling was very intense this time unlike in the past when one or two shells used to burst in the village.
Year after year, Jeora Farm is a constant target of the Pakistani rangers, who shell and fire on it, whenever there are border skirmishes.
Elder lady Sajada said “we have always been targeted in shelling. Several of the village’s people have been killed and injured”, she said.
Giving details about the evacuation operation, police said that people of Jeora Farm have been put in a relief camp.
“We have also brought their animals out of the village. However, over 150 kullas have been gutted in the fire and several animals have perished in the fire triggered by Pakistan shelling”, police said.