LoC villagers want peaceful border, cast their vote without fear of Pak shelling

A Polling Station set up across the fence at Dharati village in Balakote area of Poonch. -Excelsior/Rahi Kapoor
A Polling Station set up across the fence at Dharati village in Balakote area of Poonch. -Excelsior/Rahi Kapoor

*Border youth want Army jobs but oppose ‘Agniveer’
Gopal Sharma

RAJOURI/POONCH, May 25: Without the fear of Pakistan shelling after long time, the villagers residing closer to the Line of Control (LoC) in Poonch and Rajouri districts, exercised their franchise for the Anantnag-Rajouri Parliamentary constituency today.
While issuing fervent appeal to the Governments of India and Pakistan to maintain permanent peace along the International Borders and the Line of Control in J&K, the majority of the voters said that after so many years, they enthusiastically under the peaceful atmosphere and without the fear of Pak guns, came out today in large number to cast their vote.

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At Balnoi, the last village of Mendhar Sub Division in Poonch district, where the Polling Station was set up hardly 250 meters away from the LoC, the enthusiastic voters were seen making a beeline to exercise their franchise without the fear of cross-border shelling. They also shared their past experience of Pak shelling and said that many people used to avoid to cast their votes under the shadow of Pak guns.
Mohd Akram, an elderly person hailing from Ward No 9, Balnoi (Mendhar) after casting his vote told the `Excelsior’ that he has seen peaceful polling after more than five years. Earlier, many Polling Booths were used to be shifted to the safer locations due to the fear of shelling and some times changed amidst shelling. Some people also lost their lives and many injured during past several decades.
Akram said people of this border belt need urgent attention of the Government of India for their basic amenities like- drinking water, adequate power supply, healthcare facility, good education and teachers in the border schools and good road connectivity. “The people of this border belt were disturbed many times after 1947; they are patriots and walk with our Army shoulder to shoulder. The border villagers want good and strong Government at the Centre who cares for its people,” Akram added.
Mohd Riyasat, a youth from Balnoi said he has voted for a change and better development in the LoC villages in Poonch. He said today’s youth is frustrated. There are no jobs. The youth of Poonch and Rajouri belts are mainly dependent on Army and police jobs. He said youth of this belt are not happy with new `Agniveer Scheme’ of the Army and it should be abolished.
Ghulam Ali, a former Panch from Balnoi raised basic issues of the area and said that he has voted for peace along the borders and better development of this belt. He said today people don’t have own representative. No Assembly elections were held since 2014. After Lok Sabha polls, the Govt must hold Assembly elections in J&K so that local issues could be resolved. Today, nobody is here to listen and a wider wedge exists between the Government and the public, he added.
At Dharati Polling Station across the fence, in Balakote sub sector of Poonch, heavy rush of the people was witnessed after long time. The villagers lauded present Government for peace along the borders and said that they feel secure and are able to carry out their routine agriculture activity without the fear of guns. A local villager Mohd Hussain said that he has seen very bad days in this area. For the last some years, there is peace. Though many bunkers have been constructed by the Government for public but since then, they have not used them. Similar were the views of voters at Deri Dabsi across the fence, Khari Karmara, Jallas, Sabjian and Shahpur Polling Stations, just closer to the LoC in Poonch.
At Ser-Makri village along the LoC in Lam sector of Nowshera, a villager, Ved Parkash said, “Voting is taking place in a peaceful atmosphere without the fear of the cross-border shelling this time. We have seen worst of the times due to the shelling from Pakistan and our only prayer is continuation of the peaceful atmosphere on the borders.” .
A renewed ceasefire between India and Pakistan came into effect on February 25, 2021, providing much needed relief to the border residents. Authorities have set up 19 border Polling Stations along the LoC in Rajouri and Poonch and have also worked out a contingency plan to deal with cross-border shelling.
“We are seeing massive development in our areas which were worst hit by cross-border shelling. The Government has also provided us underground bunkers for our safety in case of shelling from Pakistan side,” Prakash added.
Parkash said the fear of Pakistani shelling had faded a long ago and “today we are voting for a Government which will address our pending issues like road connectivity and better facilities for our school going children”.
“We want a Government which will ensure that we live our lives peacefully, without the fear of Pakistani shelling and continue the developmental activities for the upliftment of the border residents,” he said.
Gorakh Nath, a Government teacher who was assigned the job of the Booth Level Officer, said moderate to brisk polling was recorded since this morning and the credit for it goes to the peaceful atmosphere. “This is one of the unique Polling Stations, having the facility of underground bunkers as well. People have started queuing up to exercise their vote,” he said.
Sunil Choudhary, a former Sarpanch from Ser Makri area of Lam said the border villages have distinct challenges of their own and needs proper Government attention. “You cannot compare our problems with people in other parts of the country. We are boldly standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our jawans guarding the borders of the country which is the beauty of our areas,” he added.