'I’d rather die in my fields than as a refugee in own country' - by Gaurav C. Sawant Back   Home  
82 year-old Rajinder Singh only one left standing in his village; 80,000 fled from border villages
The world around him has been reduced to rubble beneath his feet, MA school destroyed by Pak shelling (Reuters) but Rajinder Singh simply won’t leave. No amount of mortar shelling from across the border is severe enough to make the 82 year-old move out of his tiny village though everyone else has fled.

‘‘I withstood Pakistani shelling both in ’65 and ’71. I worked as a porter with the Army, carrying supplies to their border posts. Now, I’m old and frail, but my spirit is still young,’’ Singh says. ‘‘I would rather die here, a master of my fields than as a refugee in my own country.’’ As military trucks and jeeps whiz past his home, he stands to attention and salutes, his dhoti fluttering in the wind.

Pakistani shelling has led to unheard of levels of migration in several villages in the Jammu sector — according to some estimates, the number of refugees has already crossed 80,000. Several fled without even locking their homes. Shells have pierced through their roofs, crashed through their walls. Splinters are still embedded in the doors, windowpanes and mud walls of the compound.

Manihari and Gallar are the worst hit—all the houses have been destroyed.

The story’s the same in Samba, R.S. Pura and Poonch sectors. ‘‘Shelling from across the border killed my brother Nasir, his pregnant cousin and three nieces,’’ says Bashir Ahmad, a 45-year-old Gujjar shepherd from Bera village near Abduliyan in R S Pura. ‘‘When the shelling began, my brother went to fetch our pregnant cousin and nieces. They returned safely to our village and were entering their houses when a shell fell, killing them all instantly.’’

Yet, there are several villages barely five kms from the border and the Line of Control which are still inhabited. One reason: Land is a precious commodity here. Villages and cultivable lands extend up to the zero line (demarcating the border between India and Pakistan). In peace time, the farmers cultivate their land till the zero line on both sides.

‘‘Now, there is a curfew in the border villages from sundown to sunrise. The villagers fled their homes without even locking them, and we don’t have enough locks. In some cases there are bangles, food, other items lying in the open. We are trying to encourage the villagers to return to their homes at least during the day and ensure the wellbeing of their belongings,’’ says an officer posted in the Samba sector.
Published in KashmirLive of ExpressIndia, dated June 02, 2002