Jammu: Raheem Khan, a resident of Sandote village in Poonch district stands inside a bunker filled with water and expresses his grievance against the government for not providing a toilet with the concrete structure, which is being used as a shield against Pakistani shelling. "There are times when Pakistan bombards our village for five days continuously. We are forced to come out of these bunkers to attend to the call of nature and become a fodder for bullets and shells from the other side of the Line of Control (LoC)" says Khan.
He says that there are many villages along the LoC where the bunkers have so far not been constructed and people remain trapped inside their homes after shelling by Pakistani side starts. "Shelling sometimes starts even during early morning at 3 am when we are in deep sleep. We live in such uncertain conditions that we do not even know if our houses will remain intact during ceasefire violations," Raheem Khan laments.
Sandote village is situated close to the zero like or the LoC. Cross border firing has become a common phenomenon during the past few months after the tension between India and Pakistan escalated. It is the common people who have to face the brunt of heavy shelling. Many times the villagers lose their cattle and even homes and in worst cases, human lives. Schools along the border in J&K remain shut for days and weeks when the ceasefire violation continues. Education of children has become a major victim of the tension between both the countries.
Mountainous villages with lush green cover of trees and grass in Poonch and Rajouri district of Jammu have become a veritable hell for the residents as they are faced with Pakistani shelling along with the threat of Covid-19. Shelling on these villages along LoC by Pakistan has become so common that the villagers are now used to it. However the spread of Covid-19 has made them concerned about the safety of children and elderly.
Arif Khan from Balakot village in Poonch says that there have been many cases of the infection in Poonch and Rajouri district. "While people residing in city areas are facing the threat of only Covid-19, we have a double whammy to face. Whenever there is a ceasefire violation, we stop inside our homes thinking that bunkers could result in the spread of Covid-19, if anyone one of us is infected".
In 2018, the Home Ministry had approved more than 14,000 bunkers in Kathua, Samba, Jammu, Rajouri and Poonch districts that included 1,431 community and more than 13,000 individual bunkers.
While the work on many of these bunkers is not yet complete, people are facing a unique problem in areas where community bunkers have been built. Whenever ceasefire violation takes place, residents prefer to stay inside their homes because of the fear of Covid-19 that could spread in the community bunkers.
Community bunkers have also been built along the International Border (IB) with Pakistan in Kathua and Samba district where ceasefire violations take place quite often. Residents who earlier chose to enter the community bunkers are now shying away from it.
Ashwani Virdi, a private teacher of Hiranagar in Kathua district tells that during the rainy season, it becomes difficult to stay for a night inside these bunkers. "Moreover the rising cases of Covid-19 in J&K have caused fear among the residents who are now stuck between the devil and the deep sea. We prefer to stay inside our homes than to go inside community bunkers when shelling starts" said Kumar.
There were 1586 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in the year 2019 and the official number during the first two months of this year was 646 that tells the frequency of these violations.
Mohan Das, a shopkeeper from Hiranagar says, "There are 80 percent chances that we will survive shelling from Pakistan but there is little hope that we will be safe from Coronavirus in a community bunker even if one person has the infection. This is the reason we are avoiding such a situation where 10-15 people enter the same bunker and stay there for a long period" said Das. While the construction of bunkers is going on along LoC and IB in J&K, activists say that the government has done little so far to ensure the safety of the people.
Dr Shahzad Ahmad Malik, former Vice Chancellor of Sai Nath University who is a resident of Poonch said that the required number of bunkers have so far not been constructed by the government. "Lives are being lost and there is a dearth of bunkers in those areas where they are needed. The Ministry of Home Affairs that has allocated funds for construction of bunkers must launch a probe to know the reason for delay in construction of bunkers especially in Poonch" said Malik.