SRINAGAR, Aug 20: Thousands of residents of border areas in Jammu are planning to leave their homes to escape repeated bursts of gunfire and shelling that a lawmaker said was the “first time in years” Pakistani troops had targeted villagers.
Although there has been no civilian casualty, a BSF jawan was killed and three troopers were injured in nine ceasefire violations in the past 11 days, making it the most serious escalation since the declaration of ceasefire by India and Pakistan in 2003.
An army man and a BSF jawan had lost their lives in June.
Sham Lal Chowdhary, a member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly from the Suchetgarh border constituency, said thousands of villagers were worried about their safety.
“It is for the first time in the last one decade that the firing has been so intense and people are planning to migrate if the firing continues. People have been told by the BSF not to venture out of their homes and many residents had to spend their nights in underground bunkers.”
Chowdhary said shells from across the border had landed in three villages ‘ Abdullian, Khurd and Chanda Chuk ‘ in his border constituency.
“Some houses suffered minor damage in the firing in the last few days, although there was no civilian casualty. It is the first time in years that Pakistani troops are targeting villagers,” he said.
In the early years of the last decade, shelling from across the border had forced residents of some 50 villages in Chowdhary’s constituency to migrate.
“They lived in migrant camps at other places for several years before returning home. Nobody wants that again but the situation is turning ugly,” he said.
Chowdhary Awtar, a villager in Abdullian, said the firing was so intense that residents had to take shelter in underground bunkers dug by security forces a decade back. “We never felt the need to take shelter in these bunkers all these years. But this time we fear we may have to continue doing that,” he said.
Unprovoked firing in Abdullian on Thursday night had left Chander Rai, a BSF jawan from Assam, dead. The firing later spread to the adjoining outposts of Garana, Mangral and Sangral and went on till midnight before resuming on Friday.
Official sources said Arnia and Chechwal, villages in adjoining Samba, also witnessed intense firing in recent days.
“On Independence Day, Pakistani Rangers gave sweets to BSF jawans in the morning and fired bullets on them in the evening at Pansar,” said an official.
The state government yesterday sent a delegation led by medical education minister R.S. Chib to the border villages to take stock of the situation. An official said local people told the minister the firing was preventing them from going to their fields or taking their cattle out to graze.
Sources said some residents even told the minister they wanted to leave but were persuaded by the administration to stay on.
The latest escalation in tension was preceded by the detection of a 400-metre underground tunnel in Chechwal village of Samba, feared to have been used by infiltrators to sneak in.
Eleven years ago, thousands of residents of border areas in Jammu had left their homes following a military build-up by India in response to the December 2001 attack on Parliament that resulted in a major stand-off between the neighbours. A ceasefire agreement in November 2003 largely restored calm in the area for years.
Since 2009, however, there have been 154 ceasefire violations across the Line of Control and 49 incidents of firing across the international border in Jammu.