By Gulzar Bhat*
‘All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’; these opening lines of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel Anna Karenina and sits well with the scores of refugee families ghettoized in the border villages of Sai Sector in R.S Pura of Jammu and Kashmir.
Fifty five-year old Bimla Devi lying on the floor of her single storied withered house with a chequered sheet of cloth spread over legs could never walk freely or even crouch as under the sheet lies her half amputated limb fitted with prosthesis.
Bimla Devi, a west Pakistani refugee settled in the border village of Bule Chek in Sai sector of Jammu recounts the day with tears misting her eyes when she walked last time without the support of a cane.
“On the fateful day of October 13, 2004, I went to manure my nearby agriculture field with cow pies I stepped on a buried anti personnel mine that exploded and ripped off my right leg. I was rushed to hospital by some fellow villagers where my leg below the knee was amputated”.
The incident turned her life upside down. It not only left her maimed but also aggravated her already fledgling domestic front as a hefty sum of money was spent on her treatment. “Only before some time my husband had died in an accident and we were already living a hand-to-mouth life as we do not posses much land. This incident drained off every penny I had saved for the marriage of my daughters” she said adding that she never received compensation from government.
Agriculture is the mainstay of economy for these refugee families settled here since 1947, but time and again it is worst hit by strained relations between two neighboring nations – India and Pakistan. As land mines dot this area, ploughing of land sometimes proves like flirting with disaster. During the Kargil conflict in 1999 and Operation Parakaram in 2001 when there was a massive build-up of Indian and Pakistani soldiers on both sides of borders, hundreds of anti personnel mines were laid in the border area of Jammu and Kashmir. Although after the de-escalation of tension between two countries the process of demining was undertaken, some of the mines according to locals could not be removed.
A middle rung army officer on the conditions of anonymity said that forces always made every possible effort to demine a mined zone completely before civilians could be allowed to enter it but sometimes they were unable to recover all the mines. The mines move from their marked positions due to snow, rain, mud and landslides which makes their clearance difficult. At times they swept away by moving mud and water to unmarked and safe areas frequented by villagers.
“Anti personnel mines used in many countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and China take a heavy toll on human lives particularly in conflict zones. Not only civilians but the soldiers are also being killed or left invalid for rest of their life by these lethal mines. We have always opposed the use of such antiquated weapons and are of the opinion that UN protocol should be followed. Moreover, a foolproof rehabilitation scheme for the survivors be devised.” said Riju Raj, member Central Arms Foundation of India.
India is one of the thirty five countries that did not accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, an international agreement that bans countries to develop, produce, transfer or stockpile the anti personnel mines.
In the four villages of Sai sector there are 14 land mine victims and 12 of them are refugees who had come to live here during the wars of 1947, 1965 and 1971.
Narrating his gut- wrenching tale 67 year old Krishian Lal, another land mine victim of same village said, “ During the small hours of June 2004, I was mowing my field when I set my foot on a land mine triggering a blast. Completely drenched in blood and shrieking in pain BSF men shifted me to hospital where my limb was amputated.”
Krishan Lal who migrated to Jammu from Sialkot Pakistan during the war of 1971 was living off his small land provided to his four member family by government but after the anti personnel mine devoured his limb his field usually yields a scanty harvest as he is not able to farm it intensively. Like Bimla, Krishan Lal claimed that he was not provided any compensation by government.
“Government did not provide me any financial assistance. It is Red Cross that offered me this artificial limb” said Krishan Lal while rolling up the trouser from his artificial limb.
In the nearby Nicobal village resides Chunni Lal, a refugee of 1965 who lost his leg to a landmine planted in his paddy field in 1973 when he was just 14 years old. The blast opened a Pandora’s Box of miseries for him. He was bed ridden for months together, quit his studies and more importantly what he says with a heavy heart “lost my fun-packed days of childhood to that ferocious explosion” Chunni Lal learnt tailoring and eked out his living from it for rather some time but had to quit it as he could not afford to sit cross- legged for long time. Now he works as an irrigation lift operator on the paltry emoluments of Rs 2000 per month. Besides his wife and two sons Chuni Lal has a mentally impaired daughter. “Had I afforded for her treatment, her mental health could have been improved” lamented Chunnial. The only compensation he gets is a meager sum of Rs 400 per month from the department of Social Welfare.
“We bear the brunt of left over mines. We know our fields are not cleared completely but we have no other option of livelihood but to cultivate these treacherous fields” said Vijay Kumar, a local farmer
*Gulzar Bhat is a Jammu-based journalist. He can be contacted at: [email protected]