The human fall-out of border tensions
By Chaudhary Mohd Ayub Kataria, Kashmir
“Before the fatal accident of 2002, I used to trade in warm clothes and shawls in Sar Hind Shareef, Punjab. When I returned to my village in 2002, as usual, I took my cattle to graze in the nearby forest. It was 4 o’clock in the evening. My daughter Jameela was accompanying me. I felt something beneath my feet. Before I could realize anything, a huge blast threw me off. All I could feel was intense pain, blacking out with the impact.”
“Only much later when I began to recover did I realise to my shock that both my legs were severed from my body. This was a body blow to me and I learnt to my horror that I had stepped on explosives planted by the armed forces in this border area to curb infiltration in Kashmir. The explosives instead made me handicapped forever, left me on mercy of other people.” These are the words of Mohd Gulzar Mir, 50 years old,living in Gujran of Warsawan region, 22 km from the border district of Kupwara in Kashmir. He goes on to add “I have six daughters; three very young sons amongst them my elder son Mohd Sadiq is deaf and dumb. My parents about 90 years of age live with me and I need to look after their needs as well.”
Understandably, Gulzar Mir has been through a harrowing experience, an innocent life caught in the cross-fire as it were. The period after the blast and recovery was most painful, not only physically but being socially ostracized. He recounts bitterly, “I knocked at many doors to narrate my story but no one helped me. I approached many political, social and religious leaders for help, let alone helping me, they did not even bother to hear my story.”
Land mines are deadly and the world is waking up to the fact that civilians who become hapless victims of this ‘military strategy’ need urgent attention and protection. It is indeed bitter irony that the land mines planted to prevent infiltration into the country are now posing a threat to the life and limbs of its own people who it is meant to protect. The question of compensation for victims also need to be taken up. Many of them are in their prime of life and lose productive years, depriving their families of their support and equally burdening them.
Gulzar is a tormented soul today. What hurts him the most is that there is no offer for help from anyone, in the community, from organisations and none from the government. All his children are studying and his daughters are fast approaching the age of marriage He frets over how he fulfill all these responsibilities as a father. “ How can I live out this long life… ?” is his lament.
The border region is treacherous in more than one ways. The trails are stretched over craggy mountainous paths which become extremely slippery and dangerous during the rains or when the snow melts. Even for those who are physically fit, for the young, it is tricky to negotiate those paths. For those who are disabled like Gulzar, it is an ordeal. Initially he tried to make do with locally made prostheses and even sold off his property to pay for the expenses. But it was to no avail, a wasted effort. The workmanship for making these custom-made simply does not exist in remote regions like Kupwara.
It was a chance meeting with Dr. Shahid, Mohd Yusuf Khan, former manager of J&K Bank and Gharpal Sharma, former DGP of Barzala, which turned the tide for Gulzar. They arranged for him to go to Delhi where he was fitted by prostheses which were near perfect. Today Gulzar Mir is a much happier man and yet the shadow of the tragedy lingers, “ Now I can walk with these prostheses . But, it is artificial after all . I strongly feel that losing an organ, a gift from Mother Nature, hurts a lot. Human organs are so precious! I look at walking people with wistful eyes and pray to God that no one should ever lose an organ of his body.”
There are countless people like Gulzar Mir, in Kupwara, in Kashmir, in Jammu and in all the border areas of our country. Many of them would have ventured out on a day which seemed like just another day in their life and taken their cattle to graze, to collect firewood or to play. And returned with a limb or limbs lost, eyesight impaired or worse, not returned at all. There are many initiatives like Control Arms Foundation working to raise awareness and mitigate such disasters in which innocent lives are caught and destroyed.
Much more needs to be done. The J& K Human Rights Commission, which looks into such cases, comes up with recommendations for compensation. Unfortunately at the level of implementation, these lag behind. Some of the victims do get Rs.400/-per month meant for physically challenged people from the Department of Social Welfare but that is grossly inadequate. The Army must regularly sweep the border areas to remove landmines, which may have moved from their original locations, a common enough occurrence. They also need to play a more pro-active role in rehabilitation of innocent victims of warfare.
Landmines are a deadly inheritance of war and civilians must be protected from these. The survivors of these landmine blasts are in dire need of support and feel neglected by society, by the government. What needs to be infused is a feeling of being wanted, not rejected, of taking and not shirking responsibility for the lives of civilians. The entire government machinery and indeed the system needs to live up to that.