As we drive on a narrow strip of the road crossing the tall Deodhars on either side, we haven’t yet been told that the road is clearly visible to the enemy’s eyes from merely few kilometers away. With every step closer to the LoC, the beauty of the area only increases. One could imagine this to be a perfect holiday destination for a weekend on the hillside with lush green surroundings and a chill in the fresh air by late evening which eludes you in the city. The SUV drives at medium pace as I hear stories of India’s surgical strike not so long ago in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) which happened in an area not far from where we are driving.
The conversation comes to a halt as we hear an unfamiliar noise at a distance. Intermittent gunfire had begun. Low caliber weapons were being used, a day after India lost four Indian Army Jawans to an Anti-Tank Guided Missile (ATGM), which was fired from the enemy’s end. Firing at Jammu the and surrounding belt of the LoC hasn’t stopped over last few weeks, forcing most villagers living in the line of fire to stay in bunkers or migrate out towards the city.
We pass the fence at the LoC. It’s about 2kms inside Indian territory manned by braveheart soldiers who greet us with welcoming smiles. The journey ahead is steep, but the gunfire becomes more audible. As we reach our destination, we cross an army camp and park ourselves at a school compound.
Seher Makdi is the last Village in the Nowshera sector near the LoC. The roof of the school building where we stand has been destroyed because of the mortar fire from Pakistan Army. The walls have bullet marks narrating a story from the everyday lives of the villagers who live in fear in each passing moment, unaware if they will remain alive to see a new dawn.
Chandra Kanta, a local aged villager, walks down the road to meet us when she notices the cameras with our crew. ‘We just want more bunkers’, she says, adding, ‘We don’t fear the cold here in the peak of winters, but the continuous shelling is what scares us night and day. We are scared to let our children play out in open.’
Not far from the wall with bullet marks, stands another wall with a beautiful map of India draw by children. The wall stands opposite PoK from where the firing is yet to stop. The wall displays the complete map of Jammu and Kashmir and has a motivational quote from Gandhi which talks about the importance of studying hard and living with fearlessness.
‘The Indian Army won’t spare these cowards, there can be no dialogue when our Jawans are on the border’, Nowshera MLA Ravinder Raina tells me in an angry tone, upset with his own Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti who has been batting for talks with Pakistan.
The anger is visible down on ground amongst villagers who have suffered the onslaught of the heavy firing from the Pakistan Army. The Administration has a massive challenge of rehabilitating those who flee from those homes near LoC for safer accommodation in the city areas.
“ We have built several bunkers for residents of villages near the LoC. Ceasefire violations and intermittent firing is a regular affair here. We work in close coordination with the Police and security forces for smooth operations as per the Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs)” , DC Rajauri Shahid Iqbal Chaudhary tells me while coordinating more relief for the locals.
Shahid, over the last many months, has become a Godly figure for the locals who worship him for the kind of infrastructure and development changes he has brought in no time. Hundreds line up outside his office through the day for help and assistance. “It gives immense satisfaction when people get the help they have been waiting for since a long time”, Shahid tells me during an informal chat.
‘Motherland is equal to heaven’, reads the graffiti on a wall as I leave the interior hamlets surrounded by Army posts.
Not far from where I stand are Kotli, Rawlakot and Mirpur in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK)-- less than 100kms in distance, so close yet so far. Friends from the other side of the fence often talk to me on Whatsapp about the horrors they face daily as the wrath of the Pakistan Army continues even on those who they claim to be their own people.
As the sun sets in these border villages, the hope for peace also vanishes slowly. Army men on the fence offer us some water while we head back. They cheerfully smile and tell us about the media reports they have heard narrating how India will retaliate to seek revenge from Pakistan.
As people longing for a new dawn of peace wait for a glimmer of hope, the gory ballad of the guns at the LoC continues.