Monday, August 4, 2008

Border within the border in Gurez

Economically hard pressed people say fencing is devouring their cattle, mainstay of their livelihood

Purna Tulail (near LoC): Ghulam Rasool Wani, 70, curses and abuses his dead father Juma Wani who had migrated to this village, fenced on all sides by army, from Gilgit. Rasool has not forgiven his father’s decision to migrate to this place. The bitterness is unbecoming of a son for his dead father. “He has put me and my children into this hell. May God avenge him there,” Rasool says in chaste Kashmiri pointing towards the sky. The Dards apart from their mother tongue Shena also speak Kashmiri fluently.
The villagers call him Rasool Chacha (uncle). They feel the death of one of his goats was the cause of his anger. Rasool’s goat died when, while grazing, she got stumbled into multilayered fencing erected by army around the village. Rasool wonders how his father settled in the area where there are no basic facilities and if someone falls ill, the only thing his family could do about him was to pray for his peaceful death.
Army fencing has annoyed everyone. Rasool is labourer and has four children. But unlike in other parts of Kashmir, labourers here are not well paid. They are being given Rs 65 a day. Domestication of animals is the mainstay of livelihood. And the fencing is posing a threat to cattle.
Everyone here insist that they are not against the border fencing but they argue fencing should have been erected “on borders not on our lands.”
“There are nearly five villages that belong to Kashmir which fall outside the fenced area; beyond those five villages is the LoC. But they have erected the fencing here, in our village,” said a government employee who didn’t want to disclose his name.
The Purna Tulail people are not the only suffers. The situation is same for everyone in Gurez valley where people feel fencing in villages has created more problem than solving any.
From Kazlwan, which is some 15 kms from Tehsil headquarter Dawar, fencing has been erected along the river Neelam (Kishan Ganga). And in Dawar situation is not different. The fencing has been erected across the river, and with it a vast area where the people gathered Cumin, has been made literally inaccessible.
“We objected to fencing when it was erected it in our lands. We even protested but then who cares. They went ahead and we are really suffering,” said a revenue department employee. He said thousands of cattle’s have died due to fencing. “The cattle die terrible death once they trip up the fencing. They are badly wounded by the razor and then there is no cure for them,” he said.
“I wonder what the status of these villages is. These are our villages and we have put a fence in between. And if call this border fencing then Pakistan can claim these areas,” says a teacher.
However a senior official of the Tourism Department who was on visit to area in connection with Gurez festival instead had other views on the issue. Pointing towards sandalwood trees across the fencing he said the fencing has saved the trees from the axe of smugglers. He thanked army.
Fencing is omnipresent in villages and on the road from Dawar to PTL. From Dawar to PTL it is a one hour car journey. The village Kashpat is on the roadside but it is fenced and to enter villages named SK, Refugee 1, Refguee 2, Bozgai, close to the LoC, the villagers have to enter from the fencing gate at Kaspat. Both sides of the road from Kaspat to Burnai are fenced. And to enter Burani, one has to cross fencing gate.
The residents say that the fencing has been erected on their property land and it has partitioned their land and villages. “This is border within the border,” says Abdul Aziz a political leader of Samajwadi party in Dawar.
“This fencing is nothing but a farce. It has brought untold miseries on us,” he said. Aziz says it has become difficult for them to go for fishing in the Neelam, famous for its trout. During heavy rains the slides push the fencing into the river making angling difficult. The remnants of the uprooted fencing could be seen in the river at many spots.
However at PTL Chacha Rasool is not worried about angling. He is still lamenting death of his goat. “Can government give us some compensation for it,” asks Rasool. The compensation is what everyone here demands and wants. But it seems government has no plans. “The government had earlier promised but so far nothing has materialized,” said an official of the Revenue Department in Dawar.
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