04:41 GMT +312 November 2019
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    A Pakistan army soldier stands guard at hilltop post at a forward area on the Line of Control (LOC), that divides Kashmir between Pakistan and India. (File)

    Broken Ceasefire, Broken Lives: Civilians in Indo-Pak Crossfire Decry Apathy

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    The frequently broken ceasefire along the disputed India-Pakistan border has habituated desperate villagers on both sides to live life precariously. Sputnik contacted some of the villagers on both sides to know how they have been coping with the situation.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — Rahat Saini, a farmer in Arnia, Jammu and Kashmir says he has not garnered the courage to venture to the fields after one of his cows died since a mortar fired from the Pakistani side exploded in his farm.

    "One of my cows died…it could have been me," Saini told Sputnik.

    Education has been another big casualty in the border areas that have witnessed intermittent firing between troops, even after the signing of a ceasefire agreement in 2003.

    "Our children are not able to get the proper education as schools remain closed for months at a go" Saini adds.

    Riya Devi, an aging lady of another restless region, Paharpur, says that over the many years she lived in the village, she has witnessed dozens of bullet-riddled bodies cremated by her neighbors.

    "We live close to the zero line. Cross-border firing is not a new phenomenon but this year firing is continuous and severe," Riya Devi told Sputnik.

    In the Arnia and Suchetgarh sectors, cross-border firing and shelling that intensified since November last year have reduced at least 72 villages to rubble. 

    "Neither the state government nor the central government is taking care of us. Some political leaders come to our village but they hardly take steps to solve our problems. There is no proper arrangement of safe shelters by the local administration," Yashpal, a resident of Mainari, another village that has witnessed severe shelling from the Pakistani side, told Sputnik.

    The opposition Congress party has come down heavily on the Narendra Modi-led government for doing nothing to reduce the hardships of civilians bearing the brunt of the ceasefire violations. Shashi Tharoor, a Congress Member of Parliament, recently told the news agency ANI that it is the same government that boasted of the surgical strike on Pakistan that is silent on the sufferings of the common people living along the border. 

    Indian lives are being lost, our citizens are in danger. They are suffering from these repeated ceasefire violations. But the tragedy is that our government is entirely absent without leave. Where are they?: Shashi Tharoor pic.twitter.com/Us1UdsdN9N

    Meanwhile, the local government in Jammu and Kashmir says it has started construction of bunkers in bordering villages in order to provide a safe shelter for villagers in the event of cross-border firing.

    "These bunkers are of two types — some will be simple bunkers while others bunkers will have living rooms, kitchens, a bathroom, etc so that families can live there for several days in the event of cross-border firing. These bunkers are called community bunkers," Satish Verma, a senior journalist in Jammu, told Sputnik. 

    However, the villagers say the administration's apathy has caused them more frustration. They want the government to permanently relocate them by providing them land in safer locations.

    "There was a plan to build 14,500 bunkers but so far only a few have been made. But the people want five marlas (local unit of measurement) of land so that they can make their houses," Verma added.

    Villagers say the administration has been paying mere lip service by promising to build safety bunkers, but in reality, they are still forced to sleep in the open fields away from their homes.

    "We don't need bunkers. The government should provide us land at least 5 to 10 km away from our villages. We will build small houses there," Brij Lal of Paharpur village told Sputnik.

    Journalist Satish Verma says that the local administration is ill-equipped to carry out mass evacuations from the villages in the event of continuous firing from across the border.

    "The administration does not even have bulletproof vehicles to carry villagers to safer places," Verma says.

    Meanwhile, the situation is no better on the Pakistani side. Sputnik spoke to Munir Alam, a resident of Gor Pagwal village, in the Zafarwal-Shakargarh sector of Sialkot in Pakistan.

    "We are living in constant fear due to continuous firing from across the border. During the day we come to our house but we have to spend our nights in a safe shelter which is five km away from here," Munir Alam told Sputnik over the phone.

    Pakistani frontier posts in the Zafarwal-Shakargarh sector of Sialkot have been the target of firing by Indian troops in the last month. More than ten civilians, including three school girls, were killed during a recent firing from across the border. Pakhliyan and Chaprar are the other Pakistani villages along the border affected by the cross-firing.

    READ MORE: Escalation of Indo-Pak Conflict Unlikely at the Moment — Major General

    India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir, a Himalayan territory claimed by both in its entirety. In 2003, they signed a peace accord to refrain from military conflict and to find a political solution to the dispute. However, both countries maintain a heavy military presence at the border with troops exchanging fire every now and then. Though none of the skirmishes have escalated into full-blown war, both sides continue to accuse each other of transgressions.

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    casualty, border clashes, ceasefire violation, firing, Pakistani Army, Indian Army, India, Pakistan
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