In Silikote Near LoC in Uri, a Child Wakes Crying ‘Firing, Firing’
Residents of Silikote suffer irreparable loss due to the hostility between India and Pakistan, writes Parth MN.
Sophia Ramza wakes up shuddering in the middle of almost every night. She screams “firing, firing”, and weeps for hours before going back to bed. She is three years old. “This is how our kids are growing up,” her father Mohammad says regretfully.
Mohammad and his family live in the hilly village of Silikote in the Uri sector of North Kashmir. A ruggedly scenic hamlet surrounded by mountains covered with dense forests, Silikote is one of the many villages located right along the Line of Control (LoC). It is hardly 10 kilometres from the bustling market of Uri and the Uri Brigade headquarters where the 18 September attack – in which 20 soldiers lost their lives – transpired.
Since the Uri attack and India’s retaliation with surgical strikes, locals say the tension along the border has intensified, with the sounds of bullets reverberating through the mountains almost every night.
Only we know what it takes to live on the LoC. If the ongoing tensions escalate, we would be the worst sufferers.Mohammad Ramza, Resident of Silikote
The fear and panic is palpable in Silikote. As one enters the village through the bumpy, narrow and slightly intimidating road heading up the hill, an uneasy calm betrays the truth behind the serene beauty. Villagers are reluctant to talk. “You journalists do not know what we are going through,” a woman snaps back after a request for an interview. “You will write about us and go back to your comfortable lives. We are sick of talking about our ordeal.”
Travails of Residing Near the LoC
Finally, a 15-year-old Imtiaz Ahmed, standing on the corner of the hill gazing at the Haaji Peer stream flowing through Silikote, agrees to a chat. The schools are shut, he says, and everybody gets home before the sunset. “It is scary,” he says shyly.
There are not enough bunkers either. We end up cowering under the bed or table when we hear gunshots at home.Imtiaz Ahmed, Resident of Silikote
The army movement along the border has increased after 18 September. The road that travels to the main town of Uri from Silikote is guarded meticulously. One can enter the village only after rigorous checking and verification. Reporters who have reported extensively from the LoC say the Pakistani rangers keep a close eye on any movement in villages along the border. A Pakistani Army post is located on the right side of Silikote, overlooking the village.
The fencing that separates India and Pakistan is sporadic in the village of Silikote. In fact, the Haaji Peer stream, which originates in Pakistan and eventually joins the Jhelum River, separates Silikote from Khawjabanday, a village in the Pakistan administered Kashmir. Earlier, it used to be a part of Silikote. Residents here even have relatives in Khawjabanday.
Hostility Disrupts Normalcy
Located merely 500 metres west of Silikote is a village called Churanda, where two civilians had lost their lives on the spot and a person had died of cardiac arrest after a heavy mortar shell fell on a residential house in 2013. Just like Silikote, Churanda too is a divided village with Saljiwar - now in Pakistan-administered Kashmir - once being its part. Residents say the hostility eventually ends up rupturing the lives of Kashmiris - on both sides of the border.
Though Silikote has not suffered any casualties, Mohammad says the news of Churanda had “terrified villagers over here”. Most of the cross-firing is from small arms, yet “the current spate resembles those anxious days,” he says. “It was relatively tolerable before the Uri attack.”
Bearing the Brunt of Ceasefire Violation
In fact, Silikote celebrated India’s Independence Day with a flag hoisting ceremony, a ritual followed every year. Soldiers of India and Pakistan reportedly even exchanged sweets. But the residents wish to live the life they led during the ceasefire agreement, which was practised by both India and Pakistan from 2003 to 2013. It was the first formal armistice between the two countries since militancy erupted in the Valley in early 90s. Lieutenant General BS Thakur and Major General Mohammad Yousuf spoke over the phone and concluded the deal. Simultaneously, the announcement was made in New Delhi and Islamabad. “Those were the days,” says Mohammad. “We could walk out of the house without fear.”
However, in September 2013, a ceasefire violation transpired and since then, both countries have accused each other of breaching the agreement. “Every news of infiltration or ceasefire violation increases our insecurity,” says Mohammad, adding the residents here urge the two countries to keep their politics aside by thinking on humanitarian grounds in order to establish peace.
‘Migration is the Last Resort’
Silikote used to be a prosperous village, which had flourished during the time of the Maharaja. Once a busy trade route for Kashmir, it is now parked on the closed Poonch- Rawlakote road. However, after the closure of the route, substantial migration occurred and now the population is reduced to 600-700. Most in Silikote indulge in labour work at the Uri market, some work as government employees.
Residents here have not considered migrating as yet, like many residing in other villages along the border. But there are chances of Pakistan retaliating after the surgical strikes, which would mean more skirmishes on the LoC, magnifying the vulnerability of the locals living in villages like Silikote. “If tensions do not recede, migration is the only resort we have,” says Mohammad. “Akhir aman ki baat hi kuch aur hai.”
(The writer is special correspondent with LA Times. He can be reached at @parthpunter. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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