Uri (Baramulla): Huddled around a bukhari, the cylinder-shaped traditional Kashmiri heater, in a small room that was a classroom till a few days ago, two middle-aged women admonish a group of noisy children running around and hollering at each other.
The children, about a dozen of them, do not study here. And the women telling them to behave are not their teachers.
They are a part of a group of 22 people who fled their homes in Kamalkote village, located near the Line of Control (LoC) Friday, to take shelter in a makeshift evacuation camp set up at the Government Girls’ Higher Secondary Institute in Uri, in Kashmir’s Baramulla district.
“This is what children do when they are not afraid of being hit by stray mortar shells or their splinters,” said one of the women, Shaheena Begum, 40, her face covered with a shawl.
Two classrooms of the school have been converted into a shelter by the district administration, with the desk and benches moved out and the floor covered with thick carpets.
In one corner, a dozen blankets are stacked against the wall.
Seven families were evacuated from Kamalkote after intense cross-border firing and shelling by Pakistan’s security forces along the LoC over the last week.
Speaking to ThePrint, Shaheena said several houses in their village were damaged in the firing and a villager was injured.
Several others from Kamalkote and adjoining villages have also moved out of their homes, and are currently staying with their relatives in Baramulla. In all, approximately 300 people have fled their homes since last week, a senior district administration official told ThePrint.
Mohammad Rafiq, 60, is the oldest in the group living at the school.
“Initially, we did not bother [to move] as intermittent firing along the LoC is quite common,” he said.
“But this time the firing just did not stop. A mortar shell pierced through the window and landed inside our house. It was frightening,” he told ThePrint.
Although safe now, Shaheena and Babi, a relative, can’t stop fretting as many men of the family stayed back in their village to look after the house and cattle.
“I have not heard anything from them till now,” said Babi.
According to Shaheena and Babi, when the firing first intensified, the family took shelter near a mountain. But when it did not cease, Shaheena, Babi and the children were packed off for the evacuation camp.
“But we can’t stay here forever. Home is, after all, home,” said Shaheena. “Why can’t the government just sit with all the parties and find a solution? Is this too much to ask for?”
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‘Never felt so free’
While the firing may have been particularly ferocious this time around, Babi said the residents of Kamalkote had for years lived in fear of firing from the Pakistan.
“I can’t sit still till my children return from school, and till the menfolk are back in the evening,” she added.
Rafiq painted a similar picture, saying he did not remember the last time he had had uninterrupted sleep.
“I break out in sweat in the middle of the night, thinking I have heard some firing. Is this life?” he asked. “Why can’t the government stop this once and for all.”
Meanwhile, the children of the group seem unaware of the tensions stalking their elders, tell ThePrint that they were “making the most of their extended vacation”.
“I have never felt so free,” said Askya Bano, 15, a Class IX student. “When I am home, I am always afraid. I don’t go out much. My brother was once hit by a splinter.”
When ThePrint tried to visit Kamalkote, the district administration prevented the attempt as the Indian Army has barred the entry of outsiders into affected border villages because of safety reasons.
Speaking to ThePrint, Baramulla senior superintendent of police Abdul Qayoom said firing along the LoC had “stopped for now”. “If the situation remains like this, we will send back the families,” he told ThePrint.
However, as of Monday, the families were still in evacuation camps. Meanwhile, after two extensions in the winter vacation, schools in Kashmir are set to reopen 10 March.
Qayoom said the families had been well provided for in Uri. “We have made arrangements for food in another government school nearby,” he added.
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When it comes to firing along the LoC, very difficult to untangle provocation from retaliation.Like that immense banyan tree in Calcutta where no one can telll which is the main trunk. The 2003 ceasefire had been agreed upon at an equally difficult time. Both Prime Ministers are Men of Peace. They could speak to each other one the phone and agree to this simple confidence building measure.
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