The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Farmers wait for mineless fields

Abdullian (Indo-Pak border), May 5: Pitambar Singh stands alone surveying the vast fields now turned green with wild grass. Though these fields still belong to him, he has no right over them. The fields are mined and soldiers have not told him how long he will have to wait till he can step onto them.

De-mining is painfully slow. For miles there is no sign of the de-miners. The de-mining of the Indo-Pakistan border in Jammu began in January after tensions reduced following the Gujarat elections. The Jammu border stretches till 198 km before touching the Line of Control.

Pitambar was uprooted from his home in January last year after Indian troops were mobilised. His village was hit by mortar shells and the army told residents it was unsafe for them to live there.

“We shifted to Ranbirsinghpora and are waiting to go home,” Pitambar says. His dilemma is that even if he returns home there is nothing he can do on till his fields are de-mined.

The thought that his limbs may be blown apart if he steps onto the fields scares him. He has seen this happening to farmers who ventured onto the mined fields in desperation to get grass for their cattle.

If Pitambar returns to Abdullian now, he would lose the six kg of wheat flour and Rs 200 per month that the government is providing as relief. Unless the fields are de-mined, there is no point in returning, Pitambar says, and he appears to be speaking for his villagers, lodged in a tented colony in RS Pura.

The farmers in the border belt had not bargained for such a life. The region stretches from Paharpur bordering Punjab to the chicken-neck confluence of Chenab and Munnawar Tawi from where from the LoC begins. It rises to the Pirpanjal heights of the Himalayas in the north before moving on to the trans-Himalayan belt in Ladakh. The region is vulnerable, and when the farmers were asked to shift, they were told a war might break out and Pakistani shells would destroy them. The farmers duly obliged.

But nearly a year-and-a-half later, no war has broken out nor have the troops launched any decisive action against Pakistan. Troops have returned to the barracks and the lives of the farmers has not changed.

Their wait for the de-mining to finish so that they can return to their fields is endless. Everyone seems to have forgotten about the farmers forced to leave their homes.

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