>Bera, Jammu: When Pakistani shells started landing in Bera village in Jammu, residents, comprising mostly of elderly, women and children, escaped in droves. A few male members stayed back to watch over the houses and livestock in the village located along the International Border in Jammu but they lived under constant threat of life. Vijay Singh was one of them.
On Sunday evening, Singh sat on the veranda of his single-storeyed house in the village in RS Pura sector, at least forty kilometer from Jammu city. He looked terrified and visibly tired. A day earlier, when the thud of shells landing in the village grew louder, a neighbour's son came running into his home, begging Singh to leave. He refused. Shutting behind himself the door of a small temple attached to the house, he folded his hands, lowered his head and started praying before the "abode of deities." "I prayed for my safety and the safety of my family and our house," he said.
But that was not to be.
"Suddenly there was a loud bang," 35-year-old Singh told Firstpost late on Sunday evening. "Initially, I was terrorised by the thought of a shell landing inside the house. Smoke and dust clouded the view through the window into the main compound where my nine buffaloes were tied up. A shell bore through the roof of the temple and dropped on the floor."
Singh was just few feet away from his death but a miracle happened. The shell did not explode. "I looked back and saw it on the floor and my first reaction was to run. I have never seen death so close. It is a miracle that I am alive."
When Firstpost visited his house on Sunday evening, the unexploded shell lay inside the prayer room where it had dropped. No one from the state government, or the police and even the army visited him or came to inquire about the exploded shell, since the firing which started last week, Singh told Firstpost.
On Saturday four people were killed across the International Board, including two army officers and three BSF soldiers, taking the total toll to 10. The figure is almost equal to the number of deaths in 2017 in such cross-border firings. According to army sources, such intensity and higher range mortars are being used for the first time in three years by Pakistani side, prompting the authorities to relocate more than 20,000 people, from villages located within a 3-km distance of the international border, to safer areas. The state government has shut nearly 500 schools falling within 5 km of both the international border and LoC across Jammu region to avoid civilian casualties.
While the Firstpost team interviewed residents of the village and they relayed horrifying accounts of life under seige in these border areas (which led majority population to migrate), firing and shelling resumed after a brief lull. This was around 9 pm on Sunday. Two shells exploded, sparking chaos in the village. Residents who had stayed back, ran with their livestock towards safer areas, avoiding the light so that the soldiers from across the border don't target them. When it became quiet, they moved back.
Despite the unsafe living situation, many still refused to leave their homes. Gursimran Singh, a retired headmaster says he will prefer to die in his home than moving to a shelter home. Sixty-five-year-old Singh told Firstpost there is no way he is going to abandon the home he built with his "sweat and blood". He had suggested his family to stay back as well but they refused.
As soldiers along the border exchange fire, it feels remarkably courageous to walk for few minutes in complete darkness in these villages, but not for headmaster Singh. "Since 1962 I have seen this. There have been worse times. When it is very bad, I stay inside the bunker throughout the night. But when death comes calling, it can make any excuse," Singh told Firstpost in his house in Bera village on Sunday night.
"In recent years the firing along this sector has increased. Earlier it used to happen in Kashmir, now most of it happens in Jammu," he added.
The state government is gearing up for the worst. Bali Bhagat Minister for Health and Medical Education told Firstpost all sanctioned leave of doctors and paramedical staff in the five border districts of Jammu region has been cancelled. "We have kept every medical emergency facility ready for the people who get injured. Apart from that we have also advised people to come to the plains and stay in the rehabilitation centers till things improve," he said.
A flag meeting between the BSF and Pakistan Rangers is scheduled to be held at Octroi outpost in RS Pura. But since the firing is ongoing, it is not clear if the meeting will be held at all. "There is a lot of bloodshed at our border. The country is moving on the path of development, but the opposite is happening in Jammu and Kashmir. I am appealing to the prime minister and Pakistan to not make Jammu and Kashmir a battleground," chief minister Mehbooba Mufti said at a function in Baramulla on Sunday.
On Sunday evening Ajit Singh, another resident of Bera, stood outside his house looking towards the fence from where a mortar shall was fired a day earlier towards his house and its shrapnel's left his wife injured, who was sleeping inside, and is being treated for grave wounds. All the window glasses of house were broken in pieces, shrapnel's have made their mark, not just on the wall but his mind too.
"This is our life," he said, "and it has been like this for decades but running away from it is no solution." View More