Heavy security in Uri triggered first signs of panic among the boys. (Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)
NEARLY 21 days after they were brought back from the border, the four teenagers trying to make their way to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir have moved to new schools and started tuitions to “focus on studies”.
It was a plan that had been brewing for two months. The 15-year-old, the youngest of the four, says that soon after he completed his annual examinations in the last week of October, he and his two friends, studying in the same school in Anantnag district, discussed going to PoK for arms training, angry over the situation in Valley. A fourth teenager joined them from Pulwama.
Handed over to their families by police after counseling, the 16-year-old from Pulwama, back home from a winter coaching class in school, says, “It was a mistake. I still can’t believe how I agreed to my friend’s idea. I will never do it again.”
Almost from the start, the plan unravelled. The Pulwama teen says, “A friend shared the plan with me... We decided to start our journey on December 18. But the boy who was behind the idea didn’t turn up that day.”
The four decided to go ahead anyway, with a vague idea about crossing the Line of Control from Uri town in Baramulla, as shown in the film Uri: A Surgical Strike. One of them had seen the film, which was based on a surgical strike carried out by the Army in 2016 to avenge an attack on the Uri camp. In the movie, the Army crossed the PoK to attack launchpads of militants.
To get them to Uri, 130 km away, the Pulwama teenager brought along an Atlas containing a map of Kashmir. “He said that the Atlas would help us cross the border,” the 16-year-old says, adding that he himself carried along an extra pair of trousers.
“We met at a local railway station on December 19 morning and boarded a train to Panzgam. I had taken Rs 8,000 from home saying I needed the money for books and clothes. At Panzgam, we boarded a train to Baramulla.” Along the way, the four bought some biscuits, bread and butter to sustain themselves.
It was when they were near Uri, having boarded a local bus from Baramulla, that panic first set in. The evening streets of Uri were crawling with Armymen and defence installations loomed around, security becoming even tighter since the attack on the Army base.
Dressed in a pheran, the Pulwama teen says, “We had no idea there would be so much Army. We decided to stay in a hotel for the night, and return home. But police got a tipoff, reached the hotel and took us away.”
After a night at the local police station, they were taken to the Baramulla Police Station the next morning. After two days, they were handed over to their families.
Police seized the Atlas, schoolsbags, bread and dates from the teenagers — thus bringing to an end their brief “adventure”.
A senior police officer from Baramulla says they don’t get many bids to cross the border via the heavily militarised Uri sector. In the only other such attempt in 2019, a group of boys had been apprehended in Boniyar area in May.
At the Pulwama teenager’s home, family members say they haven’t recovered from those harrowing two days. “We had given him money for books and a new jacket. But he didn’t return,” says his mother. They contacted relatives and searched nearby areas, before going to police. “His father went to Baramulla to get him back.”
A middle-class family, they have since shifted the 16-year-old to another school. “We have enrolled him nearby and he attends tuitions every day. We are keeping a close watch on him. He never goes out and stays at home,” the mother says. “He is young and came under the influence of friends. I am thankful to police for handing him over to us.”
Adds the teenager, “I go to school in the morning and head straight back... I want to be with my books, so that I become a teacher.”
However, every knock still leaves them scared. Recently, Army personnel came to question the teenager. “They asked me how I decided to leave. They wanted to know if anyone in the village was behind it. I told them it was mistake and I will not do it again,” the 16-year-old says.
At the neighbouring home, the family of another teenager says they don’t want to talk about the matter, adding they have also moved the 16-year-old to a new school and put him in tuitions. “We are trying that he remains focused on his studies,” says a relative.