Kashmir camp life grim but refugees still refuse to leave
DEVIPUR: Refugee camp life in Kashmir may be hellish but thousands who fled border villages still prefer it to home fearful that shelling may resume between Indian and Pakistani forces.
Heavy guns along the Line of Control have been silent since last November when a truce between India and Pakistan went into effect.
According to government estimates, more than 25,000 people who fled the border region in 1999 in Held Kashmir are living in refugee camps, too scared to go back, despite the fledgling peace drive by the two countries.
“We don’t have any guarantee that Pakistani troops won’t open fire on our villages. We prefer to face the ordeals of the camp to death,” said widow Kailasho Devi, 66, resident of the largest camp, Devipur, which houses about 16,000 people.
The refugees have fled 25 villages including Pallanwala, Panjtoot, Digrial, Mirpur, Hamirpur, Galad and Gagrial for three camps that are a sea of flapping canvas and polythene tents with earthen floors, packed down with cow dung.
In the camps, living conditions are difficult but residents say they at least feel safe.
“I’ve only one son and I don’t want to see him killed by Pakistani shelling,” said a woman, Santosh Devi. In Devipur and the two nearby camps, about an hour’s drive northwest of Jammu, thousands share a few hand pumps for water that must be boiled.
They survive on rice and flour rations, watery milk, a meagre government allowance and whatever casual labourers’ work they can get. With no bathrooms, they bathe in stagnant brown water in a nearby canal that often runs dry.
Cooking is done on fires and school classes are held in a large canvass tent.
“In our ancestral home we had a kitchen where we had stoves,” said Sujjan Singh, pointing to his makeshift kitchen. “Here we cook with wood that we get from nearby forests.” The refugees say life in the camps is better than living with the worry of renewed hostilities.
Many camp dwellers are skeptical the November ceasefire will last despite talks between the two sides aimed at resolving all outstanding disputes, including Kashmir. Even if the refugees wished to return, “the school buildings have not been repaired” and about 90 percent of the houses have been damaged by shelling, said Pallanawala village head Chur Singh.
Kashmir Relief Minister Hakim Mohammed Yasin said his government had approached the national government for money to rehabilitate border migrants. “As soon as we get them, we’ll start rehabilitation efforts,” he added. afp