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|September 26, 1998||
The Lost Township
Mukhtar Ahmad in Kargil
Morning dawns on Kargil only to accentuate the fear that evening would bring more death and destruction.
This border town, once famous for growing apricots, has now become the most dangerous place in Jammu and Kashmir. And, probably, the only township where people live in bunkers.
"See, see that mountain top there overlooking us?" Mohammad Hussain, one of Kargil's 10,000-odd terrified citizens says, pointing to the high ranges you can see across the border, "We keep a close watch on it, especially in the afternoons. Whenever we see a balloon flying high, it is time for us to leave town..."
For, says Hussain, Pakistani shells invariably follow the signal.
The only way out for Kargil-ites is Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah's promise of shifting the entire township to Sanku tehsil, a shelling-free area. The locals, though they recognise the necessity for the plan, is none too keen on leaving their town for good. They say this would mean leaving everything they have identified with for ages.
"It is not only our house and land that we would be leaving behind," says Agha Zafar, "We would be abandoning the bones of our elders that are buried in Kargil's soil."
"It is not easy to shift an entire town," adds Sali, a shopkeeper, "You can't shift out completely without losing many things you care for."
Minister of State for Public Works Qamar Ali Akhoon, who belongs to Kargil, said it would not only be the town that would be shifted, but the 12 villages - including Karsar, Hudnerman Bnattalick, Cholichin, Gurgurdo and Badagam -- surrounding it. Not an easy task by any measure, the minister admits, but one that has become unavoidable.
The administration plans to shift the people of Kaksar and Hunderman, who are the worst affected, first. "They left their homes in July following shelling and are living in miserable conditions in Kargil," officials justify.
"We will not leave this town where we have lived for years," declares a school teacher, "Tell me, can they rebuild a new township when the state is facing such severe economic crisis?
The schools in Kargil are closed for days together when shelling occurs. Last year in September, several children escaped unhurt when a shell hit the Suru Valley public school.
For the past five days there is a semblance of normalcy in the town. But the majority of the locals are still spending the nights either in bunkers or on the outskirts of the town. Shops have re-opened, but there are very few on the roads.
"You will find only one member of each family staying back to look after the cattle and house," a senior district official says, "The others have fled to adjoining villages. The shelling has separated them all. It is painful."
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