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May 27, 1999


Mingi awaits retaliation with fear

Chindu Sreedharan in Mingi

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Kargil and Mingi. Offsprings of the same hill. But cheese and chalk as of today, Wednesday, May 26.

If the first is a ghost town, the other is bursting at the seams with people. If one looks peaceful and quiet except when shells arrive, the other is a teeming mass of unhappy humanity. If one is the dream of a recluse, the second resembles an ill-managed refugee camp.

In effect, that is what Mingi is today.

A huge, overflowing shelter to the thousands who have migrated to escape Pakistani shells.

Thirteen kilometres away from Kargil on the Leh side, Mingi is out of range of Pakistani guns -- at least, no shells have landed here yet. And hence the rush here from shell-hit areas. The new arrivals include people from Drass, 73 km away, besides residents of Kargil and its satellite villages.

The result: Mingi, with an original population of less than 4,000, has now swelled to some four times according to local residents. The official estimate for the Suru valley, to which Kargil and Mingi belong, is 15,000 to 20,000 people.

No wonder then that you see numerous groups of 10 and 20, men mostly, on the road. The houses they sleep in are too crowded to stay put; those they have left for their women folk.

Incidentally, if you think the houses are overcrowded, you are wrong. They aren't. They are simply overflowing, with between 15 and 40 people per room.

Reham Abdullah with his 13-member family has come from Drass. They have been in Mingi for the past 20 days.

"Sab chodkar aaya hai, saab (I have come leaving everything)... my goat, my cow..." he says.

Ulam Rasool has lost a child. His son died two days ago here of uncertain reasons. Rasool has hardly any money. So the luxury of a coffin was out of question. His child would have been buried bare had it not been for his fellow refugees, who pitched in from their meagre holdings to buy a coffin.

K A Khan has not come from as far as Reham or Rasool. He is from Goma-Kargil, a village nearby.

"We sent our children and women first. I stayed back till the 20th (of May). But when the shelling continued, I also came down," he says.

As in any refugee camp, Mingi too faces a shortage of food and other essential commodities. In fact, the situation is same in the area beyond the Zoji La pass right up to Leh.

Since November, when the roads closed for winter, no supplies have arrived from Srinagar (they finally arrived Thursday morning). Result: no vegetables, very little edible oil, a little kerosene and some grain.

Mingi, with its uninvited guests, finds the going most difficult. The district administration has given each migrant 5 kg of rice. A family has been allotted two litres of kerosene. Thus, families eating rice and nothing, or at the most rice and daal, is the norm here. And that too, only once a day. For the rest, they make do with salt tea and barley.

"We have sent about 10-15 trucks to Srinagar," informs Kargil Additional Deputy Commissioner Tashi Dorje, "Hopefully they should be here soon. We have enough grain. But if the vehicles do not return in 10-15 days we will be in trouble."

The migrants, for their part, are extremely thankful to the district administration -- just as much as they are hostile to the state and central governments.

"We have not received any help from them," they chorus, "Jo kuch kiya hai woh district administration ne kiya. (Whatever has been done has been done by the district administration.) "

Seethes M Khan of Drass: "Farooqsaab came and went. But he didn't even meet us. Neither did the local MLA who's the state public works minister. When the Pandits migrated from Srinagar, they were given migrant allowance. Why is the government not doing the same for us? Are we not migrants?"

Another fact that is worrisome is that as the Drass-Kargil-Leh area is under snow for 8-9 months, the residents, specially the farmers, have only three "earning months." Most of them, who grow barley, have already lost a month due to the shelling.

"If we are not able to work soon, we will not have anything for the winter," Khan points out.

"If this continues," he adds, "we would rather go into the battlefield and die. There is no point in living like this."

Khan, for one, does not believe that shifting Kargil or Drass would end the problem. "The two countries need to reach on agreement. That's the only solution."

To date, the Srinagar-Kargil road is not open to civilian traffic. (It should have been opened by May 11.) Once that happens, the pressure on Mingi and other 'safe' villages will ease. But with India's air-strikes, and Pakistan's retaliation, that may take time.

Meanwhile, Kargil town, which against expectations was not shelled Wednesday, is quiet. There have been no rumbles on the hills around since 2100 hours, well neigh four hours ago. But, as the residents point out, the calm here is an illusion, a mirage, that can be shattered with just one burst.

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